By: Erin Shea, @BH_EShea
The team behind the Thoroughbred Classic Horse Show would love to see their 2018 edition of their annual Holiday Classic event go off without a hitch.
Forces outside of the organizers' control affected the past two editions of the December show—in 2016 it was cancelled due to an outbreak of Equine Herpes Virus (EHV-1), and in 2017 the equine community in Southern California was in the midst of dealing with devastating wildfires.
But the Thoroughbred Classic team took tragedy in stride, and turned an unexpected negative situation into something positive for their community and horses this past December.
With participants already setting up and shipping their horses to the Los Angeles Equestrian Center for the Holiday Classic Dec. 9-10, the team decided to press on. The goal was to be a positive light for the equestrian communities dealing with fires in Ventura and Sylmar and the racing community dealing with the Lilac Fire at San Luis Rey.
"We had a lot of frantic conversations on Thursday afternoon (Dec. 7, the day of the Lilac Fire). We just decided that we were going to press on and we were going to be, hopefully, something positive in the face of everything that was happening in racing," said Lucinda Mandella, executive director of the California Retirement Management Account (CARMA), a nonprofit that helps fund retraining and retirement for California Thoroughbreds and puts on the Thoroughbred Classic.
The CARMA team made a few changes to the event by cancelling the annual party and jockey calcutta and setting up a drop-off site for anyone who wanted to make donations. They even invited other equestrian evacuees, who were being temporarily stabled at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, to participate in their clinic the day before the show.
"It's interesting how in the face of a natural disaster, people come together," Mandella said. "Because of the Sylmar Fire, we met some new people who don't have Thoroughbreds and aren't in the Thoroughbred community, who were evacuated to the LA Equestrian Center and participated in our clinic with some of their warmbloods.
"We actually ended up making some great connections and they were shocked by the racing community's support. They started a donation collection and collected thousands of dollars of equipment, and created these kits with blankets and toiletries, and put together 40 kits and drove them down to Del Mar after the show was over on Sunday."
HC Stannis Baratheon with rider Rebecca Rosell at the Thoroughbred Classic.
Credit: Kristin Lee Photography
Another group of evacuees sent to the Los Angeles Equestrian Center at the time came from the high-class hunter/jumper barn of Archie Cox's Brookway Stables, a group CARMA connected with.
"It was nice to be able to showcase our Thoroughbreds to a typical hunter/jumper crowd and to be able to turn to Archie Cox and say, 'This is what Thoroughbreds can do,'" Mandella said.
"Through a tragedy, we were able to make connections with a group of riders and equestrians that we never would have met otherwise. They never would have been introduced to CARMA, retired racehorses, the work we do, and the programs we have on track. So really, through tragedy, we were able to fulfil our mission for this show, which is to raise awareness and outreach."
This year, CARMA hopes to continue its reach in the sport horse world through the Thoroughbred Classic with its upcoming events: a show at Galway Downs in Temecula, Calif. March 24-25, the 2018 Holiday Classic in December, and sponsored Thoroughbred-only classes at open and rated horse shows in the region.
"We're really proud of it. It's really grown and it's starting to come into its own," Mandella said of the Thoroughbred Classic, now in its fifth year. "We're the only Thoroughbred-only show on the West Coast. Hopefully it will continue to grow."