To Pam Gimple, the horse business is show business. And the time is now.
This month Gimple is managing a series of horse shows at the Orange County Fairground Equestrian Center. The Western division this weekend and the hunter-jumper division April 22-24 are among the 27 horse shows she runs every year at the facility.
A former show ring competitor, she says she "has been on both sides of the fence" and tries to make show day pleasant for both exhibitors and officials. Although she works up to 14 hours a day during a show, it is clearly a labor of love.
"If you enjoy what you're doing, you don't mind the (long) hours," she said.
As full-time manager of the equestrian center at the fairground, Gimple has her work cut out for her--both at the desk and in the stables. Home to 267 horses, the eight-acre facility requires an 18-member crew to feed the horses and clean the stalls. Gimple is responsible for those employees and for the welfare of every horse on the property.
"I walk the entire facility at least once a day and look in each horse's stall at least twice a week," she said. "Horses can't talk, so you have to know the animal to know when he doesn't feel good."
Gimple began riding when she was 10 years old and competing in Western classes when she was 12. As a child she saved her pennies until she could afford to breed her Quarter Horse mare. The offspring, a championship gelding named Rubber Checks, is now 16 years old--and still belongs to Gimple. She also owns two young Quarter Horses, a 3-year-old named Skito and his half-brother, a foal.
She spends her spare time roaming about the stable areas to ensure that everything is in order at the impeccably clean facility. Potted plants and flowers hang from the rows of oversize 12-foot-6 by 12-foot-6 stalls, and workers scurry about raking the dirt aisles to keep them clean.
Raised with farm animals, Gimple says she developed strong feelings about the proper care of animals and their environs. She stresses cleanliness and requires that every horse boarded at the fairground come out of its stall for exercise six days a week. If she feels a horse looks underweight or overweight, its feed is adjusted. Any horse boarded there must have liability insurance.
Despite these regulations--or perhaps because of them--the equestrian center is a full house. There is a two- to four-month waiting list for stalls, which rent for $260 per month. That fee includes the horse's feed, daily stall cleaning, use of the riding arenas and hot-walkers (mechanical devices for cooling horses), and 24-hour security patrols.
In the four years she has managed the facility--and in the previous three years she served as its assistant manager--Gimple has seen some disturbing trends in the Orange County equestrian scene.
"Ten or 15 stables have closed down since I've been working here, and that makes me nervous," she said.
Yet Gimple and her clients have the comfort of knowing that the Orange County Fairground Equestrian Center--California's only state-owned boarding facility--is not likely to follow suit.
"This is where people come to enjoy their horses and indulge their habit, so it's a fun atmosphere," she said. "It doesn't feel like work. Everyone's here because they want to be--including me."