Dear Desert International Horse Park community,
With the announcement last week that the State had completed its oversight of the horse park, I would be remiss if I didn’t take the time to thank the many people who were involved in helping us navigate the EHV-1 outbreak. It was no small effort to get through this challenge and we involved people around the world who provided expertise and tools to guide our team’s efforts on the grounds.
Let me start with the team of veterinarians at East-West Equine: Duncan, Lori, Maddy, and Morgan. They worked around the clock with perhaps the most challenging task as they saw and managed the impact on our horses and supported our clients. They leveraged their extensive network of colleagues around the world for ideas and best practices, and there is no doubt that their aggressive treatment plan for affected horses led to a successful outcome for so many horses. Importantly, their passion for doing what was right drove us to act as aggressively and as quickly as possible.
Many of you got to meet and/or see the face of the CDFA on the grounds, Josh Kloeppel, DVM. We couldn’t have asked for a better partner on the ground in helping guide our efforts. It’s not often that pragmatic and government are mentioned in the same sentence but they apply here for sure. Josh became a trusted advisor as we adapted the facility to focus on what mattered most, separating horses as quickly as possible.
In Sacramento, Emily Nietrzeba, DVM, MPH, coordinated all of the efforts and resources of the CDFA, whether it be weekend lab time or answering the thousands of questions I had about the course of the virus and how it might travel through our population of horses and what we should do next. The virus strain/variant at DIHP presented us with many challenges that differed from previous outbreaks, such as a much longer incubation period, and Emily and her team helped to sort out these differences and guide the protocols to ensure we acted aggressively.
The USEF team – Bill Moroney, Stephen Schumacher, Vicki Lowell and Sonja Keating – were available around the clock to provide all the help we could use. For those who have not had the opportunity to work with Steve, the lead USEF veterinarian, he is tremendous in his knowledge and his calming voice. He too took the brunt of my thousands of questions. The USEF team also made sure we provided accurate and timely information. Perhaps most important, they are now a great partner for us in establishing an EHV-1 research and protocol program going forward for all show managers to have available should the need arise.
The team at UC Davis, including Nicola Pusterla, DVM, Ph.D, Dipl. AVCIM, and Carrie Finno, DVM, Ph.D, and Director of UC Davis Center for Equine Health, provided their incredible knowledge about the virus to help us in our decision making. They then joined forces with us to begin a significant research program to advance the science about EHV-1. We have committed to a long-term arrangement with UC Davis to develop protocols and practices for next season to reduce both the likelihood this happens again and the impact if it does. They also introduced us to the team at Fluxergy, as they are aggressively working to develop a new set of EHV-1 testing tools that we can use in the fall. To say this group represents the best in the world would be an understatement and we are fortunate to have them involved.
Each evening our press lead, Tori Bilas from Phelps Media Group, helped us from the East Coast, regardless of time, to make sure we were able to keep our commitment to everyone with regard to accurate and timely information about what was happening at the horse park. She patiently waited as nearly 20 people got their turn at editing and approving what we had to say. Tori never missed a beat!
When we formed our partnership to acquire the facility and competition, the partners – Rob, Sandy, Catherine, Christina, Jeremy, Lisa and myself – had a long discussion about our objectives. While we all acknowledged that the investment was a business, it was essential that “no matter what” we would always put horses first. It is a hard for the broader equestrian community to understand the extent to which we believe this. There was not a single time that “lost money” even came into consideration when we had to act over the last six weeks. I’m not sure there are many partnerships that can live up to a commitment as strongly as my partners did over this challenging time. In short, we have a tremendous group of partners and I can’t imagine pursuing our dream of building the sport on the West Coast with any other group of individuals. They are the finest and I owe all of them a sincere thanks.
Whether you were worrying about a horse that tested positive or a horse in quarantine awaiting results, trying to figure out whether your farm would allow you home, or missing the opportunity to show and have fun with your barn mates, the impact on the horse community from this outbreak was extensive. The vast majority of those in the sport, whether customers of the horse park or not, have been positive and supportive. Your words of encouragement were incredibly helpful to all of us at the horse park as we worked every day to resolve this challenge. I will always remember when we got a nice note or when someone stopped us at the horse park to just say thanks. We owe you a huge thanks in return and, most importantly, a lesson learned about the power of positive words going forward.
In the last two and a half years, we have built a great horse park and returned international competition to the West Coast. This only happens when you have a great team. A subset of that team – Ashley, Skyler, Joseph, Brian, Ray, Leonard, and Danny – were there every night and every day as we had to build new tents, move horses, get stalls ready, put up fencing, move fencing, post signs, and so much more. It is said you only know you have a great team when they are challenged with the worst. We were challenged with the worst, and the team never faltered once. They know how much they mean to me and how much I appreciate them but it never hurts to keep saying it. So, thanks!
I owe a special thanks to Lisa and all of the spouses of the team members. I am unbelievably lucky to have spent most of my life with Lisa. Many of you also know her smiling face and the spark she brings to everyone. She loves this sport. Unfortunately, our team wore the challenges of the last six weeks on our faces each day. We had incredible support from our spouses, all of whom tried to help us put a smile on so we could face the day. Despite these encouraging words, I know it took a toll on everyone’s families and am sure the summer and some well-deserved time off will put everything back in perspective.
I’m not sure I have ever had a more difficult five weeks of my life. It is hard to explain the pressures one feels from having so many horses’ health and safety in question right in front of you.
In the end, viruses are complicated. They are unpredictable. They don’t behave as you want them to. We have all learned this from Covid. And here we were faced with one that impacts the animals that we love and who are so dependent on us.
We did the best we could, every minute, every hour, every day. We acted on the information we had at that moment. We got advice from the best people in the world.
The most comfort I felt during the last five weeks was when Nicola Puserla stood up at our town hall and said “I don’t have many answers for you.” He is one of the best in the world. And knowing that he didn’t have all the answers somehow he made it okay that I didn’t either.
There will always be those who thought we could have or should have done things differently. I am fortunate in my life that I am still learning. Perhaps we could have or should have done some things differently. That doesn’t mean that what we did was wrong. Or that the outcome would have changed.
One thing I have learned that will forever be in me: I’m going to always search for the good in people. It is easy to be one of those that always has something negative to say or finds the wrong in everyone. I sure wish that many of the things that were said about me or my team or our efforts were never said. I can’t change that. But I won’t be a part of it either.
We had a great season in many ways. The level of competition in November, our first CSI5* events, the grass field, the first half of Desert Circuit… I could go on and on about the many things that made the season great and that will provide lasting good memories. We can’t wait to get back in the fall.