(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:
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:
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.)