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July 3, 2012

The Chronicle Over The Decades: 2000s

Brentina and Debbie McDonald brought Grand Prix dressage, including their outstanding freestyles, to a new level in the United States in the 2000s. Photo by John Strassburger.

The Chronicle of the Horse is celebrating its 75th birthday in 2012. This is the last article in a seven-week series in which we’ve brought you a decade-by-decade look at the history that has filled its pages since 1937.

At the turn of the century, the horse show world, like much of the rest of the world, looked forward to a new age filled with technological advances and high competition. Although both played a significant role in the equine industry during the first decade of the new millennium, after the midnight glitter settled on Jan. 1, 2000, and everyone realized Y2K was something to be celebrated and not survived, the horse world got back to business.

At the Chronicle, the 2000s brought a variety of changes to both format and staff. In March 2006, Tricia Booker became editor at the magazine when John Strassburger retired. He continued to write columns for the magazine. Less than a year later, on Sept. 14, 2007, the print magazine went to full color, and for the first time photographs in editorial stories were regularly printed in color instead of black and white.

In 2010, Beth Rasin became editor. The Chronicle Connection, a digital monthly magazine, debuted in January of 2011. Most recently, the print magazine received a redesign that launched on April 9, 2012, with a white cover and a return to a masthead reminiscent of the original 1937 design.

The Chronicle website grew and evolved into a platform for up-to-the-minute news and daily coverage of events. Instead of waiting a week to read about the latest competition, the 2000s saw a rise in the amount of online coverage from horse shows across the world.

The information is presented in a different way, but these changes did not affect the Chronicle’s tradition of following the latest happenings in the sport horse world.

When Tragedy Strikes

After the world was shocked by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, the horse show world skidded to a stop. Cancelled flights and safety concerns prevented international travel, and horse show organizers questioned whether or not it was disrespectful to hold competitions in the days following 9/11. The horse world was not immune to the political environment, and patriotism soared at horse shows. At the Lincoln American Gold Cup in Devon, Pa., riders and spectators alike wore red, white and blue ribbons as the show continued.

Four years later, Hurricane Katrina caused severe flooding on the Gulf Coast, animals were abandoned or lost, and food was scarce. However, the equine community jumped to action to send hay and grain to the area, evacuate animals in danger and find new homes for unclaimed pets. On Sept. 9, 2005, a report in the Chronicle described some of the rescue efforts:

… More than 90 horses and mules have been rescued and are now at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, La., where veterinarians and veterinary students from Louisiana State University, and volunteers, have been caring for them.

Among those 90 are 19 carriage horses and mules rescued from New Orleans’ downtown district, where they were used for tourist carriage rides. One brave soul, identified only as Lucian, stayed behind during the hurricane to care for the horses. He and 22 horses rode out Hurricane Katrina. He lost one to a broken neck, but helped 21 survive almost a week with no food, water or supplies. When finally rescued from waist-deep water on Sept. 4, the animals were transported to Baton Rouge, although two did not survive the journey….

This Isn’t Science Fiction

Technological advances in the 2000s allowed competitors to not only submit entries for competitions online, but also to see results instantaneously. In 2003, the Upperville Horse Show (Va.), the oldest horse show in the country, provided results online to celebrate its 150th anniversary and joined more than 420 shows that submitted results electronically to USAEquestrian that year.

In July 2006, scientists began sequencing the horse genome, and on Feb. 7, 2007, the first draft of the horse genome sequence was publicized. Stem cell therapy with adult stem cells as well as embryo stem cells expanded treatment options for ligament or tendon injuries in horses by injecting stem cells directly to the site of the injury.

The first cloned horse, a Haflinger filly named Prometea, was born on May 28, 2003, at the Laboratorio di Tecnologie della Riproduzione in Cremona, Italy. Soon after, a Quarter Horse clone was born, and don’t forget Gemini, the clone of show jumping great Gem Twist. Gemini was born Sept. 15, 2008. He was cloned for breeding purposes, and he currently stands at stud for Mary and Frank Chapot of Chado Farms.

Away Hunting Goes Across The Pond

During the 2000s, the British hunting community was locked in debate with its government over foxhunting. The argument quickly spilled across the pond, and foxhunters all over the United States voiced their support for their English counterparts’ rights to participate in an ages old tradition. On March 18, 2001, officers of the Masters of Foxhounds Association of America led members in a “Liberty & Livelihood March” in London. Despite the best efforts of avid foxhunters on both sides of the ocean, Feb. 17, 2005, was the last day to legally foxhunt with traditional methods in Britain. However, the ban didn’t stop enthusiasts from carrying on by laying scent for the hounds to follow. The Chronicle later reported that under the new law, hunts occasionally picked up a scent of a real fox.

“Not only has it been impossible for hunt staff to prevent this from happening, but they’ve also found it difficult to stop a pack of hounds in full cry after their natural quarry. As the hunters’ intention in these cases was to hunt drag and not a fox, it would be difficult for police to achieve a successful prosecution,” wrote Chronicle correspondent Adrian Dangar in the March 25, 2005, issue.

The Event Is The Thing

The U.S. eventing community started the 2000s with a huge victory when the U.S. team won bronze at the Sydney Olympic Games and David O’Connor and Custom Made took the individual gold. The pair was named the Chronicle’s 2000 Overall and Eventing Horse and Horseman of the Year.

With the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** firmly established, the eventing community talked about adding a second four-star event to the calendar. On May 10, 2002, the Chronicle reported that the USAEquestrian Eventing Committee requested bids from venues wanting to put on a fall four-star event. Chairman Roger Haller said, “One of the things we want to be pushing for in the future is to increase the number of advanced horse trials around the country, especially in the West and the Midwest.” At the time, USAEq aimed to hold the first fall four-star in 2005.

The debate between the long and short formats for eventing competitions raged throughout the 2000s. Although it was not a new discussion, it prompted event organizers to take action. In 2004, Rolex Kentucky included long and short format options so that riders could prepare for the new short format Athens Olympic Games. In 2006, the Kentucky, Badminton (England) and Burghley (England) four-stars transitioned to the short format to prepare for the FEI World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany. Although the organizers of the Kentucky event originally planned to go back to the long format in 2007, this didn’t happen.

At the end of 2006, Phillip Dutton started riding for the United States instead of his birth country of Australia, just in time to help the team sweep the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro. Also on that team, Karen O’Connor and her pint-sized mount Theodore O’Connor earned the individual gold medal as well.

Dressage Dreams

Dressage superstars Debbie McDonald and Brentina launched to international dressage greatness in the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain, when they helped the U.S. team earn silver. Individually, they placed second in the Grand Prix Special and fourth in the freestyle.

At the 2003 FEI Dressage World Cup Final they placed second behind Rusty and Ulla Salzgeber, but when Rusty tested for a higher-than-threshold level of testosterone, Brentina and McDonald became the first American team to win the title.

“I really feel for Ulla—I really do,” she told the Chronicle for a Nov. 28, 2003, article. “I can’t imagine what she’s going through right now… Realistically, Rusty was the real winner on that day; he had the better test. So it’s a bittersweet way to win.”

The rise in popularity of dressage freestyles prompted discussion about how to best judge the freestyle. Between Rounds columns in the magazine frequently asked how to make judging fair, how to maintain amateur interest and what was the best way to promote the relatively young sport in the United States—issues still hotly contested today.

A darker side of dressage was also frequently discussed throughout the later 2000s. Hyperflexion, also called “biting the chest” and “rollkur,” brought accusations and defense about a method of training still deemed controversial. In July 2005, St. Georg, a leading German equestrian magazine, accused Dutch riders of using training methods that compromised the welfare of the animals by bending their necks behind the vertical. While the riders defended their training methods, the Fédération Equestre Internationale concluded after a workshop held in January 2006 that there was no scientific evidence proving that hyperflexion by an experienced rider harmed the horse. The report noted that with an inexperienced rider, the horse might suffer physical repercussions.

Medications And Rule Changes

Like in previous times, the use of drugs at competitions prompted heated debate.

At the 2004 Athens Olympics, four horses tested positive for medication, which resulted in lengthy hearings. Cian O’Connor and Waterford Crystal of Ireland were stripped of their individual gold medal, and the German show jumping team lost their gold after Ludger Beerbaum’s mount, Goldfever, tested positive. After the medals were readjusted—the U.S. show jumping team earned gold and Chris Kappler earned individual silver—the FEI and the USEF took a harder look at drug and medication rules.

The FEI began classifying different drugs either legal or illegal with threshold amounts for each substance. The USEF also took measures to discourage drugs, as John Strassburger noted in a commentary on Jan. 28, 2005:

The trick with any drug rule is that the testing and the penalties have to discourage people from using more exotic drugs to make lame horses sound or hot horses quiet. That’s why they’re always improving their techniques at the USEF laboratory in Ithaca, N.Y. And it means that the penalties for people who misuse the drug rule have to be stiff enough to deter others from calculating that the price of getting caught is less than the reward of winning a class or selling an unsound or inappropriate horse to an unsuspecting buyer.

Strassburger went on to describe the USEF’s approach of classifying and researching drugs and organizing a penalty system that would increase punishments severely.

The controversy surrounding the 2004 Olympics was repeated in 2008 when four horses tested positive for capsaicin, a pain-reliever derived from chili pepper plants that can make horses’ legs more sensitive. Two additional horses, including Courtney King-Dye’s mount Mythilus, tested positive for other banned substances. Due to the FEI’s then-policy of zero tolerance, King-Dye and the U.S. team were disqualified. In a Sept. 26, 2006, Chronicle report, King-Dye said, “They have to punish me according to the FEI rulebook because I can’t prove where the drug came from. I can’t prove it because I don’t know. I can’t place blame or resentment anywhere.”

In 2009, the FEI changed its classification of some drugs and allowed therapeutic drugs at competitions. Despite the rule changes, the debate over various drugs and their use at competitions continues to this day.

Helmet Safety

Safety versus personal choice named the game of the helmet debates that raged during the first decade of the new millennium. As of Dec. 1, 2001, juniors were required to wear ASTM/SEI-certified helmets in hunter, jumper and hunt seat equitation classes. The Chronicle even provided a certified helmet guide for junior riders.

Trainers, riders, judges and parents debated the availability of properly fitting helmets, the need for discipline-specific helmets and the need of rule enforcement.

Later, in 2005, the USEF passed a rule that all riders, no matter their age, in hunter, jumper and equitation classes needed to wear ASTM/SEI-approved helmets. According to a Chronicle report on Jan. 28, “This rule sailed through with barely a whimper… Convention veterans shook their heads in relief, remembering the passionate opposition to a junior helmet rule proposed 15 years ago, passion that was still evident when the current junior helmet rule passed three years ago.”

Bringing WEG To The United States

The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington tried to bring the 2006 World Equestrian Games out of Europe and to the United States, but Germany won the bid. However, for the 2010 Games, only France and the United Arab Emirates opposed Kentucky’s bid. In a May 13, 2005, report by the Chronicle, John Nicholson, executive director at the horse park, said, “Everyone [at the Fédération Equestre Internationale] I’ve talked to seemed to be rooting for the Games to come to Kentucky, with the exception of the French, who were courteous.”

When the FEI picked Lexington as the site for the 2010 WEG, not only was it the first time the games were held In North America, but Alltech also became the first title sponsor of the competition.

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