Kansas City, Mo. More than 100 horse owners and trainers say they won't return to the American Royal next year unless something is done about filthy conditions and inadequate stables.
The loss of that many competitors would cause the American Royal Saddle Horse Show to lose its status as the second-most prestigious event of its kind in the country, said Chuck Herbert, president of the United Professional Horsemen's Assn.
Roger Shores, chairman over all six American Royal horse shows
"If these people didn't come back, the Royal would become just another horse show," Herbert said.
Complaints range from a filthy arena to horse stables and a competition floor that weren't ready until long after the horses had arrived and competition had begun last month.
Most of the problems are the responsibility of the American Royal, which leases buildings from the city during the 19 days of the shows and competition. But the city is responsible for the overall cleanliness of the grandstands and public areas.
Fern Bittner, a St. Charles, Mo., horse owner who has managed the saddle horse and hunter jumper shows for the Royal for three years, said: "This is the last show of the year. People love to come to Kansas City. They do their Christmas shopping while they are here. But I considered what they said an ultimatum."
American Royal officials, citing the economic impact of the show, said they would do whatever they could to make the horse owners and their trainers and handlers happy.
"The saddle horse exhibitors were not pleased, and they were right," said Roger Shores, chairman over all six American Royal horse shows. "These are very expensive animals. These people spend a lot of money and deserve premier treatment. I know we are going to make some changes."
American Royal managers have agreed to present a specific plan to resolve complaints by the end of January, when the association holds a national meeting.
About 800 horses were entered in this year's saddle horse competitions the second week of November. Another 300 were entered in the hunter jumper competitions, which ran simultaneously.
The horse shows came after the rodeo, and the arenas were not ready when horses arrived, Herbert said.
Stables were not finished and horses could not be unloaded for hours after being trucked all day, a health risk to them. Herbert said the floor of the arena, or footing, was inadequate.
"The whole situation was dangerous," Herbert said.
Adding to the irritation, Herbert said, was a filthy arena. The stands were dirty, trash was everywhere and a chemical used to keep the dust down didn't work, he said. City workers handed out towels so the audience could wipe dirt off their seats.