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Ann Glavan
April 4, 2014
Wrapping Up Twelve Weeks of WEF: Top Hunter Riders Discuss the Sport
By Ann Glavan
Friday, April 4, 2014 :: Posted 08:15:50 AM EDT

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© Ann Glavan:

The 2014 Winter Equestrian Festival has come to a close, and the top hunter and jumper horses and professionals that made Wellington their winter base for the past three months are gradually returning to their northern homesteads. In honor of the end of the winter competition season, we sat down with some of the biggest names in the hunter industry to get their take on all things hunter: where the sport is heading, how the past twelve weeks of competition at WEF have treated them, and every detail in between. The hunter congress has been called, and Scott Stewart, Louise Serio, Havens Schatt, Kelley Farmer, Bill Schaub, and Larry Glefke have answered.

Responding to these riders' concerns specifically regarding the hunters at WEF, we talked to Michael Stone, President of Equestrian Sport Horse Productions. 

The Hunter Industry: On jumpers, jackets and jackpots.

© Ann Glavan: So To Speak and Kelley Farmer

Kelley Farmer and So To Speak

Kelley Farmer: I think we’re- I don’t know how to say this politely- but I think we’re treated a little bit like second class citizens to the jumpers. I understand how many jumpers are at this horse show, but I think they could do a little more to cater to the hunters and not treat the hunters like second class citizens, and I think it makes people want to go away from the hunters a little bit. You know, it’s not just here at WEF, it's hunters in general, but I think this is a place they could do something about it. I think a little bit it's hunters in general, but this is a place where they have the power to make it different, and I don’t necessarily believe that they do a lot for us.

Havens Schatt: With the jumpers, you can sell something. The hunters are really hard to sell to anybody. You watch one or two rounds and you’re like A) what are they looking for, B) OK they’re all doing the same thing, it’s kind of boring. You know that’s the way that is, unfortunately. I think the hunters for the USA and for America, it’s a tradition. The actual hunter jumper industry in the U.S. has become much more of a business than it is a sport, and I think when the hunters get passed over, it’s because it still really has to be a sport. There’s no going against the clock, it’s all very subjective, it’s not very thrilling, but with the jumpers it’s become worldwide and there’s competition worldwide, and I just don’t know how they would do that with the hunters. They’ve tried doing the derby, to make it the International Hunter Derby, they’ve tried a lot of stuff, and I don’t know if it’s ever going to happen. I think that the hunters are just a very American tradition. The hunters, to me, are fascinating because in a lot of respects I think that the hunters are a lot harder than the jumpers, because you’re supposed to be doing it elegantly, beautifully, and with nobody seeing anything you’re doing. To do that with a horse that has a mind of its own is quite difficult really, to do it well, but I think a lot of that is lost because it’s just not that exciting.

Bill Schaub: As an old timer, I am very discouraged with the tradition we’re losing with the riding apparel in the hunter ring.  These riders wearing these jackets with this European influx, I mean that’s all jumper stuff. In our first six we judged in the section A Maclay, we had to throw three out. One with black stirrups, which is a rules violation, two with their collars open, because they wear these collars with magnets. And they say ‘Well it popped open,’ and we say, 'well, get a different shirt.' Your collar can’t come open while you’re on course. And these girls with their jackets: a properly fitted jacket should come to the bottom of the buttocks, and it should have shoulder pads so it gives you a nice crisp look. I mean, these coats that they’re selling for all this money, and these collars with snaps and no monograms, I mean they’re losing all the tradition, and believe me when you’re judging the judges hate it, every judge I talk to, it makes a difference in those equitation classes. If they want to wear it in the jumper ring, I totally understand, but in the hunter and equitation they should wear a properly fitted jacket. That’s what I’m not liking. Now I’m a traditionalist, but I think that tradition cannot be lost in the hunters and equitation.  

Larry Glefke: I was reading an article the other night that said we’re taking 60 to 70 percent of the money coming from the hunter world, and we don’t get any of it back. Ninety percent of it goes to the jumpers, which makes it very, very difficult to maintain this. I mean, I know it’s a rich man’s sport, but we’re basically getting the same amount of money that we were getting back in the 70's to win a hunter class.

Michael Stone: The hunters have their own rings and there is no preference for time slots. We have two very prestigious big money hunter classes, and our prize money is well above the industry. You cannot really compare hunter money with jumper money.

As a hunter rider, what’s working for you at WEF?

© Ann Glavan: Scott Stewart and LoyaltyScott Stewart and Loyalty

Scott Stewart: Well I think on the hunter side, I think these are the strongest hunter divisions I’ve seen in a long time as far as entries and quality. I think we had 20 First Year horses entered week twelve, that’s a lot, and most of those horses could be the winner, so it’s been really competitive, and that division is just nice, and also the Green Conformation the Regular Conformation they’re totally strong all the way through which again, I don’t think I’ve seen that strong a group in a very long time, so it’s been fun, it’s been competitive.

Bill Schaub: What I think is working is they have an incredible staff as far as the paddock people, and Morrissey and Burton, they’re great managers. I think all of that type of stuff, that part of it's working very well. I like all the people you have to deal with on a daily basis, the ladies in the office, they’re very good, I feel well taken care of by that group of people, and I like that they move things around to different rings and stuff, so that part I think is working. As far as being run, it’s just run like a clock, I love the system, the staff- I love all that. They make our life nice, and it’s very efficient. We’re done at a decent hour, so that part is really good.

Louise Serio: They do a wonderful job, and I think it’s a hard job. It’s getting more and more crowded, and it’s really felt like the entries seem to be very strong in all the divisions this year, even the last week I thought the divisions were strong.

Regarding the number of competitors at WEF…

© Kenneth Kraus/ Bill Schaub 5-21-09Bill Schaub

Bill Schaub: It’s gotten so congested because they don’t have any room. I don’t know how more injuries don’t happen to be honest with you. I think they’re just lucky that more things don’t go wrong, just between all the golf carts and all the horses jammed in. Giving up Littlewood was the worst thing they ever did. I mean they just need room, there’s so many great things about it, there’s so much that they do wonderfully, but ultimately we’ve got to be horsemen and we’ve got care about our horses, and when you care about your horses you have to be very picky about how much you can show them on that footing, there’s nowhere to ride when the horse show is going on if you want to flat a horse well, I hate to be throwing out all these negatives. On the positive side, I think they do really well with their presentations and the ribbons, and the owner rider thing was my thing that I tried to get started, and they took that right on and I’m very pleased that they did, because that’s something I’m promoting.

Larry Glefke: I think the schooling area, just like Rodrigo said, it’s absolutely amazing to me that there hasn’t been some catastrophic injuries outside of the ring. You see these little fences around the ring, some horse gets loose and flips over them, it’s scary. And these kids driving golf carts and everything else, and the barn area’s an atrocity. There isn’t enough land and now that we don’t have Littlewood or any of that, there’s no place to expand, there’s no space for it to go.

Michael Stone: We added rings 11 and 12 as many trainers complained that Littlewood was too far away. We also did not rent two of our rental rings on Pod F specifically for the purpose of providing extra space for flatting and extra lunging areas for the 2014 season.  However, we are aware of the situation and are working on a solution for next year.

Regarding stabling at WEF…

Bill Schaub: The stabling on the other side of the 20 dollar ring was literally disgusting. They didn’t plan it, they didn’t grate it for drainage. I had to sod all the way around my barn because six of my stalls flooded every time it rained. There were times when the porta-johns weren’t cleaned for days, I mean it was just a cesspool. I wouldn’t even bring anyone back to the barn, it was really really disgusting and that was very discouraging. They could have graded that for not a lot of money. Getting them to do anything about it was- nothing was ever done. I mean it was just terrible and discouraging, and you feel like a prisoner because you can’t get anything done. You feel like a prisoner because it’s your only option. For me as a horsemen, that’s what this all starts with is the horses. It just seems like somebody could have just grated that a little bit so the water would have drained, or at least try to help you when it was bad. You feel like they really don’t care if you’re there or not, and maybe they don’t, maybe they don’t even want to have those outside people, I don’t know. 

Michael Stone:The majority of the tent stalls are good, however we do have challenges with some of the tents which will be addressed for next year. This will include the drainage.

On the length of WEF…

© Ann Glavan: Louise Serio and Bonnaparte

Louise Serio and Bonaparte

Louise Serio: I think WEF is hard because of the twelve weeks, and in some ways I know we have choices not to show, but sometimes we have choices where we have to show, you know? The choice has to be that we do have to show.

Scott Stewart: Well you know when they switched from having six or seven shows to having all these shows, the first couple years took a major adjustment, because I don’t like showing every week. I liked six, I liked it that way for the horse’s sake and everybody it was more of a real competition. Every time you went out it meant something. Now you’re just kind of trying to get through and peak at your moments. Back then every week counted and everybody came to the ring like it was an important class. With all these weeks you get lulled into thinking ‘Oh, another hunter class.’

Havens Schatt: Well it's long, there’s no two ways about it, the 12 weeks is really long. When you have the amount of horses we have, we do take one week off completely, but our barn is where we show out of, so even the horses that aren’t showing one week the braider is still there all night, the lights are on, and the horses and the grooms and the people never get a break. So that does make it long, but in the end, we all make it!

Kelley Farmer: Twelve weeks is too many.

Larry Glefke: I’ve always thought 12 weeks was too many. I mean, I compete in the twelve weeks, but I do it with a different group of horses every week. I think Kelley and I talk about that all the time, the only ones who don’t get a break down here are us, but we choose to do that, and that’s the way I make my living.

Michael Stone: Not everyone can show for 12 weeks, and many of our riders can only come down for a limited number of weeks, so it suits them much better to have 12 weeks so that they can spread their time effectively, and the fact that the numbers continually increase indicates that the majority are supportive of the circuit. We also have judges, stewards, vendors, sponsors, etc. to consider, and it is not easy to just say come to WEF but you will not be working every week.

On all-weather footing…

© Ann Glavan: Havens Schatt and Bacardi

Havens Schatt: Bacardi is really not a big fan of the footing here or in Kentucky, which is different but in essence the same, and I don’t really know why that is. He’s never been that happy on it, so I have to be careful of how much I show him and that stuff on all that footing. This year, actually at the National Horse Show last year we happened to run into the guy that works for ESI, and we were asking him was there any way in Florida they could do something about the footing to fluff it up a little bit, because it just got so hard and so packed and so firm, and he told me they were really going to work on it and they were really going to do some things.

At the beginning of Florida the footing was way, way, way better. It was fluffed up, it was soft, it was nice. Bacardi went that first week and got a 97. He noticed the difference and so did we. But about the time they started to have those big grand prix and they start using those rings as a parking lot, it just gets packed and packed. I’m no footing expert, but I heard that it takes a lot of work to fluff it up and everything, a good four to five hours for every ring if they want to do it properly, and there’s just not enough time, and so by the end of circuit yeah it became really, really hard again. At the beginning of circuit we didn’t really have any problems with coffin joints or things like that and then at the end of circuit you starts to notice that their feet start hurting, so I think that’s a direct correlation to the footing. Again, I did notice it when they started having the grand prix and parking the cars in it.

And we only have one jumper in our barn, but when I did get to the DeNemethy the other day to walk the course, it was so much better than the hunter ring, and they don’t use it as a parking lot at night. I totally understand that the Grand Prix is their big draw and they need places to park people, and the facility isn’t big enough for that, but you know the hunters bring them a lot of money. For them to use our main hunter ring as a parking lot, I think is just kind of disrespectful to hunters.

Larry Glefke: Sometimes they take advantage of the all-weather footing, like that stuff out there today was hard as a rock. They don’t turn it, they don’t churn it up, they don’t work it enough. I buy and sell horses for a living, so their well-being and they’re welfare is very, very important to me, not only to make sure they get good homes when they leave but I really want it to be maintained. Footing is so essential to these horses staying together and having successful circuits I believe there’s too many where they don’t work this, and they don’t get it soft enough, and you see people have falls and they get badly hurt. They’re not just hurt a little bit, they get badly hurt. I think there’s something to be said for the fact, there’s a reason they took this footing out of every racetrack in southern California, there’s a reason for it, because the horses they had no give. It’s like throwing a dart into the ground.

Bill Schaub: There’s two problems that I really have, and number one is the footing. I’ll tell you the best footing on the whole show grounds in my opinion is the 20 dollar ring, and I don’t understand why. It’s the least maintained and the most abused and it holds up the best. I think the very simple solution is why don’t they do that everywhere? I mean the footing is very hard on our horses, it doesn’t have much give and it stops them, so you have a lot of injuries. You have to be very careful what you do and I think that over at the Pony Island, literally the footing is abusive to the animals. It’s so hard, I mean I had ponies that were barely competitive over there, and when it changed rings one week they won all the classes. At my age, I’m just going to tell it like it is and live with the consequences.

Michael Stone: The footing is regularly tilled and reset. Unfortunately  if you ask 10 riders, five will say too soft and five will say too hard. We are confident that the parking has no effect on the footing. Next year we had already planned to have meetings with the riders of both hunters and jumpers to discuss these issues.

 © Kenneth Kraus/ Michael Stone - 1-6-13Michael Stone, President of Equestrian Sporthorse Productions


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