It has been a challenging show season to say the least. Ries, of course, was not sound due to an abscess that was clearly becoming a problem by Memorial Day weekend. Then for June and July pontoon floats would have been needed to take horses cross country, so every event in the area was cancelled and the mini event became a combined test. I haven’t gone to any dressage shows due to my inability to tell people “no” to other commitments. So, it was largely out of boredom and the haziness of memory that I agreed to go to one of the unrecognized area hunter shows.
I somehow have three navy hunter coats to choose from. I know where two came from, but I have no idea where the third one popped up from. I have my striped hunter shirt left over from college and I really like it still. The breeches are a different story all together. My college hunt seat show breeches died ages ago. I bought a pair on sale at Rolex twelve years ago. Fashions have changes since (thank goodness) but I was out of options. My hunter breeches are two way stretch, which I vastly prefer for the hunter ring (vs. the more skin tight four way stretch of dressage and eventing), but my breeches pre-date the low rise era. This waistband for these breeches actually goes to my waist (about three inches above where most of my pants sit) and therefore I felt I should have been selling advertising space for the billboard size tan placard over my derriere. I bought a used GPA helmet early this year since I was sick of my Troxel helmet that was from a longer haired era and now always rides up my forehead. The GPA is a tad too tight but it would not ride back in a hurricane. I have informed anyone I am showing with that if I pass out and fall off to please just take the hat off for a few minutes before bothering to dial 911.
Now this is not a rant against hunters. This is simply a rant about how unsuited I am for the hunter show world. Jumpers (which is a component of eventing) is based on an objective score. There are both positives and negatives to this, but in general its very easy to figure out what went right and/or wrong. It is also timed – for which I am so very grateful. As I have been teaching lately, you ride your course in the most efficient/effective way possible and sometimes you jump one element at an angle to shorten or improve the approach to the next element. You have a fairly clear start time and if you miss it then it is a case of “so sorry, Charlie” but you are just eliminated and its on to the next rider.
With hunters, the judging is subjective and its very important to do it with style. Now, when it comes to its practical applications, I am a big fan of style. George Morris is famously (notoriously?) nitpicky about correct riding and style and it is for good reason. However, like all other aspects of life, much gets corrupted. Style issues aside, hunter courses take forever. Riders lope more than canter (according to Mr. Morris, we jump out of a hand gallop FYI), and you use every inch of the arena to make long sweeping lines. In short, hunters travel slower and further than a similar jump course. What might take a minute to watch in the jumper ring will take two in the hunter ring. I also learned this weekend that I lack the attention span to watch two or more minutes of the same horse jump around the ring. Again, not wrong, just different.
Additionally, people add in to the class, change their minds about what class they will ride in, one horse may pack several riders around in the same class and they all need time to get on and get ready, people get to chatting and take their sweet time getting into the arena, there is a lot of primping that takes place, etc. This means that in our case, you end up waiting FOUR HOURS after the estimated 11:00 am start time (no real start times in hunters, that was a well meaning guesstimate so we could plan our arrival time from out of town) before your sainted patient horse gets to do something other than be a well behaved rail bird.
So we did four classes, three over fences and a flat class. The first two went on the same pattern. It was a good “first go” of the season for Ries. The jumps were low, the courses were uncomplicated, and the jumps were not particularly interesting looking. Why does this make Ries happy? Because he can do all of this on his forehand, his favorite place to be. He can take off from a longish spot, rip his knees up to his eyeballs, and never have to really rock back. In all four classes, he was announces as “Rizzy”. Am I the only wine drinker?? Riesling, not Rizzy.
In an aside, many riders debate what type of horse makes a good cross-country horse? Generally, the consensus is something very brave and bold that goes across the course like a fire-breathing dragon and takes no prisoners. Ries is the absolute opposite of that. So far that has worked in our favor though. Ries is far more afraid of displeasing me and that fact that I might making a kissing noise (egads!) and squeeze him with my leg (oh the inhumanity!!) then he is of the fence. Ries is the kind of horse that a strong “no” could break his heart. So as he decided he was scared of the little hunter fences and started to contemplate a wiggly run out, I just kissed or pressed him on with my calves and he went over everything. I hadn’t even bothered to carry a crop, since I know my horse is a complete pansy. It was however, not an appropriatly pretty round. Our flying changes are also fairly non existent, so unless Ries chooses to flip leads, I just try and maintain a balances counter canter. Chunk on the other hand, has lovely changes which he was more than happy to demonstrate.
In the next two classes, we dropped a rail in each. It was the first fence in the second class, due to someone crossing his jaw and deciding he would just stay on his forehand and blow off my half halts. Also, in hunters you cannot use a Micklem bridle or anything other than a plain noseband. Ries is happy about this because he loves to cross his jaw and ignore pesky things like half halts or me trying to rate his speed. Then in the last jumping class, we dropped the last rail. Overall, I was pretty happy since I was not continuing to suffer from last year’s rectal-cranial inversion with timing and jumping ahead, and I thought Ries was very “hunter-y”. Ries rocked the flat class, but for some reason (perhaps the spook when we entered the ring and Ries’ incredible tail got caught in the rope fence and made it wiggle) the judge didn’t pin Chunk or Ries at all. Chunk placed one ahead of Ries in each over fences class and while it didn’t affect his owner, we are pretty sure that it did inflate the already cocky one’s ego. Especially since in one class, Chunk and his owner rode a very lovely quiet line on the last diagonal that skipped a jump but the judge didn’t seem to notice. As I said, it was a lovely line. Chunk is now quite certain that if you are cute enough, it doesn’t matter if you go off course. Rules are for ugly horses.
By three, my husband sent me a text asking if I left him. He is also used to dressage and eventing and the idea of clear times. So home we finally went with lessons learned and my faith in my chosen areas to attempt to compete (since we can’t really seem to actually get to the competitions this year) renewed. Beer Budget Dressage will not be attempting to cross over into hunter land any time soon.