Now that my brain is no longer on a constant loop of GET ME OUT OF OHIO, I wanted to give my thoughts on WEC as a show venue overall.
In case you’re in a rush and want to get the gist of it right away (because yes this turned into a gigantic post): I give this place an enthusiastic thumbs up. If you’re on the fence about competing there, I would definitely recommend giving it a go.
That being said, it is not perfect (what place is?). So I’m going to break down the parts I loved and the parts where I think there’s still room for improvement.
Course design. There was a good mix of track questions and technical questions that felt appropriate for the different levels. Schooling classes were soft early in the week to give you a chance to get around and see the jumps. They were deliberate about designing courses to be able to pre-load in most cases, to keep the schedule moving efficiently.
The jumps. An excellent variety of colors and designs, well-maintained. The hunter jumps looked like a jungle- the fill was gorgeous. The ring crews worked tirelessly to quickly re-set jumps whenever needed.
Footing. Soft but not too deep, dragged and watered often, and treated with a dust-controller. They were very careful and attentive to the footing in all rings- warmups included. The warmup ring (at least for the jumpers) was dragged every time the main arena was dragged. Makes sense to me! The ring crew again worked extremely hard to clear manure between rounds, rake out takeoff/landing areas between drags, and make sure every competitor had the same access to a clear, well-maintained track.
The class schedule. They ruthlessly cut classes with low counts- if it does not fill, it does not run. This helps them keep the schedule on track and finish up by a reasonable hour- the Sanctuary was done by 4-5p most days, sometimes earlier.
Order of go. By the time I left each night, I knew where in the order I was for the following day. Adds always went at the top of the order. They were flexible enough if you needed to move (due to trainer conflicts mostly), but it was great being able to know a ballpark of when I should be getting ready.
Stall size. Frankie was able to stretch out and take his naps. ‘Nuff said.
Availability of wash stalls. They were EVERYWHERE and all had warm/hot water. It was so quick and easy to hose Frankie down after every round.
Wifi. A few weak patches here and there as I moved through the facility, but it was strong in the barn and by the ring. I was able to log in and work remotely without a problem, and more importantly, I was able to keep up with my social media!
Activities. Most every evening had something: a welcome stake, a chicken dinner by the ring, an exhibitor pizza party. The junior cadet program every Saturday is a chance for the junior riders to do a mini-clinic on different aspects of horsemanship, and there’s the chance for them to win $250-500 off their show bill just for attending. They clearly want this to be a fun experience, not just a competition.
The rider’s lounge. A nice quiet space away from the hustle and bustle, with free coffee/snacks, couches, and a table to eat lunch.
The vendors. Not just your usuals like Antares and FarmVet, but a chiropractor, day spa (haircuts and mani-pedis!), food truck, and knick knacks. The gift shop had lots of great items as well. Plenty of really fantastic shopping!
The music. There was a constant loop of classic rock in the Sanctuary, and they played Africa by Toto a solid 8-10x a day. It’s hard to walk a course when you’re jamming so hard, but we made it work.
The price. I only had to pay $75 per week for Frankies stall (!!!). They strictly patrol the horse stalls vs tack stalls (horse stalls are cheaper) and I think that additional flexibility would help their ability to be a center of leasing/ horse trials/ etc., but I was thrilled with the low cost. Also thrilled that all my division classes were money classes- every time I won a ribbon, I knocked a little bit off my show bill. Every drop counts! I paid WAY less per week for a full 4-5 days of competition than I have for 3 days at HITS Culpeper.
The personnel. Everyone was polite, friendly, and pleasant to work with. Happy to answer questions (no matter how stupid, and no matter how often I asked) or point me in the right direction. From the gate check, to the ring crew, to the hay and water truck guys, everyone had a smile and was eager to help us out.
The cabins. I was able to stay in one of the onsite cabins with friends the entire time, and loved it. Good wifi, strong shower pressure, washer/dryer inside, and comfortable beds. And a 90 second walk to get to Francis in the mornings. I have a few suggestions to turn these from fantastic to AMAZEBALLS, but those are just picky things. They’re already wonderful.
The drive. It was a relatively straightforward 7.5-8hr drive door to door. A few scary spots going through the mountains of WVa and Pennsylvania, but manageable. Much closer than Florida.
The Less Good
Lack of turnout. This is my only real gripe- the rest are softer. We had some really beautiful days where I know Frankie would have benefited hugely from a few hours to move around and graze himself, but he had to settle for a few hand walks when I wasn’t busy with work. I’ve heard rumors that adding turnout is in the future plans, so this will be huge!
Lack of outdoor rings. There are plenty in the works so I know this won’t be a problem for long- construction appears to be moving quickly on these. Right now there is only one main (huge) outdoor, so in the gorgeous weather on Tuesday we all went out for a hack. But there were some yahoos on lunge lines, kids literally galloping their ponies around, and when my steady unflappable tank of a horse started flagging his tail and wheeling, I skedaddled from that anarchy faster than you can say “children are a blessing.” It will be nice to spread out more when the weather is warm.
Spotty wifi. I couldn’t log on to the internet in the rider’s lounge. This would have been the perfect place to set up a little workstation at the table, but I just couldn’t get to my emails here. I think this is a chance to cater really well to their working ammies- the better ability I have to work remotely, the longer I can stay and compete (and therefor the more money I am willing to pay them).
The food. I loved that we had multiple options- the food truck had great smoothies and breakfast sandwiches, and the grill had lunch/dinner options as well as a full bar (and you could eat overlooking the pony ring, squee!). But the food was eh. Not awful, but eh. If I’m going ahead and suggesting everything that would be perfect, I would want a little stand that had some quick grab stuff- fruit and protein bars, things like that. Fast snacks to power up before your ride.
Low ceilings in places. I don’t mean the barns- Frankie had more than enough headspace. But when walking to/from the rings while mounted, I often had to duck below girders along the path. Not a huge deal at all- I admittedly have a gigantic animal and am tall myself, and it was never a problem, but I’m trying to be honest about all potential shortfalls.
Low counts in the higher divisions. Most days, the Medium and High Jr/AOs were cancelled, and even the Lows had very low counts. They even cancelled the Low Jr/AO Classic our second week due to low entries. I’m hoping to eventually move up to the AOs, so it’s a little disheartening to know that the offerings are a bit scarce for the upper levels. Hoping this will change as more people start attending.
The photographer. This is the first show in a long time that I haven’t bought a pro pic. I still may after perusing, but I just don’t love a lot of them- always from the same angle, timing was often off, and lots of pics of me cantering around and not actually jumping. I liked that they offered a digital social media package (bc let’s be real, that’s why I want the pics), but I was overall unimpressed by the shots they took.
The location. As mentioned the drive wasn’t that bad, but it was driving to rural Ohio. There’s pretty much nothing inside a 30 minute drive- plenty of cute stuff outside that radius, but it was a hike. And inside that 30 minute radius was farmland, highways, and a distinct lack of good restaurants (with one or two exceptions). I’ve always lived in places with very high restaurant concentrations (RI, Ithaca, Nova) so I’m definitely spoiled in this way, and rural Ohio may as well have been a different planet to this East-Coaster! It made me that much more grateful that they hosted plenty of activities onsite.
You stick a couple hundred horses under one roof and crank the heat up, what do you think will happen? There were plenty of manure piles outside, fans running, and doors went open on nice days, but there’s no escaping the fact that horses are stinky creatures. All my gear came home with a distinct dust+urine aroma, and I’m still cycling through making sure everything is washed/disinfected.
There you have it! Like I said- overall, I give this place two enthusiastic thumbs up. My “negatives” are relatively minor, and the good parts vastly outweigh them.
Now let me know- do you have any specific questions that I haven’t answered yet? Let me know in the comments!