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Spotlight On: Wheatland Farm Provides Community Access to the Top for Everyone

Produced through a partnership between STRIDER & Eventing Nation, these Behind-the-Scenes Spotlights feature conversations with equestrian organizers to explore the origins of their horse shows and clinics, some challenges of equestrian activity management, and the communities that make it all happen.

Photo courtesy of Wheatland Farm.

Good horsemanship, quality knowledge and an emphasis on community access has long been the core foundation for programming at Wheatland Farm, a fully inclusive equestrian program based in Purcellville, VA.

You might be familiar with Wheatland’s Farm’s success in eventing and dressage, as it’s home to CCI3* Event rider & Prix St. Georges dressage rider Anthony Forest. Or you may have attended one of Wheatland Farm’s regularly scheduled clinics with Olympic rider Boyd Martin and top dressage rider Silva Martin, which are open to riders and auditors from across Area II and beyond.

What you may not be aware of is how Wheatland Farm has integrated their traditional training with its popular and ever-growing therapeutic riding program that draws on experts from across the top levels of the sport.

The team at STRIDER recently caught up with Muriel and Anthony Forrest of the Faith & Family Foundation at Wheatland Farm to learn how they were expanding community access to equestrian sport.

“We have really great coaches and mentors who have provided some incredible guidance [to the therapeutic riding program]. Will Connell [USEF Director of Sport], Michel Assouline [Head of Para-Equestrian Dressage Coach Development and High-Performance Consultant] and Olympic eventer Boyd Martin, who teaches clinics here regularly and has been a tremendous mentor to Anthony Forest, have been instrumental,” Executive Director Muriel Forrest explained to STRIDER.

As a USEF/USPEA Para-dressage Center for Excellence, Wheatland Farm makes connections with horses possible for any and all. In addition to being one of only four all-inclusive Pony Clubs in the United States, Wheatland hosted the final observation event before the 2018 WEG for the U.S. Para-Dressage team.

“We have to find a way to overcome the horse world seeming a bit like a closed-shop. To keep our sport growing you need to invite a new generation of kids and adult amateurs who are just trying out horses. They might feel intimidated, but those barriers are broken down slightly if they can go on the web, browse a good website, and click-to-access information,” says Muriel Forrest.

Photo courtesy of Wheatland Farm.

“Horses really are the great unifier […] Disability tends to be isolating, but when you put a kid on a horse that levels the playing field. From the onset we knew that this facility and program had to make it possible for our riders to do whatever they wanted to do. Here they have access to top quality horses and coaches, even if they are purely using the horse as a treatment modality.”

“It has taken years to develop the infrastructure, develop a training program and really create a rubric for this process whereby children with severe disabilities, moderate disabilities, and able-bodied children are all together.”

Once their therapeutic program was established, the Forrests and their team set about making it as available to those interested as possible. Soft marketing through social media channels such as Facebook and Instagram (their goat Peanut has quite a following!) has complimented their investment in research of the best digital tools to accelerate the success of Wheatland Farm’s initiatives. The program has grown tremendously thanks in part to dedication of time to learn and implement the most effective uses of these tools.

“We know that responsiveness is a key to customer retention, so we added Podium on our website to make our team available 24/7 to answer questions that interested parties text us. It saves us from having to share our phone numbers and enables us to set a clear boundary but gives people immediate access to the information they need.”

“Clinics have also been huge for us,” adds Anthony Forrest, “and the community access with STRIDER has made a huge difference. All of our information can be accessed by riders or auditors through a single link that I can easily share on Facebook. It’s great how easy it is for a rider or auditor to send a note to an organizer as well. Some people have reached out needing accommodation — requesting to bring a service animal or maybe needing handicapped parking or access to the auditor seating area.

“I can receive those notes as they discretely book online and respond anonymously without people reaching out to my phone directly. That privacy and safety is important for everyone, and thankfully our center is unique in that we do have the ability to accommodate everyone.”

In addition to participant safety, data privacy has driven some of Wheatland Farm’s tech adoption.

“We have over 100 kids participating each week which means we have to retain a lot of information in a secure way — we use SalesForce, whose CRM allows us to do just that,” says Muriel. “Technology has enabled us to quickly gather data from riders and get them scheduled for a farm visit and free rider assessment within 24 hours.”

“Technology is incredibly helpful as it enables people working in the horse industry to set professional limits. You want to address people’s concerns but set a really clear boundary. Some key aspects of that are to start with a good interactive website where people can really learn about you, then have a quick way for people to sign up for something.”

Therapeutic riding in session at Wheatland Farm. Photo courtesy of Wheatland Farm.

Access to new experiences changes mindsets. In support of expanding access throughout the community, STRIDER and Strides for Equality Equestrians (SEE) are developing a novel initiative to support broader diversity of involvement in the horse world in 2022. Stay tuned for additional information on STRIDER about how you can support your local therapeutic riding program, compete as a para-athlete, explore a career in horses other than as a professional rider, or contribute to rehabilitation success with a prison equine program.

For more information on Wheatland Farm and how you can support their initiatives checkout www.wheatlandfarm.org or check out their upcoming community events available for registration on STRIDER.

Spotlight On Dressage4Kids: How Tech Expands Community Access to Horses

Produced through a partnership between STRIDER & Eventing Nation, these behind-the-scenes Spotlights feature conversations with equestrian organizers to explore the origins of their horse shows and clinics, some challenges of equestrian activity management, and the communities that make it all happen.

Dressage4Kids participants sit for a lecture with Kendall Cox. Photo courtesy of Christoph Feddersen.

From a cracking cross country round watched on YouTube to booking a clinic online with an Olympic rider after a quick Google Search, technology fosters connections between horses and people.

Dressage4Kids provides educational and competitive opportunities for youths and the adults who support them. Founded in 1999 by Olympian Lendon Gray and Fern Feldman, Dressage4Kids has expanded its reach and offerings to facilitate opportunities for aspiring horsemen and women across the country and internationally.

STRIDER recently caught up with Mary Livernois, Executive Director of Dressage4Kids to discuss how tech plays a major role in helping the trail-blazing 501(c)3 non-profit organization to carry out its mission successfully.

“D4K started out as a very kids-centric program, but what we all came to realize was that many adults affect kids’ learning and with that the programming really expanded. The more people can learn in general the better it is for everyone. The public-facing technology we employ has really driven growth and community involvement in the sport. It’s amazing what you can do with technology to connect people.” noted Livernois.

Behind-the-scenes, Livernois and all involved at Dressage4Kids utilize a great deal of technology to enable community engagement and maximize knowledge transfer.

“It’s a little crazy how many different technology platforms we touch on any given day. We use a lot of technology! Our website has tools for rider applications, payment processing, the ability to purchase D4K merchandise through the online store, and we use the SalesForce CRM system and STRIDER for its StriderPlus digital waiver service.”

Lendon Gray works with a small group. Photo courtesy of Dressage4Kids.

Livernois noted that Dressaeg4Kind’s ability to maximize community involvement became much easier with the introduction of digital tools. “All we have to do is send an email with links and a deadline reminder. Then people can get paperwork digitally signed and pay for an upcoming clinic on their own time. There’s so much peace of mind knowing things are taken care of.”

“In terms of outreach we have our website, Facebook page, private Facebook groups, Twitter, Instagram, a Youtube channel, an electronic newsletter, and of course we text and use Zoom.

“We’ve found it’s hugely helpful to have things like digital Waivers and online payment. Not just for us as the operators of the organization, but for our participants as well.”

When it comes to fostering professional and personal development, increased access to video and informational content produced by the industry’s top trainers, veterinarians, business owners, and groups has been instrumental to the positive growth trajectory for equestrian sport in the US and internationally. We see this in Eventing with programs like Lucinda Green’s Cross Country Academy and Ride iQ.

Taking in a lecture with Hannah Irons. Photo courtesy of Christoph Feddersen.

Livernois noted, “Technology enables people to improve their knowledge base, without exclusion. Steffan Peters’ freestyle from the Tokyo Olympics now has millions of views! Something like that can really build interest in the sport…

“Of course none of this replaces in-person learning but it’s an amazing supplement. If you want it, it’s there. You don’t need to pack up your whole trailer to gain some insights from a clinic that is happening across the country.”

LIvernois also said that Dressage4Kids’ Training4Teaching Program experienced tremendous growth when the Wellington-based in-person program shifted to virtual sessions in 2021 due to quarantine restrictions. Similarly, their Training Education and Mentoring (TEAM) clinics are now held nationwide and have been able to provide invaluable community connections for horse enthusiasts.

“People learn differently- some visually, some by reading, some by hearing- so for us to be able to leverage different forms of (communication) media more access points for knowledge about horses,” she noted.

“Kids can meet at an in-person clinic, then go back to their home states and FaceTime while they’re doing barn chores. That continuity is key.”

The third benefit of technology was how it increased quality horsemanship time across D4K’s programs.

Teamwork makes the dream work! Photo courtesy of Dressage4Kids.

She continued, “being smarter and more efficient with these tools means you get a ton of time back. Knowing things are taken care of allows you to spend that extra 15 minutes handwalking the horse or doing whatever needs to be done around the barn.”

“At the same time I think this [use of technology] has to be done in a way where we maintain and recognize the welfare of the horse must come first. There is no technology to replace running your hands up and down your horses’ legs.”

As eventing enthusiasts that’s certainly a statement we can get behind!

Ultimately, we are all in this sport for the horse, LIvernois pointed out “You can’t help but fall in love with a horse if you see one, there’s an automatic connection.”

“Making sure opportunities for access are available across every facet of the sport will always be so important,” concluded Livernois of Dressage4Kids.

Learn more about ways you can get involved, as a trainer, judge, parent, or volunteer, as Dressage4Kids continues to expand its programming. Subscribe to their newsletter or reach out here.

Tips to Balance Social Distancing & Your Equestrian Business Operations

In partnership with Event Clinics, we’re bringing you content to help you navigate these unprecedented times brought about by COVID-19. In this blog, Event Clinics’ Tara Swersie details ways to help your barn or business thrive.

Photo by Natasha Sprengers-Levine.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our equestrian community, our thoughts are with those affected by the virus and those on the front lines of the fight to stop it.

We also realize equestrian businesses across the industry have been hit hard financially by recent public health measures and event cancellations. Facilities are struggling to reconcile social distancing demands while their staff is overwhelmed, horses need daily care and uncertainty is the norm.

But for real, though! Photo: Bob Coglianese—MCT/Landov

Here are five areas where you can take action to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and still maintain a working equestrian facility. 

  1. Establish and Enforce General Guidelines: Barns are inherently dusty places that will cause the healthiest of riders to sneeze and cough.  Now is a good time to implement and enforce CDC’s recommended 6-9 feet of social distancing until it becomes second nature.  
  • Insist staff and clients practice 6 feet of separation, even if they are 100% convinced the other person is healthy. That means no hacking out horses side-by-side and no casual chats in the tack room. Social separation is a learned behavior that must be practiced, like safe distancing in the warm-up.
  • Email your staff & clients a letter that outlines your facility’s COVID-19 containment protocols.  Give instructions and reassurance on what they should expect on upcoming weeks as they follow your protocol. 
  1. Staff Care: Your staff is stressed and worried.  For most of them, this is the first time they are gong through something like this.  Make sure to talk to them and see how they are holding up.
  • Check if your team needs help coordinating online grocery purchases, or refilling time on their cell phones.  Many working students lack credit cards.
  • While less common, a person can also contract COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose. Your staff will be under considerable strain to disinfect common surfaces and limit their exposure risk.  Be patient and ready to coach them on what to do. 
  • Locate a No-Touch Digital Thermometer and use it daily on your staff. It will  give you an objective read on a person’s health. Eventers are a tough bunch that often does not want to report when they are feeling slightly under the weather (Sometimes it’s just a hangover).
  • Send home ANYONE with a fever. CDC assesses people with COVID-19 are most contagious when showing symptoms.  Symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath generally appear 2-14 days after exposure, with nearly half of the people with the virus showing symptoms after the first five days. 
  • Train your staff in how to sanitize their hands and barn items throughout the day.  Ask your vet if they have any disinfecting efficiency tips to share…they’ve probably been through a strangles scare or two.
  • Place soap, hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, wipes and other cleaning materials in the tack room, bathroom, and common areas. 
  • Set times throughout the day to wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Take pictures and post on social media. (Might as well get PR mileage!) 
    Use #StrideForward to get the word out.
  1. Managing Lessons/Clinics/Schoolings
  • Postpone or cancel all large gatherings of 10 or more people, per CDC guidance. That means no barn parties, no horse shows, no happy hours. (Sorry!)
  • Move activities outside as much as possible. It’s easier to keep rider separation in a wide open field.  Bonus: The coronoavirus does not like sunlight.
  • If you decide to host lessons, clinics or similar equestrian activities, limit groups to four (4) or fewer. Have riders stay in separate areas of the ring.
  • Schedule 15-minute blocks between lessons/ groups to help limit how many people are present at the same time.
  • Do not allow auditors, or only permit them outside. 
  • Use e-payment tools to collect payment.  There is indication the coronavirus can survive at room temperature on paper (checks, liability forms, etc) from anywhere from 4 hours to 5 days.  We like PayPal & Venmo.   
  1. Around the Barn 
  • Quarantine your common areas off from visitors as much as possible, such as the rider lounge, viewing room, etc.  
  • Close your indoor and/or limit the number of riders allowed in a ring at the same time. Designate outside areas to ride, with proper space between horses.  
  • Coordinate barn access so your boarders don’t all show up at the same time to ride.  Between vets, farriers, boarders, and normal staff you can quickly get 15+ people working with horses in the same area.
  1. Sanitize Communal Surfaces & Objects: Be kind to your neighbors and work together to implement your COVID-19 disinfection protocols with the same seriousness as you would a strangles scare.

 

  • Minimize the number of people touching common surfaces. That means no common writing tools, no boarders using the office phone, barn pitchforks, etc.
  • Make a list of items handled repeatedly throughout the day. Set a staff chore schedule for regular disinfecting of items such as stall doors, gates, crossties, microwaves, refrigerators, sinks faucets, doorknobs, and toilet flush levers. 
  • Keep doors open to limit doorknob interactions. Have gates handled by a designated person to minimize the number of hands that touch it.
  • Have clients tack up their horses in their stalls rather than use a common grooming/ crosstie area.

Above is by no means an all-inclusive list, but it should answer many of your questions.  If you have suggestions or additions, feel free to contact Event Clinics. Our number one priority is the safety of our equestrian community.  In partnership with Eventing Nation, we’ll continue to post updates as they become available.  

Stay Safe & #StrideForward,

Team Event Clinics

COVID-19 and Best Practices for Your Equestrian Activities

We are happy to share this note from Tara Swersie, CEO of Event Clinics, about what you can do to incorporate COVID-19 protection protocols into your equestrian activities.

As worldwide concerns about COVID-19 continues to grow, our #1 priority is the safety of our equestrian community.

If you participate in or hold equestrian activities in the next 45 days, we ask that you treat the CDC/WHO guidelines for COVID-19 social distancing with the same commitment you would give strangles prevention protocols. That includes:

  • A minimum space barrier of six feet between yourself and other people at all times
  • No more than 10 people in an area or present at an activity at one time
  • Disinfecting all common surfaces/items handled by multiple people

COVID-19 person-to-person transmission primarily occurs when an infected person sends out respiratory droplets via either sneezing or coughing. Please practice and enforce the six feet social distancing rule until it becomes second nature to you. That means no hacking out horses side-by-side, no casual chats with friends in the tack room, and no standing next to one another watching a clinic.

While less common, a person can also contract COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose. The team who cares for your horses will be under considerable strain to disinfect common surfaces and limit your exposure risk. Expect that shared barn items like pitchforks, pencils, wheelbarrows, hoses, etc. are off limits for the next 45 days.

Keep In Mind

Many equestrian businesses and service providers are struggling financially to cope with the pandemic’s impact. If a venue is graciously offering you distance lessons or schooling options, do what you can to pay it forward. #StrideForward

  • Post a nice note/facility photo on social media and tag the farm. Use #StrideForward on Instagram to help get the word out.
  • Pay schooling fees and board electronically, on time, as much as possible.
  • Be as sensitive as possible to their health risks and staff exposure concerns as you possibly can be. Horse people are stoic, not invincible.

Before You Visit The Barn or Schooling Venue

  • Monitor your own health. DO NOT go to the barn or take your horse schooling if you have any COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, coughing, or unusual shortness of breath.
  • Feeling exhausted? Not sure if you “have something” or just a wine hangover? Take your own temperature and rule out a fever.
  • Do not go to the barn if you have been in an airport in the last 14 days.
  • Use the bathroom at your home, rather than the barn. The fewer areas you access around the barn, the easier it is on barn employees.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before you leave your home.

How To Visit Your Horse

  • If the facility that cares for your horse allows outside visitors, be considerate of the staff’s health risks and the 10 -person rule.
  • Do what you can to avoid showing up to ride at the same time as other boarders/service providers. Remember that vets and farriers need to visit the facility too — and they count under the 10 person-rule.
  • Set up a group text and deconflict ride times.
  • Disinfect (wash/sse Sanitizer) your hands upon arrival.
  • Avoid touching things such as door knobs, lockers, stall door latches and light switches unnecessarily. Limit your use of common barn tools such as pitchforks, etc. Limit your stall contact to just the one that contains your horse(s).
  • Avoid petting barn dogs and cats.
  • Ride your horse outside (in the sunlight) away from others as much as possible. It’s great for your spirit, plus the virus doesn’t like sunlight.
  • While on horseback, practice the 6-foot separation rule.

Before You Leave The Barn

  • Disinfect anything you’ve touched before you depart.
  • Smile at barn employees and thank them for their work. They are under a lot of stress right now and appreciate your support.

Thank you for your patience, support and understanding as the equestrian community collectively works to address these global health concerns. In partnership with Eventing Nation, we’ll be publishing updates as they become available.

Stay Safe & Hug Your Horse,

Team Event Clinics