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Thursday, October 27, 2011

That's What We've ALWAYS Called Them...

I just finished reading this post on another blog with great interest. Read it through twice, in fact. See what you think:

I guess I get this lady's point, namely that OTTB is supposed to be an adjective, but 99.9% of the equestrian world uses it as a noun.  Apparently she has an issue with that. What I still don't understand is why. Is she an English teacher in addition to being a highly successful Thoroughbreds-Who-Used-To-Run-Races re-trainer? Does she think we are defaming the great name of the Thoroughbred breed by using this term? If it's the former (which I highly doubt), well, I'll admit to being a bit of a grammar Nazi myself, and bad writing and spelling irritate me no end, but really... If we all went around correcting people's speech we would not be terribly popular (and we'd go berserk after five minutes in a Walmart).

If it's the latter, I really don't understand. Isn't the word Thoroughbred actually part of the term OTTB, with the letters T and B standing in for the breed? I believe that is *cough* another commonly-used acronym. It's not like we're dismissing the fact that they are a breed. Furthermore, I, for one, am careful to use the word Thoroughbred to describe a horse of that breed which is currently running on the track, or one that never ran on the track. I only use OTTB when the horse has had some kind of racing career. It can now be a pasture potato or out competing in 4**** events (yay, Courageous Comet!*), but by golly if it is an "Off (the) Track Thoroughbred" it's okay to call it that. I think so, anyway. And I can't wait to own one!

Love, love, love this logo. I will immediately purchase an embroidered saddle pad from just as soon as I need one!

 Good news from Eventing Nation:
"When asked about having another great grey horse, Becky (Holder) mentioned that she hopes that Comet's time off is only temporary.  Becky said that Comet has had a "no setback" recovery and he might be out at a few dressage shows this autumn and that she hopes he will start back eventing in the spring.  We are all keeping our fingers crossed to see Becky with two great greys next spring."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Use Yer Noggin

"In the United States, the record is particularly dismal, with use by fewer than 1 in 8 riders."

Hmm, to what do you suppose this quote from Wikipedia is referring?

If you're guessing "wearing a helmet," you are correct. How's that for a crummy statistic? (Link to full article) I know I am a bit late to the party with this post, since the helmet safety campaign put on by "Strap One On" was a couple months ago, but it's a topic I feel strongly about, so here goes.

I always, but always, wear my:
Riding Hat
Hunt Cap
Hard Hat
Brain Bucket
ASTM-Approved Safety Device

Recently on one of my favorite blogs (Fugly), a debate raged between commenters regarding helmet use. I was left scratching my head. I'm sorry - in my ever so humble opinion, there is not ONE good reason/excuse/explanation/validation for not wearing a helmet when riding a horse. None. Period! (For those of you who say "nothing fits," well, keep looking - someone else in the world has your size head and I guarantee there's a manufacturer who's thought of it) I simply do not understand why anyone would be willing take a risk when the solution is so easy. Preventing a drunk driver from T-boning my car? Impossible. Preventing a fence post from caving in my skull? Possible. I'll take control of the things I can, thankyouverymuch.

This whole subject frustrates me in the same way that my dad would make me so angry when I'd beg him to stop smoking. "Gotta die from something," he'd say cheerfully. Even when I was about ten years old I'd be thinking, "Well, does it have to be from something YOU CAUSED??!?"  (Note: Dad is gone now, but unless smoking contributed to the brain disease that killed him - and thus far I've not heard of a link - it actually wasn't from his unfiltered Camels. Nevertheless, I firmly believe I would have lost him by now anyway to lung cancer because of his pack-a-day habit.)

As a kid riding back in the '60s and '70s, you can imagine what I sported on my head during equestrian activities (actually, you don't need to - just look at the blog masthead photo of me on the Pally pony). They were just like this "vintage" helmet advertised on eBay:

We called them "hard hats," they were required apparel at my barn, and I'm pretty sure their purpose was to show you rode English. Lord knows how much protection they actually offered and thank you to the same Lord for never making me find out. I fell off any number of times, but as far as I can remember - hah! - never directly onto my head, into a wall or into the path of churning hooves. I guess they were better than nothing, though what good a plastic thing with a useless, stretched-out-elastic chin strap was ever going to be is debatable.

I can tell you that even as a kid I was very, very good about wearing my helmet properly (combination of a strict mother and ingrained "listen to your elders" mentality at work). My most favorite story relating to this is the time I won an over-fences class simply because I was the only 4-H rider who had remembered to put her chin strap down. Never mind that the jumping efforts were the ugliest things imaginable and I barely completed the course - I was awarded a nice blue ribbon because I followed the rules. Nothing like a little positive reinforcement! :-)

I got serious about helmet-wearing when I was riding for a brief time in my mid-twenties. Suddenly, protecting my brain seemed to be very important, and a head cover wasn't just a fashion statement anymore. I went to the nearest tack shop and bought this:
I haven't a clue as to what brand it is, but I still think it's pretty!
At the time, it was state of the art and at $80.00, the most expensive helmet the tack shop had to offer. That was a lot of money to me (still is!) but I was glad to have something nice-looking that would also help me not become a vegetable in the event of a fall. I remember that I thought it fit too tightly but the tack shop owner convinced me that it was correct. Now I know she was absolutely right, because I tried it on before taking that photo and it still fits perfectly.

I am wearing this helmet in my avatar photo, which was taken in 2000. When I showed up in 1999 at the barn for my first riding lesson in 10 years, I proudly brought it with me. Little did I know that the English hunt seat world was on the brink of being seized by "helmet fever," and the kind of helmet you had was going to fast become "the" symbol of your conformity/wealth/what have you. What happened to spark this? I honestly don't know. Perhaps advancements in materials? Clever marketing? The willingness of famous riders to finally start wearing approved helmets in Grand Prix? Beats me. All I know is I have followed the evolution of the helmet industry with great fascination ever since, especially the skyrocketing prices. Nowadays one can drop in excess of $600 on a brain bucket!

In 1999, when I suddenly realized that a certain kind of helmet was "in" and others were not, the one to have was a Troxel Grand Prix Gold. Everyone who showed AA had one. Ergo, I wanted one, even though my ambitions ran no higher than a championship in an academy show. Unfortunately, when I tried one on it a) looked stupid as h*ll and b) didn't fit. I stuck with my faithful black velvet. Then came summer riding again, and as I looked around and saw more and more people sporting helmets with air vents, I decided it would be smart to move to ventilation and lighter weight. Furthermore, after plowing through many catalogs I realized that there were some helmets that were ASTM-Approved and some that were not. Hmm... what was mine? No question, it had to go.

I wound up buying this, I think in 2003:

Here's a look at the inside of both helmets. Easy to see the differences: closed-cell vs. open-cell foam padding, for starters.
At least both do have a decent harness. 
This Aegis at least is still "black velvet," but it also is light, has tons of ventilation, fits me extremely well and uses a dial system that's handy if I want to wear earwarmers in the winter. I love it. (If you like it, sorry, they don't make it anymore for grown-ups, just in a Jr. model. Wonder why?) I do not think twice about putting it on before each and every ride, and it goes with me on paid trail rides, too. Does it look dorky? Maybe, but frankly, I don't care. I looked a lot worse in the GPA Speed Air I tried on at the Bit 'O Britain booth at the WEG, believe me. On the other hand, the Charles Owen GR8 looked just loooooovely, fit and felt great, and if I had nothing else to do with almost $300 you can bet I'd be getting one... not needed right now. Here's me grinnin' like a fool modeling it (I also took a shot in the Speed Air but I'm not sharing that one - even my family cracked up!):
The Bit O' Britain store was un-be-lieveable. Jam-packed with people, I mean where you couldn't get through the aisles, and stacked with delicious high-priced goodies. I saw lots of people staggering away with armloads of merchandise...
For now I'm still wearing my Aegis. I have recently learned that it, too, actually ought to be replaced despite the fact that *knocks very loudly on wood* it has not suffered the least small bang (the one time I have come off in recent years, from an 18hh Percheron, I landed on the other end). Apparently you're supposed to get a new one every five years, because of the advancements in helmet-building materials (or, as my cynical side says, the desire of manufacturers to sell you a new one).

Someone wrote this during the Great Helmet Debate over on Fugly and it really resonated:

If you don't wear a helmet, it's for any/all of these three reasons: laziness, vanity or ego. Either you're too lazy to put one on, too worried about how you look in it or how your hair will look afterwards, or you're egotistical about your riding ability and/or your horse and think, "THAT will never happen to me."

I know you've probably seen one or both already, but just in case: Courtney King-Dye forgot her helmet one day, and wasn't too worried since "all" she was doing was riding dressage. These two videos should be viewed back-to-back.

And here is an excellent website with some other eye-opening stories:

Thanks for listening!

Monday, October 24, 2011


I just had to share two more photos of a certain family member, in a very typical pose:
In case you can't see that very well, here's a closer look:
Whenever I leave the vehicle, Sunny will establish herself in whatever corner of my van that's closest to where I went. In this case, it was the front door of the library, and I walked away directly from the driver's side. If I go around the van and take off in the opposite direction at a ninety-degree angle she'll be on the passenger side. If I get out and walk away in another direction at a different angle, she'll be in the second or third row, nose pressed to the glass. Needless to say, my windows always need cleaning... ;-) When I have parked nose-in to a storefront, like at our Chinese restaurant, she will sit in my seat and just stare out the front window. This tends to crack people up, and they make comments like, "That dog's driving that car!"

This sight gladdens my heart every time I return to the car. You often can't really see her eyes or her head, but that beautiful white stripe and muzzle are always visible. It's nice to be missed and needed. Thanks, Pup!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The OTHER Grand Prix Jumper

I have been wanting to write about her for some time, so allow me to introduce you to my "horse substitute," Omarvelous Sunshine, Blue Skies, a.k.a. Sunny:
I have about eleventy-billion pictures of this dog, but I will try to restrain myself...
Sunny is an 8-year-old Liver & White English Springer Spaniel. She has our entire family wrapped tightly around her paw, but none more so than her mommy. She is my pride and joy and light of my life - after her human brother and sister, of course! ;-) Although she comes from a very long line of champion show dogs (the kennel is named after her great-grandfather Omar, and the "weather name" comes from another illustrious relative whose call name was "Stormy"), we did not show her and she has simply been our family pet ever since she joined us at 10 weeks old. Despite the fact that her branch of Springers are not really supposed to be hunting dogs ("bench-bred" vs. "field-bred" - they pretty much have split into two breeds at this point), Sunny thinks that birds and squirrels and especially kitty cats are meant to be spotted at a far distance and chased with every ounce of her strength. Her very favorite things to do are run around in fields and woods looking for small game, or swim after ducks in the lake. This field happens to be empty space belonging to my employer and is perfect for letting her get her jollies out. It makes me very happy to see her "springing" into the air through the tall grass, all four feet off the ground, or vacuuming the earth with her nose, little stump of a tail going a mile a minute.

In case you are wondering, yes, all that hair does take quite a bit of grooming. And who do you suppose has the sole responsibility for that? Yep, she is a good sport about putting up with my laboring over her with the clippers, combs and brushes. Most people with pet Springers settle for simply cutting off all the feathers. I prefer to spend lots of time picking things out of her hair and picking it up off the floors and furniture. Stupid, maybe, but I appreciate her beauty and am willing to work for it. I had never groomed a dog before we got Sunny but as soon as I found out the pros wanted in the neighborhood of $50 a pop to "do" her, I decided I would learn how. I had done some horse clipping in the past so I figured what the heck... it's been a lot of trial and error over the years but generally I think she looks pretty good. Fooling around with her satisfies my "need to groom" when I can't be with horses.
This was taken for Valentine's Day last year, after a haircut and a bath. She likes to pose and is quite the little model!
Like I said, Sunny is a real "Mommy's girl." Wherever I am is where you will find her, preferably touching me. I guess this stems from the fact that I was a stay-at-home mom and her primary caregiver and trainer when she was a baby, although Hubby works from home and certainly did more than his share of puppykeeping. My family had a Toy Poodle when I was growing up, and while I loved Barbette she was a dog who kept very much to herself. I never had a true emotional connection with her. Not so with my Sunny; in fact, I think of myself as quite the doggie psychic when it comes to her. I really do know what she is thinking and vice-versa. We often make eye contact just to check in with each other and "speak" that way. When I am sad, she gets so upset that I have to reassure her that she's a good girl and has done nothing wrong. When she is scared, nothing will do but for her to pressed up against me. I still think of the day I took her to the dog park and she was swept up in a pack of large, running dogs the instant we were in the gate. They wound up knocking her down and sending her rolling. When she had scrambled to her feet she ran to me and literally up my front into my arms - quite the trick for a 40 lb. dog. I did manage to hang on to her but we beat a hasty retreat, and to this day she's never been the biggest fan of the dog park.
The first photo I ever saw of our girl. She's in the middle looking right at me!
If I am headed towards the door you can bet she is right behind me with a hopeful look on her face. Nothing makes Sunny happier than me saying, "Puppy go bye-bye?" and nothing makes her sadder than me telling her, "Puppy stay. Mommy go. I'll be back." The latter is a little touch phrase I adopted after reading somewhere that if you tell them something every single time you leave, they will learn that if they hear that, eventually you'll come back through the door. Poor girl... the head goes down, the ears go down, the eyes go down, the little tail goes in and she sloooooowly droops across the floor to install herself in her bed with a deep sigh. Boy, do you feel guilty... I do take her everywhere I possibly can, including into the video store and the office after-hours (shh, don't tell my boss!). Even if it's just a quick trip to the grocery store she's always ready to leap into the car.
Here she is waiting outside the BR door one day when I was sleeping in -
keep in mind that the rest of the family was home at the time! ;-)
Despite the special closeness Sunny and I share, she really is devoted to everyone in the family. Daddy is her food, treat and playtime guy. The kids are for snuggles, hugs and ear-rubbies. Here is a shot from the day we picked her up from her breeder - I can't believe how small she and my kids are!
The kids have an extensive collection of stuffed Springers. They couldn't wait to introduce them to the real deal.
She puts up with an awful lot from all of us:
Yes, there IS a real dog in there!
Yeah, I get it, it's Christmas, can I take these off now???
When Sunny was younger, I decided it would be really neat for both of us to learn how to do Agility. She likes to jump. I like to jump horses, but had had to stop taking lessons due to finances. Therefore, teaching my dog how to jump over/go through things seemed like a good fit. Unfortunately, I discovered that agility lessons were kind of expensive as well. So we settled for learning things on our own. I taught her the commands "Over," "Up," and "Walk," and built little courses for her in the back yard. We even entered a "Silly Pet Tricks" contest one time where I had her go through hula hoops. The crowd thought we were a smash hit, and we got the most applause, but the judge fell prey to the charms of a little ankle-biter than someone had taught to "pray" by sitting with its head on its paws that were propped up. Yeah, it was kind of cute, but seriously... *mutters about mean real estate agent from whom she will never buy anything*

Sadly, our plans to one day do real agility fell apart when my darling doggie managed to rupture not one but both ligaments in her left knee. No, she wasn't jumping at the time; the trouble started after a brisk romp one morning in a field. She was limping later that day and I had a bad feeling. The limping quickly went away but over the next couple years it gradually got worse after exercise. The vet took x-rays and said yes, she's got a bit of separation in the joint, but nothing catastrophic so there's not much we can do yet. I started her on a joint supplement. Then one day 2 1/2 years ago, we were over at my friend's farm, friend and I were chatting in the barn, Sunny was exploring around outside (she never offers to run off) not far away, and I heard a single high-pitched "YIPE!" She came trotting in on three legs, like, "Oh hai Mommy this kind of hurts but I'm still smiling and do you think I could have a drink?" My heart had almost stopped at the cry and I just knew what had happened. This is a dog who rarely ever shows pain; you have to practically mash her foot flat by accident, for example, for her to say a word. Even after I raced her to the vet and they manipulated the leg not one sound came out of her. I read on the Net that some dogs will simply lie on the ground and scream when they've blown a knee (I figure that's what I'd do, too!).

We did a traditional repair on the knee, which involved securing the joint with what is basically fishing line, and I was able to employ my equine leg wrapping skills trying to keep the stapled wound covered in gauze and vet wrap. The whole arrangement constantly wanted to skootch down, exactly like a hock wrap on a horse. My canine was an excellent patient and left the bandage alone, but it was challenging. The other challenge was looking at her sad face when I went upstairs to bed; stairs were expressly forbidden and we humans became skilled in climbing over the baby gate we had to install at the bottom. The wound healed perfectly and we began the long process of rehabbing.

Two months after Sunny's surgery things were going pretty well; she was finally allowed to walk around and go potty in the backyard off the leash and we had worked our way up to walking about 75' down the street and back with no discomfort. Then a "perfect storm" of events occurred. I went out the front door to go to the neighbor's house four doors down. Sunny saw me. She ran to the back door and asked to go out. Dad let her out, not knowing I had just left. Dog raced out the back door, into the front yard, and straight down the road after me... all at top speed. We have an electric fence, and she is about 98% good with it, but when Mommy is fast-disappearing, all bets are off. Immediately after this little escapade, the knee made a popping sound, and we discovered she'd torn the meniscus. ARGH.

Suffice it to say, for a long time I did not think my dog would ever be able to run freely in a field or jump over anything ever again. I felt awful and horribly guilty. It broke my heart to think I could never let her do her most favorite things. But - BUT - I am so thrilled to report that she did finally, in fact, recover complete use of that knee/leg and is back to her old self. We had some limping for a while on her other leg (the vet had told me that dogs who tear up one knee stand a 50% chance of doing the same to the other one, so I was prepared for this), and I toyed with the idea of going ahead and fixing that, but amazingly that has gone away - even after heavy exercise - and she is fit, happy and sound. *KNOCKS LOUDLY ON WOOD* Thank you, Glycoflex III, I'm sure you have something to do with this!

By this point you are probably wondering why on earth I titled this post the way I did. Well, when I was over at the Charity Show, I found a number of exciting items standing in a grassy area next to the Grand Prix arena: they were miniature jumps produced for kids by Brody Robertson Show Jumps, Inc., a local company (that has prospered mightily and even made jumps for the WEG). A bunch of young riders were entertaining themselves leaping over the little course, including some usually dignified Maclay entrants, which I thought was hilarious. :-) Although I suffered from pangs of envy (I would have killed for these things as a kid!) I of course immediately envisioned running my now-recovered pooch over them. The following video is the result. Presenting "Sunshine, the Show-Jumping Springer," and my very first YouTube upload ever!

I was so tremendously proud and happy! :-)

If you made it through all this, thank you for allowing me to rattle on about my girl. At least I know a lot of horse people are dog people as well, so hopefully you understand!

(Note: I have tried and tried to embed the video here and for some reason it just Will. Not. Go. Not the techiest person around but not the worst, either so I am quite frustrated...)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What On Earth (or Horseback)???

I opened email on my phone this morning to find this message from Beval Saddlery LTD (I entered a drawing at their WEG booth and now they have my address - it's not like I've ever bought a thing from them):

I was still half asleep when I looked at the photo, so when I saw half a saddle, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. I looked again: nope, I wasn't nuts, this new saddley-thing was in fact only half a saddle. What the ----? The copy says, "The ultimate riding tool to assist the rider in obtaining the perfect position through balance and building core strength."

I clicked on the "Learn More" link and found this enhanced photo:
Along with this ad copy: 
 The Butet offers advanced designed capabilities combined with the finest materials and top European craftsmanship, which appeals to anyone who can only accept the absolute best!

The Practice saddle is a great tool for teaching riders of every level how to hold the correct position, the correct balance and will help build the strength they need to maintain it. Used by top trainers to help their students understand and promote the fundamentals of maintaining proper balance and building their core strength.

The saddle is supplied with custom girth and saddle cover.

Gosh, the latter is so awfully nice of them, considering that they are selling this HALF A SADDLE for the low, low price of $2,995.00. >.< Here's the link if you want to look for yourself.

Sarcasm aside, what do you think of this? I'd say it's an interesting idea, and I wouldn't be surprised if it does help strengthen your leg, but it seems to me you could get the same benefits riding in an old flat saddle, like the Crosby Prix de Nations that is currently serving as decoration in my bedroom. No kneerolls/blocks, no padded flap, just a couple of thin pieces of leather between your leg and the horse. Maybe I should list 'Ole Faithful on eBay for a couple thousand bucks under a tag line like, "Same Results As New Butet/Lower Price." HAH!  

Also, is it just me or does the saddle in the photo appear to be used? When you click on the website photo for more pictures, it tells you "Product images coming soon." Maybe that photo is of the one and only Butet Practice Saddle in existence, and they are just waiting to see if anyone is willing to cough up the dough before they build more. It does say "used by top trainers" but I have to wonder... I have the feeling, though, that some of the fancy H/J trainers, with clients whose parents have more money than Bill Gates (like that chick from the Hunter Derby with five horses in it... still getting over that) will probably sign right up for it. Some people are definitely impressed by the latest gimmick. Personally, I think that as long as it doesn't hurt the horse, they are welcome to have at it. I'll be the one over there dropping my stirrups to strengthen my legs and core. ;-)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Saddlebred Hunter Classic Championship

"And now for something completely different!"

(Where do I remember that phrase from? Monty Python? Saturday Night Live? Can't quite recall...)

Raise your hand if you know what these are:
If you said hunters, you are mostly incorrect. Let's just say they're supposed to be. Yes, they are horses wearing hunter tack, but there's something... just... a... little... bit... off. A closer look:
 The tails should be a big clue.

Even closer:
Hmm... that aristocratic head. Those loooong ears. That very upright neck. And yes, the tails. Why, I do believe they are American Saddlebreds competing in the Saddle & Bridle Magazine Hunter Classic Championship!

The second week of the St. Louis National Charity Horse Show is Saddlebred Week. I always make an effort to attend, since it's the only chance I get to see these steeds up close (although there happens to be a Saddlebred barn not one mile from where I'm sitting. But I've never visited, and the horses do not ever seem to appear in the - very, very small - pastures). I think they are beautiful when they perform and in fact, riding an ASB some day is on my bucket list. No, I'm not a fan of some of their training or barn husbandry practices (i.e. no turnout for show horses, period), but they are unique and special and frankly, a lot of fun to watch. The good ones truly do seem to enjoy themselves in the show ring and I'm glad to say, are the ones I see getting the best ribbons.

Back to the Hunter Classic: the first and last time I saw this class was around six years ago. I had stopped by the show after a riding lesson of my own, and a couple of friends from the barn accompanied me. I'm afraid we nearly fell out of the bleachers splitting our sides laughing at the participants. You never saw such sorry excuses for "hunters" in all your life, believe me, and this includes the AQHA version of hunters (which is saying a lot - but that's a whole other blog post). A lot of the tack and rider's clothing alone looked like it was ca. 1952 and dug up out of someone's attic. The horses all had cockeyed tails from being set in the past and running-braided long manes. Most exhibited a great deal of typical ASB knee action.

In addition to the above, the horses were wide-eyed and snorty at the very thought of jumping the one teeny, tiny crossrail they were supposed to negotiate from a trot as part of the class. I think they all refused at least once. When they did jump, it was virtually from a standstill (this was the funniest part of the whole thing. Seriously, we snobby H/J peeps were dying, in as polite a fashion as we could manage.). Clearly this class had been the brainchild of someone who thought, hey, we can eke out another division and more $$ here if we slap random English huntseat tack on 'em and see what happens!

Fortunately, I am happy to report that this division must have really caught on with the Saddlebred folks, because things have drastically improved for the better since then. This includes tack and clothing. As you can see, the horses in this championship (for which they'd had to qualify) were universally appropriately dressed. The riders looked nice, too, although, typically for a breed show, there was more color variation in jackets than you'd see at a USEF show and all but a couple helmets were plain black velvet, some with no harness.

The horse were asked to W/T/C both ways and also to hand gallop (why is this so typical in breed hunter classes, anyway? Who cares if the horses can race around the ring, many barely in control?). Quite a few horses had never worn a tail set and had normally-braided manes. They moved with a lot less knee action this year, and there was even one horse, who dare I say it, might possibly stand a chance in a non-breed hunter class on the flat. He had very nice movement and a lower neck-set than a typical ASB.

Here's a view of my favorite horse (surprise, surprise), waiting for his turn to jump:

The jumping portion of the class has evolved to taking single 2' bar from the canter. The ring crew built the little fence up nicely, with brush and flowers on the sides and under the bar. Clearly this did not please a large number of our ASB hunters because there were still a lot of refusals, and a couple never did make it over the fence. (Including one horse who wound up placing higher than some horses that did jump. Didn't quite get that!)

In general, this class was a lot less humorous and more reminiscent of actual hunt horses. It was fun to watch and I think it's great that this breed is offering a class for those horses (I would assume) who don't have the action to place well in saddleseat classes, or for  riders who simply enjoy exhibiting in hunters. One of the entrants even had a full-page ad in Saddle & Bridle magazine showing him jumping about 3' "in real life," so yes, it can be done with this elegant breed! (Not sure how that horse placed in the class since I was stupid and left the mag at home, but I would think he did well.)

The Derby (Not in KY!)

NOTE: I've been very frustrated, because I suddenly have about a dozen topics I'm itching to cover here, and the rest of my life temporarily took over. I have many volunteer commitments and unfortunately two of the biggest ones hit critical point in the last week and a half. But the 40-pg. directory/yearbook I had to create is at the printer's, and all the new Girl Scouts are placed in a troop, so I can finally get back to this post and the other two I also started! :-)

*  *  *

I have to say, without a doubt, that the USHJA Hunter Derby was one of my most favorite things I've ever gotten to see in the horse world. I wish they had them here every weekend. Even though it was threatening to rain, and they had to move the event indoors, watching those top-notch horses go was just a BLAST. Despite years and years of watching hunters show, I finally feel like I really know what makes a good hunter horse now.

I know I mentioned some of the rules and such about the Hunter Derby in a past blog, but I would like to refer you to this post by a fellow blogger, which explains things ever so much better. In fact, I really wish I'd read her post before watching the class! Jennifer also took some great photos, which she has graciously allowed me to borrow as needed. Needless to say, I didn't get any myself...

Anyway, I was simply amazed at what happened before the class even started. The show allowed schooling in the ring after all the jumps were set up; no jumping, but walking, trotting and cantering around. I couldn't believe my eyes when the horses and riders started streaming in. I have never, ever ever seen this allowed before any class before. The riders frequently cantered the horses right up to the jumps, literally until their noses were touching them, and then stopped. There were also grooms leading some of the horses around and they, too, were led right up to the jumps until their noses touched. All the horses were encouraged to sniff and look at the fences.

Obviously the horses were being shown the jumps; I knew what was happening. What I didn't get was why this was allowed. Not being one to stifle questions, I asked two fellow bystanders, one of whom was a rider wearing a shadbelly and thus planning to ride in the class, why on earth this was going on. "They want this to be a good class without refusals so the horses are allowed to see the jumps and get familiar with the course," was the answer. Well, okay, but considering I *think* that it's against the rules to do too much "showing of the jumps" to jumpers before they start, or to ride your warm-up circle three laps around a hunter ring, I found this pretty darn interesting. I also had to wonder if "showing" horses jumps actually works - what do you guys think?

Here are the course maps for both rounds of the Hunter Derby:
And here's two photos I took of a simply enormous oxer that was the last jump on course (upper left corner of both maps). At least, the "high" side was enormous; the other half was regular height:

They had to squeeze the far end standards together a bit to narrow the width for the lower side. This jump was sufficiently intimidating that very few of the riders actually attempted the high side, despite the increase in points. Those that did try looked from the rear (my view) like they were jumping the moon and it was clearly a great effort.

The horses in this class, needless to say, were gaw-jus. Here's one entrant prior to going in the ring (had to get one of the greys, of course):
I wish I could have gotten a little better conformation shot, because one of the most fascinating aspects of this class for me was checking out the way the horses were made and the way they went. I have a confession: I've ridden H/J practically my whole life. Since about 1975 I've been a manic reader of "Practical Horseman," especially "Conformation Clinic" (remember when Champ Hough used to write it?). I have really gotten a lot out of the past year's worth of Clinics, with the new judge. I usually do well with my placings and have a decent grasp of what makes good conformation. I know that a jumping horse is supposed to round its back in a bascule over fences. I've been in and watched literally hundreds and hundreds of hunter classes. But it really wasn't until watching this class that I started putting all the pieces together and figuring out what, exactly, is the proper construction and way of going for a truly good hunter. Something finally just clicked!

The way I saw it, the best horses "poured themselves" over the fences. The whole jump looked effortless, one smooth motion of beautiful, elastic horse. Like I said, I don't know what it was about this class but I swear I really, truly saw it for the very first time. It was great!
Whew, talk about round! I'd like to feel that just once - over a lower fence. (Photo by Jennifer Buxton)
Some other things I noticed about these horses were:
- Great extension of their front legs at all gaits (the Conf. Clinic lady is always going on about length and angle of humerus - I GET it now!)
- A walk with a very swinging back and a lot of overstep
- A croup that tended to be a bit more level
- A naturally low neck and head set, completing a level topline
This lovely horse illustrates ALL of the above points (Photo by Jennifer Buxton)
If any of you are thinking, well, DUH, RiderWriter, I'm sorry for my ignorance! I'm just excited that at the ripe old age of 48 I'm really connecting the dots. The more you learn, the less you find out you know...

Regarding way of going, I discovered the judges did not care for the horse that was big-striding, knee-lifting and went very fast. They also didn't like a small horse that went with its nose poked out and was also very fast. Oddly, the other horse I noticed that carried his head far in front of the vertical really split the judge's opinion: one scored him 83, the other 60! Normally the scores were five points apart at the most. I myself wasn't wild about that horse. But get this: he was 5th in the nation in the standings heading into the Derby finals this year, and finished 9th there! So that was a bit confusing.

In general, though, I agreed with the scoring. My very favorite horse, who I thought was just the epitome of class and beauty, finished third (he'd gotten 6th at the Derby finals), so I was good with that. His owner rode him, and another entrant that also belonged to her. What, two horses in this class? How lucky is she? Well, this is how lucky - there were three more ridden by a pro. Yes, this girl - a teenager - owned five horses in this class. FIVE! Horses of this caliber don't exactly come cheap, so we're talking, what, a half million dollars worth of horseflesh, all belonging to one kid??? Sheesh. Yes, she was a very decent rider, she'd actually been in the Maclay finals (riding one of her Derby horses) but finished well out of the ribbons. I was floored...
The second round of the Derby featured this trot in-and-out combo:
The second trot jump is the low double-log thing in the very middle of photo, on the left.
You can also see the rustic rail fences forming the "wings" of this complex (look on course map again). I believe there were a couple of stops here, but not because of any fright factor; it was pilot error. Nonetheless, it would certainly give me pause riding up to these. I'm pretty sure I jumped similar back in the day on the outside 4-H courses, but now a stiff post-and-rail would make my knees knock. And definitely not on one of these back-cracking beauties - no question of where I'd wind up! :-)

So that's my little roundup of the Hunter Derby. I personally found it super-exciting to watch - I actually had cold chills. If you have the opportunity to view one of these classes, I highly recommend it.