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Horse Show Exhibitors on The Front Lines of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has created many new opportunities and challenges for people around the world. Some people have lost loved ones, others have lost their jobs, and everyone has temporarily lost horse showing.

However, some people are still working, those on the front lines. Throughout this article, you’ll get the perspective of four healthcare professionals who are also equestrians. They’ll shed light on their side of the hospital walls.

With everything that has been taken away, so much has also been created, found, and enjoyed. Let’s find the positive and see what insights these medical professionals have to offer.

AQHA Amateur Exhibitor Brianna Clark has been a nurse for the past four years. She has worked in the Cardiovascular ICU and the Advanced Cardiac Surgical (ECMO) Unit. When Brianna isn’t nursing, you can usually find her in the AQHA show pen competing with her horse, Taxable Assets, in events like the hunter under saddle, pleasure driving, and more.

Every shift, Brianna deals with the sickest of patients, including those with COVID-19. After the start of the pandemic, Clark decided to transfer from her hospital and home in Florida, all the way up to New York City to help with a more heavily-affected area. Clark has been in New York for nearly a month and is set to stay until at least July.

“I’m sure many people are wondering why I would do this, leave my family temporarily, and go to New York. It’s a call of duty,” Clark explains. “Watching my brothers and sisters on the front lines is just heart-wrenching. This is just pure hell, but it’s worth it. I’d go anywhere in a heartbeat to help. These nurses up here are just so exhausted, but we’re all so thankful for any help we can get. You have to have a passion for this job, and I do enjoy it.”

Clark adds, “The hospital has even transformed the executive offices into more ICU rooms. The doctors usually have about six to ten patients regularly, but now each one has fifty or more. Together we are one family, one team, and united we stand,” says Brianna as she describes working in a virus hotspot as “hell and a war zone.”

The hospital she’s transferred to even plays the song “Lean on Me” every time a patient dies. Amidst all of the troubles and heartaches, Clark has been able to find the positive. “The support from the community and country is just absolutely amazing. I’ve had people stop me on the street and say, ‘I don’t know how I can help, but can I pray over you?’ and they’d just stop there and start praying. We’ve even had The Sweet Shop send us their cinnamon rolls for breakfast, which are amazing. I’ve also seen so much support from the equine community. I’ve had people send me care packages or buy me coffee or buy me lunch. The community has donated food. We had free flights, boarding, and the Hilton Hotel even opened up their bars to us so we can have free drinks to wind down with. There is truly just so much support.”

AQHA Amateur Competitor Meggen Baynes MSN, RN-BC, NP-C, has been riding horses for 30 years and showing Quarter Horses over 20 years. Baynes owns two mares, Iron Hot Maiden and A Sleepy Margarita, and shows in the All-Around events with her 11-year-old daughter, Addison.

Baynes has been a Registered Nurse (RN) since 2010 and a Nurse Practitioner (NP) since 2018. Currently, she functions as an NP for Internal Medicine and Psychiatry, explicitly working in nursing homes.

“I am working with COVID-19 patients face-to-face who are in nursing homes and also via Telehealth. I am also a Nursing Instructor at Michigan State University. The most challenging part of my job is communicating with my elderly patients through an N95, covered by a surgical mask, covered by a face shield… they have a tough time hearing me.  Additionally, the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and having to reuse gowns, masks, and face shields day-to-day is frustrating and concerning.”

Baynes continues, “In one facility, I was given a single surgical mask to wear for fourteen days. Let’s talk about PPE for a minute…please don’t wear disposable gloves into the stores, etc. Unless you are changing your gloves in between each item you touch, it is pointless. Touching the handle of your shopping cart with your gloves, then touching your cell phone, then adjusting your mask, then rubbing your eye, then grabbing groceries items and putting them back, all with the same gloves is allowing for cross-contamination. You are better off not to wear gloves and to hand sanitize frequently. Like other viruses, COVID-19 should be respected, but not feared. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Isolate yourself if you have symptoms,” Baynes advises.

AQHA Amateur competitor Candie White has had a love for horses that she has never out-grown. White was on the Texas A&M Equestrian Team in college and shows on the AQHA All-Around circuit. Now, Candie is a Physician Assistant (PA) in Infectious Disease, and she works at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

“I work with patients that have cancer and, in most cases, are already very sick and immune-compromised. This virus can be much more detrimental to this population. However, it is very uplifting when patients improve and defy all odds. It makes the blood, sweat, and tears all worth it.”

White adds, “Social distancing and wearing masks are ways to protect not only yourself, but others too. Please consider this as the immune-compromised groups, the elderly, and the very young may not survive. This is real. This is not a hoax or fake. People are sick and are dying every day from it. It is worse than the flu as we don’t have any immunity to it, and it is highly contagious.”

AQHA Horse Show Mom, Kay Pursley grew up riding, showing and loving horses. After her riding career ended, two new opportunities arose; Registered Nurse and Horse Show Mom. Pursley has worked in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for the past seventeen years and cares for premature and critically ill infants, even if they potentially have COVID-19.

One of the most significant issues Pursley faces in her job is the lack of PPE. This shortage causes Pursley and her co-workers to reuse their masks, gowns, and face shields, which is not normal or optimal.

“We are so used to removing our masks and getting a new one for each procedure, bedside, and patient interaction. Now, we are wearing one mask for the entire shift,” Pursely reveals. “I have to wear a mask from the time I step out of my vehicle to the time I walk back out to my vehicle. We are allotted three masks that are supposed to last fifteen days, wearing each mask five times. After each use, the masks are sent through a UV Ray cleaning process and are then worn again once clean.”

Though the current world conditions are unsettling, Kay finds one of the most positive things happening within the pandemic is the recognition within her community. She explains, “People in the community have been reaching out and buying us lunch, delivering food and care packages. It’s nice to get recognition and appreciation. We are so thankful for the community’s support.”

These four healthcare workers and equestrians risk their lives every shift to ensure the wellness of their patients and their community. The long hours, aching feet, and tired minds are all pushed aside so these professionals can adequately care for your friends and loved ones.

These aren’t the only ones from the equine industry who are on the front lines. There are so many more brave, impactful, and selfless individuals who deserve all of our gratitude and love. Next time you see someone on the front lines, be sure to thank them and lets all get through this together.

About the Author – Oklahoma State Equestrian Commit, Lauren Pursley is a devoted youth equestrian showing in the all-around events with her horse Lovin Some Lazy Lola. Lauren is the current Texas Quarter Horse Youth Association Vice President and a member of Team USA 2020 for the Youth World Cup.  In addition to competing in AQHA shows, Lauren competes in Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) horse shows and is participating in the 2020 AQHA Ranching Heritage Bred Young Horse Development Program.