A Day at the Kick-Off Benchmark Rally
"BENCHMARK" — A standard against which others can be measured
"Rally" — "bring into "order" again / a renewal of strength / a call to come together/ revive
California delivered its best as the sun rose over Somis, CA, known as the most temperate climate in the United States. Linda Allen was already putting on the finishing touches for the first horse of the day, a 6 year old Argentine horse ridden by California based trainer Laura Santana. She had mentioned to me earlier that week that although 6, her horse was quite green to step into the YJA ring at Thermal and the pressure to keep up with more experienced jumpers would be to her horse's detriment. Laura realized that what she really needed was a "real" yet inviting track where she could "practice" in show ring environment, and who better to provide that venue than Linda Allen? Aside from her Olympic credential from '96 Atlanta, Linda is constantly advising, consulting, judging and clinicing.
Her broad perspective was dead on when she combined both a practical and an "esthetic shift," offering a setting where professionals /amateurs and developing horses alike could compete over the same track with descending heights throughout the day so that you could Jump - Assess - Repeat. Opposite the "convention" of Big, Bigger, Biggest by day's end, this system offers a logical reprieve from that formulaic approach.
First, you can be scored in the data base on your first round (after all, how accurate is a jumper score if the horse has addressed the same jumps 3 times prior til they get it "right").
Secondly, if you want a "RE-DO," it's about 1/2 the price of the already reasonable first round ($35 dollars /then $25 for each subsequent round). But more importantly. if you had hit a rough spot, you can go jump it. Again, but lower so the green horse /rider leaves with MORE confidence NOT LESS.
How may times have you had a tough time in the AA jumper class and your choices are limited to (A) waiting for tomorrow or (B) jumping a bigger track? Neither of these make sense to anyone who has just felt a bit "over faced."
Linda wasn't there to CLINIC per se, but her generosity and real desire to make sure everyone learned and had fun had her dispensing tips that made all the difference!!!! This is a GREAT IDEA that was beautifully executed.
Real jumps, perfect footing, efficient ring crew, and a USEF official. It was a perfect beginning to what we hope will be a groundswell of interest and a return to the business of training horses and riders to compete on their own merits and efforts. Like so many things that have become out of reach for the shrinking middle class, good horsemanship and riding (particularly competitive riding) have become increasingly elusive.
Almost 20 years ago, George Morris predicted in The Chronicle of the Horse column "Between Rounds," that the American love affair with buying "made" horses from Europe would come to an abrupt halt at the first sign of any financial distress here in the USA. That event surely did come to fruition in 2008 and the horse business has, as a result, made a huge adjustment. Gone for many are the easy shopping sprees through Germany and Holland to pick up the new "winner," oftentimes without the background to sustain the import's "winning ways"!!
Change can sometimes be challenging, but then isn't that the nature of sport???
Linda is correct and her timing is perfect. The Benchmark Program isn't a horse show, nor is it a "clinic": it's a hybrid venue where the word "elite" refers to an "aspiration" to strive for, NOT merely "EXPENSIVE."
Linda has drawn heavily from the one-day local European one-ring concept of a gathering of horsemen; thus the term "rally" is applied. With one "rally" under our belts, strong support from you, Bernie, countless online publications, and our friends at Show Jumping Unplugged -TV, I feel confident that this program, found online at www.thebenchmarkprogram.com, will re-open the sport (by remaining affordable) to many equestrians who increasingly have been out priced from the sport they love.
They say for every dark cloud there's a silver lining. For me the "silver lining" comes in the form of a "Back to Basics" concept of exactly what "horsemanship" is: it's certainly more than collecting ribbons that get left behind when the horse trailers go off to the next show ground.
I'd close by saying that at our "debut rally" — with very nice trainers /amateurs and horses in attendance and only one ring to be accountable for — we actually stayed and watched each other "GO" rather than jumping on the nearest golf cart to quickly get on the "next one."
www.thebenchmarkprogram.com — Finally a breath of fresh air!!!