June 8 was the day competitive equestrians in Kentucky had been waiting for. After three months of mandatory travel and mass gathering restrictions to curb COVID-19 spread, Kentucky’s governor announced that horse shows could resume, provided they follow state requirements for social distancing and disinfection. My trainer selected a two-day local hunter/jumper show at Lakeside Arena, in Frankfort, for her eager clients’ first outing. She knew the facility owners well and trusted them to put on a safe and organized event.
Indeed, things ran smoothly, and attendees for the most part followed protocol. I took note of precautions taken and clever ways people adapted to our new style of horse showing throughout the weekend:
- All entries were digital, and show managers posted schedules and class counts online only to avoid crowding around them in person.
- Everyone had to sign a waiver before accessing the property, and an attendant checked your name off that list each time you arrived.
- Clearly marked social distancing and “wear your mask” signs were posted everywhere. While riders weren’t required to be masked while on horseback, some still chose to do so, particularly those participating in low-intensity in-hand or flat classes.
- Hand sanitizer dispensers were placed in several convenient locations.
- Only trainers were allowed at the horse show office window to minimize the number of people there.
- No spectators (apart from minors’ parents) were allowed.
- Concessions were closed.
- Restrooms were available, but the main doors remained propped open to maximize ventilation and minimize touching of handles.
- Barns did not set up communal grooming areas and instead required riders to groom and tack their horses in their individual stalls.
- Each arena had been shortened by about 20 feet to allow for more space at the in-gate for horses and people to spread out.
- Staff disinfected all jump cups between course changes.
- Riders had to collect their own ribbons in lieu of more formal ribbon ceremonies.
- During schooling breaks, only 10 horses were allowed in the ring at a time.
One thing I noticed is that people tend to be fairly comfortable and relaxed within their immediate social circles. Barnmates congregated as normal around their stalls, only pulling on their masks when other competitors walked by. My barn family is no different. My trainer, however, had the great idea to get us matching neck gaiters that slide up over your mouth and nose. We could easily pull them down when we needed more airflow (e.g., when spreading bedding and mucking stalls in the 85-degree heat) and never ran the risk of leaving them somewhere.
A few barns erected pop-up tents in far corners of the parking lot, where clients and parents (especially those dads who selflessly spent their Father’s Day at the horse show) could safely enjoy lunch, drinks, and camaraderie between classes.
Because most attendees respected Lakeside’s new rules, I felt very comfortable showing there. Nothing hindered my ability to care for and ride my horse. The day might have run a bit longer than normal, and the bleachers were noticeably absent from around the ring. Wearing a mask outside in summer is uncomfortable at times, and “maskne” is a real thing. But these are small sacrifices to safely enjoy my horse and hobby amid a pandemic.