Linda Allen and The Benchmark Program
(reprinted from: The Bay Area Equestrian Network)
By Kevin McGinn
From the early 1960's through the mid 1980's, the U.S. was a dominant force in the world of Show Jumping. Represented by a dynasty of equestrian elite including Frank Chapot, William Steinkraus, Mary Mairs Chapot, Conrad Homfeld, and Joe Fargis, our team won at every major venue in the world. What is often forgotten is that these riders accomplished this feat on horses bred and trained right here in America!
Then, in the late 1980's that all changed; Americans became perhaps the largest importers of European horses in the world. We bought not only bloodlines but also the thoughtful and meticulous early training and ring experience that allowed buyers to take horses straight to the show ring; much of what we pay for when we purchase European horses comes from the good mileage that they receive as 4, 5, and 6-year-olds.
Today, we have a new set of circumstances impacting our sport. Not only have American breeders brought the very best bloodlines to our own shores, but the new economy makes the model of purchasing top class experienced horses out of reach of the vast majority of enthusiasts. The absolute necessity of show ring mileage in the development of saleable horses, together with the growing cost of obtaining that mileage has become a dilemma for American owners and trainers. Developing our own horses, therefore, is a bit of a lost art. The biggest handicap in bringing young horses along is the lack of opportunity to get the youngsters an appropriate, cost effective, introduction to the showing world.
Linda Allen, famed course designer of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games,the 1992 World Cup Final (Del Mar), Super Leagues in both Dublin and Rotterdam, three time Nations Cup rider, and judge for many National Medals, has brought numerous horses from "local" shows to International acclaim. The Benchmark Program, a concept developed by Linda Allen, is designed to address this lack of opportunity for appropriate and affordable mileage for young horses as well as for less experienced riders. Linda's plan is for one-day rallies* that emphasize the development of a solid foundation, rather than on winning ribbons.
The Benchmark Program is carefully designed to meet the needs of trainers of young horses, as well as riders who need mileage in the arena. Each one-day rally will feature a course comparable to that at a rated show. These courses will be "horse-friendly" to encourage schooling for young horses. Riders will have the opportunity to ride multiple rounds at whatever height they choose, giving them the opportunity both to ascertain their horses' current level of training as well as to ensure that every horse has gotten a full measure of good 'mileage' during the day's outing. The Benchmark Program will also offer a permanent performance record for each horse, consisting of scored first rounds at each height. These rounds will accumulate points toward Benchmark Bronze, Silver, and Gold achievement levels, creating increased visibility for young horses and giving trainers and owners an opportunity to showcase horses in a cost-effective way. Additionally, The Benchmark Program offers Junior and Amateur a way to accumulate show-ring mileage and reach individual performance goals.
The Benchmark Program offers an extremely cost-effective alternative to Rated shows. Yearly membership for The Benchmark Program costs $50, whereas membership fees for rated shows can run in excess of $175. Riders will be charged $35 for the first round, and only $25 for all additional rounds. Non-member fees at rallies are only $5 per class; at rated shows, non-members are charged an average of $70 per show. There are no late fees ($35 at rated shows) or nomination fees ($50 at rated shows) for The Benchmark Program rallies.
Today's horse shows are, rightly, geared to the competitive level of horse and rider; The Benchmark Program seeks to provide an opportunity similar to those found in European countries to put the foundation on horses and riders at a cost more equivalent to theirs. Good mileage, reasonable cost, better marketing, individual goals, in an inclusive atmosphere - these are the goals of The Benchmark Program.
*Upcoming Rally Dates: 1/9/11, 4/3/11, 9/4/11, 12/4 /11 All will take place at El Sueno Equestrian Center in Somis, CA. See more information at TheBenchmarkProgram.com, or contact Kevin McGinn.