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It’s a Horse Show, But With Masks And Thermal Scans

It’s a Horse Show, But With Masks And Thermal Scans

Justine Griffin

Horse shows resumed at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in recent weeks. But the experience is far cry from what riders and spectators are used to during the previous Winter Equestrian Festival circuit.

Michael Stone, president of Equestrian Sport Productions, described a horse show experience where exhibitors are wearing masks at all times when not on a horse and getting temperature checks before being allowed on the show grounds.

ESP invested in thermal imaging cameras, and everyone who comes onto the show grounds must get a temperature reading, Michael explained. While he describes it as a quick process, “you walk through a tent. You don’t even have to wait,” if anyone has a temperature over 100 degrees, they will not be permitted. 

“It has to be measured with some common sense,” he said. “But we really only have this one chance to get it right. If horse shows screw this up, we’re an easy target to get shut down.”

He added: “Everyone has been very good about it, and that is key going forward.” 

ESP is expecting nearly 400 horses on the grounds for its A-circuit series in June. In preparation, ESP has posted notices across the show grounds reminding people who don’t need to be there that they shouldn’t be, Michael said. And ESP will livestream all classes at the show to give spectators a way to watch it safely. All course maps are provided electronically the day before to reduce congregating at the in-gates. Warm-up arenas are limited to two riders at a time – one per each jump standard.

The tent entrance for thermal temperature scans at WEF.

But the return to competition has come at an added cost for the venue, Michael explained.

“The big number is the number of staff needed to operate,” he said. “We have a lot more security and checkers – we call them ‘social distancing officers’ to make sure people aren’t congregating.”

It’s unclear how the horse show will absorb that added cost into the future. ESP also operates horse shows at Tryon International Equestrian Center, which hosted a schooling show in May and is expected to resume a rated circuit this month. These venues are the first to really begin exploring “reopening”, while many others have cancelled their summer and fall circuits because state health restrictions are still in place, barring their ability to start again.

“We thought we would get some pushback,” Michael said, about the new safety measures. “But it’s been surprisingly well received.” 

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International Show Jumper Karen Polle extended her season in Wellington due to the restrictions on travel. Normally she and her string of show jumpers would be in Europe right now. But instead, she took her horses to WEF for its first schooling show since the onset of the pandemic. 

“I felt totally comfortable,” Karen said about the experience. “Everyone wore masks. Everyone is required to wear gloves if they’re setting the schooling jumps. Everyone kept socially distant.” 

Karen applauded ESP for the efforts, and said the staff at the venue went above and beyond to make sure all competitors were adhering to the new rules. 

“For me, I’d much prefer to show here knowing I feel safe then trying to travel. I don’t know if I feel comfortable staying in a hotel right now,” she said. “WEF provided masks and gloves to everyone (at a cost). They made it really easy to follow the rules.”

Photos courtesy of Equestrian Sport Productions

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