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Tom Struzzieri: "To get past this faster and to come out stronger, everyone needs to do the right thing"

Monday, 06 July 2020
Interview

Photo © Molly Sorge/The Chronicle of the Horse HITS President & CEO Tom Struzzieri. Photo © Molly Sorge/The Chronicle of the Horse.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

With international jumping resuming worldwide after a three month break due to the Covid-19 pandemic, WoSJ called up HITS President & CEO Tom Struzzieri to learn more about the current situation in the US. 

"We have several venues and have been able to be open at HITS Lamplight in Chicago, where we have done three shows," Struzzieri explains. "I would have to call them a success. We were able to get the exhibitors to follow the protocol that we had laid out – which for example required careful mask wearing, certain sanitary conditions and lots of hand sanitizing. We got through those events very well. In July, we will be starting up three circuits: One here in New York – at Saugerties, one in Virginia and the Lamplights in Chicago again. For the next six weeks we have got 16-17 events planned; we are about to hit the busier time of our summer. Each of our facilities are going to follow a similar protocol, unless the particular municipality or government has given us stricter guidelines.”

“As a show organizer, my biggest worry is that as people show more days and as they get to the showgrounds multiple times the chance for them to become more complacent might become prevalent,” Struzzieri says. “That is something we need to watch out for and as show organizers, we must stay vigilant so that it doesn't happen. Many of my peers here in the States have started their events again and I think they would all say the same thing; we are doing well but we can't let our guard down." 

A medium grade, with the hope that it can get to an excellent

The biggest issue in jumping seems not to be the sport itself, but the social aspect surrounding it. "In our sport, when we are on horseback, we are already socially distancing," Struzzieri says. "That is a good thing, it is a plus. It is when people are not on horseback, that they are challenged the most. To say that it is going seamless to get everyone to follow the mandatory protocols, would not be totally honest. It is a challenge. From my viewpoint – and I don't see much of what is going on in Europe, I wish people here in the US were even more vigilant. There is plenty of room for us to be even better at following protocols. I think younger people feel like Covid-19 is something that is not going to be an issue for them – therefore, we have the hardest time with them, reminding them to be vigilant with their masks and social distancing. However, I guess everyone's guard comes down every once in a while, even though we are trying as hard as we can to not let that happen.”

“I keep telling my competitors that this is really all in their hands,” Struzzieri says. “If they want to show and if they want our sport to go forward, they must take a very active role and do the right thing. So far, I would give everybody a medium grade, with the hope that we can get to an excellent. In other industries, it is easier to make people comply; at horse shows we often have hundreds of acres and people are more spread out, and therefore it is more difficult to achieve 100 % compliance. On the other hand, in open air, the risk is of course smaller, but the events are harder to police. If we want our businesses to go forward, we have got to comply." 

As to hosting shows without spectators, Struzzieri has no problems with meeting the challenge. "Here in the States, horse shows don't attract the same amount of spectator enthusiasm as in Europe so for us to do events without spectators wasn't and isn't proving to be too difficult," Struzzieri continues. "I think other sports are going to be more challenged, because so much of their revenue depends upon spectators and the sponsors that want the presence of those spectators. When the state of New York tells me to operate without spectators, it is not that complicated for the majority of my classes." 

Marching to the same tune

When asked what he would like to tell his fellow show organizers – both US and European – Struzzieri answers: "I feel their pain. We are all in this together. Follow the protocol and do the right thing – if we can all be vigilant as show organizers, I think we can accomplish a lot. In the US, we do speak a lot to each other, and it appears we are all marching to the same tune to get our clients to follow the rules. The most important thing to keep in mind is that what we are doing and the steps we are taking have an effect on the whole sport. Things that are happening in Europe, are going to affect US and vice versa. The world is really watching, and social media makes everything that goes on even more visible. Every single exhibitor, every single horse person needs to do the right thing in order for us to get past this faster and to come out stronger." 

USEF – a terrific ally

"I think the FEI could have done more," Struzzieri says about the international governing body's role in handling the pandemic. "USEF has done and is doing a superb job at being a liaison with local governments and helping us through rough edges. I get an immediate answer when I have questions. USEF has been exceptional in these times and a terrific ally for us. Of course, unlike Europe, we rely on the USEF dramatically more than we do on the FEI. I have cancelled all my FEI events until the end of August. I still have two potential events that we are not sure if we are going to run. We asked for some considerations from the FEI – such as not bringing officials in from the other side of the world, and changes in secure stabling so that we could separate the stables a bit more and did not get a favourable response. I think in these conditions, there could have been more room for the FEI to better co-operate with an event organizer." 

Encouraging enthusiasm

As to the future, Struzzieri is staying optimistic. "As we opened up horse shows, the enthusiasm people showed was encouraging," he says. "Some people might not feel comfortable showing yet and I believe everyone should do what feels right for them. In the States, in the areas where you are allowed to show, people are making an effort. This winter was one of the best winters I have seen when it comes to enthusiasm and the growth of the sport. Granted this is a horrific moment in history – and in a small way also in the history of equestrian sports – I believe that once we can get past this to a point where we possibly have a vaccine and everyone will be comfortable to show again, the business is going to sky-rocket back to the heights it was at before. Obviously, we won't be able to make up the money that has been lost, yet our clients are ready to participate at events again,” Struzzieri

 

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