Karen Fulton runs two recognized events and one unrecognized each year at her family’s Full Moon Farm in Finksburg, Maryland. They also are a boarding, training and lesson facility.
“I think [recognizing starter level is] a great idea,” she said. “We actually had talked to Rob about this a few years ago and said, you guys really need to do this. What this is going to allow us to do is to bring more people to competitions. So if Loch Moy [Maryland] has a starter division along with their beginner novice, novice, training, modified … then we can just add more horses to the trailer. And that’s great.
“I think there’s also people that are never going to go beginner novice,” she added. “So this gives them a place to go [if they want to compete at recognized events].”
Fulton said she doesn’t think the change will have an adverse impact on unrecognized events; there’s enough demand for both.
The main driver for those competing unrecognized is cost, she said. Those who compete at Full Moon are “basically getting 75% of an Eric Bull-built course, who built the Pan Am Games. You’re getting professional course design at a reduced rate,” she explained.
“That’s where we get a little nervous taking people to unrecognized things that we haven’t been to [before], because there’s no standardization,” she added. “Because it can be ‘Susie’s mom built this course,’ or [international course designer] Tremaine Cooper did. There’s a big diversity. You might get some moldy hay bales that are sort of leftover, and then they throw some railroad ties on top of it, and that’s your course.”
She added that year-end awards and championships are important goals for many riders, so the recognition of starter level will expand those opportunities. She recalled her daughter Woodge, now a five-star rider, competing at the AEC the first year beginner novice was offered, and how controversial it was then.
“It was 60 people in the division with, you know, 70-year-old people and a 10-year-old kid. Everyone was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if we want to do that!’ Well, now look at it; there’s, what, seven divisions of beginner novice at the AECs?” she said.
Fulton said she does, however, worry that the swelling lower levels at recognized events may make local associations less relevant. Such groups often offer their own championships and year-end awards and may see less participation, she said.
“By adding lower levels, and giving bigger prizes and having a championship and that whole thing, I think that’s making it harder for the local organizations like the Maryland Combined Training Association or Delaware Valley Combined Training Association or any of those guys,” she said. “There wasn’t a strong national association 35 years ago, and that’s certainly changed.”