Our New Normal: COVID-19, Quarantine and Horse Shows Post-Shutdown.
By: Taylor Czesnik
Emma Callanan is an Excel Supplements sponsored junior rider.
Q: How have you enjoyed being back so far? It’s been a couple of months since horse showing began and ended because of COVID-19.
Emma: It was nice to have a little bit of a break, but honestly, it’s great getting back in the show ring and having that competition vibe, being at the horse show and seeing all of the success that the horses brought through the quarantine.
“I think that the break because of COVID, just kind of set our whole world back into perspective.”
Q: I saw you guys were at GLEF in Michigan recently, and you did really well there. You were also at Princeton before that, right?
Emma: Yes, we did a week at Princeton just as a little warmup right before GLEF. I think coming off of the quarantine all of the horses were happy to have a little break and not be so pressured for finals or points. They actually just walked back into the ring like “This is great, I’m happy.” They all performed so well. For the two green horses I have, the quarantine helped so much with their training that they just stepped right in the show ring and acted like they knew exactly what they were doing, which was really great!
Q: That is really great. How do you feel that the horse shows have been doing with following the new safety procedures and mandates for COVID that we have to work around now?
Emma: GLEF was perfect about it. They did a great job, everyone was wearing their masks, everyone kept a safe distance. It had a little bit of normalcy, which was nice. It was different than when you walk into grocery stores and you feel a bit suffocated. They were very good about presenting it like “This is the norm now. This is what we have to do, it’s no big deal, but this is what you have to do.” They had gloves on for the schooling rings, masks, and it was easy to abide by. It was simple and it worked well. It’s just what needs to get done.
Q: That’s really good to hear that everyone is doing what they need to in order to keep everything moving. Are there any specific protocols that you have implemented in the barn to keep things safer there?
Emma: In the beginning when it was full quarantine, we were in Florida. At that point, it was just my mom and myself working the horses, so it was easy then. Up north at our bigger barn, we did time slots for customers to come lesson. No-one was coming in and out at the same time, no more than 1 to 2 people in certain parts of the arena (we have multiple trainers at this farm). We have a massive indoor arena so it made it easy to be separate but there at the same time. As the quarantine phased off and things started to shift back toward normal we made sure no one hung around forever. Basically, you come in you ride and then you leave. If customers want to wear a mask, they absolutely can, but we still practice social distancing. Our customers aren’t around as much when we are home because of different show schedules so my mom and myself just come and ride in the morning. The other trainers stay on the other side of the barn and we all just keep our distance. It’s been working.
Q: It sounds like you have a good system going on! I know it’s been a bit difficult for everyone to get something solid in place. How do you feel that COVID-19 has affected you specifically as a junior rider?
Emma: I honestly think it was a little bit of a blessing in disguise for me personally. You know, as a junior I’ve always been in the show ring, which is amazing, but it gets to the point where it’s a little bit monotonous. For some riders when you’re showing so much and there’s all of the pressure, it stresses you out a little bit. I think that the break because of COVID, just kind of set our whole world back into perspective. You know, we don’t just live in our little bubble there is an outside world around us that does affect us. For some people, it just puts it back into perspective of “Oh, wow this is just supposed to be fun.” We’re not supposed to be this uptight with all of the pressure and the running around. For me, as a competitor, I get to the point where it’s monotonous. Certain situations where it’s big classes the pressure is good and I’m like “game on,” but other times when it does get to the monotonous points of smaller shows and classes, I get a bit passive because it’s just another day. Now with the pandemic when we weren’t able to go show, it really puts into perspective how amazing and fun this is supposed to be. Stepping into the show ring after the pandemic, you have a better connection with your horse instead of wondering how the lesson you had is going to affect you at the show. During quarantine we had time to focus on the lesson and say “tomorrow I get to improve on that.” It gave an opportunity to take some of the pressure off of the showing itself. It was just a few months that we could just be horse people again, it wasn’t about the competition part; and I think that was a huge blessing in disguise. It’s something I was grateful for because I had two green horses during this time. My bigger jumper, who I took to finals last year, isn’t that green but we came out of the quarantine with an enriched relationship and we’re now one again. When you’re showing so much, you don’t really get that time to connect with your horse as much as you want to.
Q: Absolutely, and as far as our particular part of the industry goes, it is hard sometimes to not get carried away in the whole competition aspect. I’ve spoken to quite a few people who have said similar things, that it was nice to have the time to just be at the farm and focus on certain things before having to go somewhere else again. Was there anything specific you worked on that you feel has really benefited you now that you’re competing again?
Emma: My mom, [Dana Hart] of Hart Farm, obviously helps me a lot. When I’m home, I train with Anne Kursinski of Market Street. When we’re on the road, we don’t always have the same schedule with Anne. We really don’t like to jump the horses when they’re home, we feel it’s too much when they’re supposed to be on a break. Anne has the huge field at her place, and she’ll say “In the old times, you either rode in the field or you rode in the indoor.” She had me go jump the grob, and up and down the hills with my white horse. It was like every day, the both of us were having so much fun but working at so many things at the same time without the pressure of “What if I don’t get this right?” Everything just sort of clicked and it wasn’t so much of working on one specific thing, but the both of us growing together. Both of us are green in doing the 1.40 – 1.45-meter jumpers so we had a chance to work on just being more of a team. I think that being able to lesson at home without risking over jumping really helped a lot. We had a lot of fun out in the field and now we know walking into the ring, there aren’t any questions, it’s just one conversation which is what developed over the quarantine the most.
Q: That’s really awesome, I’m sure being able to develop that connection is going to benefit you both so much as you continue to grow together and move up. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. Good luck competing the rest of this year!
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About the Author
Taylor Czesnik has been involved in the horse world for 20 years. She grew up riding and showing in Colts Neck, NJ and attended Virginia Intermont College. Taylor spent many years as a manager and flat rider for Oasis Show Stables, Kristy Herrera traveling to AA horse shows all over the east coast. She also spent time as a groom for Trade Winds Farm, and has free lanced for many other top professionals. Taylor has since changed roles and is the current Media and Communications Manager for Excel. Along with writing, Taylor loves spending time with her dog, Ellie, riding, and attending horse shows in her free time.