When I went down to Thermal last year, it was my first time at a Big Show (Fnacy Name trainers, more than 2 weeks... thouands of horses, 100 horses in a division, at least 5 food vendors etc etc).
I was a bit star struck. My brain could barely comprehend that there were seven Hunter Rings. What do you even do with that many rings?
Then I quickly figured it out. Some poor judge sits there and watches 80 horses jump their entire division, and 320 rounds later he rubs his bleary eyes and watches them hack. For his troubles he is rewarded with a sandwich.
My jumped-into-the-deep-end brain was short circuited by the GORGEOUS, cresty, fancy hunters that seemed to be everywhere. The Jumper Rings always seemed to have something 1.40m or higher going on and there was SO MUCH SHOPPING.
Last year I was also counting down the days until I had to stop riding, so I shoved all my hopes/dreams/expectation/nerves for the entire show season into three, sunny weeks.
This year I went down knowing we could belong, knowing that I'd have to shove big dappled butts aside in order to get to the portapotties and knowing that three weeks in Thermal this year was just a warm up, not the be-all-end-all to my season.
Needless to say, whether it was a shift in perspective or just the insanely thick layer of desert dust on everything, I was decidedly less star struck.
Of course the fact that HITS upped their rates by 20% didn't help either. I started the show off feeling nickeled and dimed and that didn't really dissipate.
HITS is run for profit, and it shows. There are efforts to be exhibitor friendly and small gestures made toward hospitality, but really, it's a numbers game, and nothing takes the (bought and paid for) shine off a horse show like trying to cut costs.
I'm sure the overhead of running a facility like HITS Thermal is through the roof, but when you realize there are no sanctioned Derbies (they cost money) or that top tier judges have started refusing the job due to less pay and smaller per diems... that perhaps the goal isn't to be the most glorious winter show on the West Coast.. but something else.
Seeing as how I'm diving down a dark, crappy tangent I'll get back to the prizes.
First up, RIBBONS. HITS earns full marks for ribbons. They are appropriate for the show size, though I feel like they could stand to dress up their tricolors a tad (but I always feel that way... tri colors can always be more glorious).
|2015 Thermal Ribbon Hauk|
First Place prizes.. Oy. Thermal is the land of logoed prizes. Picture frames, rags, totes. All logoed so you can proudly advertise for them all year long :)
As someone who competes in the lower, unranked divisions and wins a decent amount, the prizes are totally acceptable to me. This year there were coffee mugs, so I made a point of collecting those.
(I have this problem where I hate hand-washing coffee travel mugs so I put them in the dishwasher and destroy them at a record rate. Having endless backups is not only nice, but prudent.)
|the 2015 Prizes.. mostly coffee cups, YAY|
|I'm not kidding about the weird makeup brushes.|
Because what the lady spending $100k (gulp) on showing the whole circuit really wants, is a $2 set of makeup brushes that say "HITS." Yes, I'm certain that Mrs. Hunter-Money-Pants is going to tuck that gem of a prize right into her Celine bag so she can use it while freshening up her Chanel lipstick in the.... portapotty. (facepalm)
Even if we ignore Mrs. Hunter-Money-Pants, I feel like most riders are lucky if they even wave mascara across their face while at a show. Makeup doesn't really make an appearance at the shows (well... Arabs and QH aside maybe) so this just seems like the weirdest prize ever on so many levels to me....
Basically I would give HITS a B- on First Place Prizes. They are totally fine for ammys in smaller divisions riding 12 rounds a day... But less acceptable for serious rated competitors.
But if they had me starting to get skeptical about their First Place prizes... they got me back with the Championship Prize.
These they do better on. The standard Coolers (COOLERS!!!) are actually quite pretty. Navy, with gold cord and a nice large embroidered logo. My only beef with the cooler situation is that they (apparently) don't change the coolers year to year. I don't mind a theme, but either change the fleece, or the cord, or maybe even just embroider the year on them so that they don't all look the exact same.
|Full marks for Champion Prize|
I haven't gotten this year's Grand Circuit Prize, but last year it was another lovely cooler with double piping and was a pretty tech fabric instead of the regular fleece - a totally acceptable prize in my book.
|Terrible photo, but... here.|
So, even though it's not the perfect color combo for Prair, I think HITS does well in this category as well.
Again, I don't mean this to be a bratty, blue-ribbon-entitled diatribe, but rather a total op-ed on prizes from a true ribbon-addict.
I reiterate that most of us (me included) don't show for the actual ribbons or prizes, but rather the opportunity to demonstrate improvement with our beloved horses and try to cram all the benefit and progression of hours and months and years of training into a 2-5 minute performance.
But, when you're paying anywhere from $500-$3000 for the privilege of that public performance, sometimes it's really (really) nice to have a pretty ribbon or prize at the end of the day too.