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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Horsemanship, Indeed - Part I

To everyone in the Hunter/Jumper world, it's simply "the Maclay." The sight of that trophy alone is enough to almost move me to tears. When I think of the hopes and dreams, the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into the win of every single rider's name engraved on it, I get the chills. Some of them are legends: Bill Steinkraus, Frank Chapot, George Morris. Some of them I've never heard of: Lane Schultz, Keri Kampsen. Every one of them, no matter how wealthy their parents, no matter how expensive the horse, still had to get on and ride. The Maclay may be the culmination of a nearly life-long dream for some of these young people, and there is nothing quite like watching them in the ring.

I grew up in New Jersey and was fortunate to have a mother for whom New York City was Mecca (I knew kids who never went into the City, despite our location only an hour away by car). For a number of years one of the highlights of my existence was our annual trip to the National Horse Show. Oh, the sheer magic of that show! I can just hear Victor Hugo-Vidal's voice booming over the loudspeaker. I would be beside myself with excitement over everything, but the Maclay in particular. Two years stand out in my mind: watching Leslie Burr win in 1972, and watching a young lady who boarded at Tricorne Farm, where I was a humble lesson student, compete. I can't remember if the latter made the cut or not, but just knowing someone in the ring was awesome. Mom and I have delighted in following Leslie's amazing career ever since. She hasn't done half-bad for someone who won the Maclay at age 15. :-)

The actual full name of the premier huntseat equitation competition for Junior riders in the US is the "National Horse Show ASPCA Alfred B. Maclay Championship." However, if you look closely at that beautiful silver plate, you will see the words "Horsemanship Trophy." I found myself mulling that over a lot during the class here...

A little bit about the background of the competition: Mr. Maclay was one of the founding fathers of the American Horse Show Association, now the United States Equestrian Federation. He came up with the idea for the class while president of the National Horse Show. Here's a quote I found on the ASPCA website:

"The ASPCA Maclay, a championship class at the National Horse Show, was initiated in 1933 by Alfred B. Maclay, an ASPCA board member, accomplished horseman and president of the National Horse Show. Maclay conceived of a trophy that would inspire young riders to develop the best horsemanship skills and instill in them respect and compassion for their equine partners."

Here's a little more, found on this year's National Horse Show website:
"The first endeavor put forth by the organization called for amateur riders, 15 and under, to ride horses not exceeding 16 hands over a course of eight jumps that were no taller than three feet.  The contenders were judged on their seat and control of their mounts.  The “Horsemanship Cup” was donated by the late Alfred B. Maclay, an officer of the ASPCA and President of the National Horse Show from 1922-1924. Since that time, the Maclay Championship has been a significant presence in the Equestrian World, and cherished by those who have had the honor of competing."

Pretty funny that there were only eight jumps and a height restriction on the mounts! That's a far cry from today's Big Eq rings full of ginormous Warmbloods. So, on with the show I saw - 35 kids qualified for the Region 5 Maclay Final. Here's the course map:

A glance at this pretty much told me where the trouble spots were going to be. A look into the ring only added to that; Fence 8 was three options built out of these faux brick and stone elements, as seen in a prior equitation class (in the Maclay they were all 3'6"):
As always, sorry for the lousy photography - this ain't a photography blog! :-)
Definitely scary to some of the horses, I would say! I went in the ring and felt those blocks afterwards. They were heavy, and I'm sure gave any horse that touched them quite a whack. Anyway, besides 8, the other fence I predicted would be bad was the very last one. An oxer off a long, bending line, at the end when horse and rider would be tired and ready to be done, towards the in-gate... yep, watch out.

I was not proved wrong; a number of riders botched the last jump, some after an otherwise really good round. Lots and lots of chips occurred. I'm pretty sure the judges were looking for the brave riders to pick up a head of steam towards that jump and really show 'em what they could do, but most kids at least attempted to keep a steady pace. The horses occasionally had other ideas, unfortunately. Don't tell me they don't know when it's about over!

Fence 8 also was a real issue. To set yourself up for a good Fence 9, the smart thing to do was jump the most inside element of 8, and that's just what almost everyone tried to do. But the tight bend from Fence 7 proved to be a killer. Horse after horse arrived at 8 with a crappy distance, took a hard look, and then finally popped over from a near stand-still. It wasn't pretty.

What surprised me, however, was Fences 1 and 2. On paper you would think, no big deal, a related distance and an easy opening for the course, but NO: apparently it measured out as a looooooooong five strides. If you did not smoothly pick up the pace a couple strides before Fence 1 and jump in big, you were not going to make that distance (I think one rider on a smaller horse successfully stuffed in six strides). And then they had to immediately take back to make the tight turn to Fence 3! The kids that did this well made it look easy and graceful; those that didn't, well, it really separated the wheat from the chaff right away.

Every single element of this cleverly-built course tested these riders. 9A and B? Saw problems, including a refusal (rider's fault, lousy distance and horse said unh-uh). 6 to 7? More funny striding, I believe, plus the worry of the turn to 8, caused trouble. I think this course truly was an excellent test of these riders, and I remain impressed.

I think three out of the 35 made a tight inside turn from 4B to 5, without going around 2. I wish I could remember if the winner did - I believe so - but that was definitely an opportunity to show off if you were so inclined. This wasn't supposed to be a jumper round, of course, so making all the turns without your horse looking like a motorcycle on its side took skills I certainly don't possess.

Next up: Notes about riders, tack/apparel and horses


  1. It's funny that you mentioned Keri Kampsen, because of all the Maclay winners she's probably the one I'm the most fond of! I knew her as a pony rider. She would come into the shop with her cute and very well behaved dog and talk and talk. I really enjoyed her visits. She was a neat kid and didn't seem spoiled at all despite her very enviable lifestyle.

  2. Sounds like a great course! I would love to watch something like that.


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