Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Review: Voltaire Hunter Bridle

Much like how I wasn't really shopping when we found Quiz, I also wasn't shopping when I ended up with a new bridle. 

It's been such a long time since I bought any new strap goods (how is that even possible!?), that I have started casually eyeballing them, but with (literally) no reason to buy, I've shown remarkable restraint in not collecting. 

This piece found it's way into my trunk in a non-traditional manner, but that's a story for another day. 

Today we discuss what I think about it.

A while back I noticed that Voltaire had added a figure-8 and a hunter bridle to their online store.  the photos were remarkably poor quality from a professional marketing standpoint, and I had never noticed one in person, so I wasn't overly tempted. 

Voltaire's Hunter bridle (w/flash attachment)

But, I've been on bridle hunts with a few other barnmates over the past year and gotten to see a variety of new Hunter bridles up close, as well as watched the process of eliminating some over others.

In terms of the "big" European brands, I have always coveted an Antares that hangs in the tack room.  It has a big, padded monocrown, but not ridiculous or overly trendy in it's size or style.  It has a normal (single buckle) throatlatch and looks very acceptable in the hunter ring.  What stands out is the weight, and quality of the leather.  It's the difference between picking up a plastic fork at a picnic, and feeling the weight of your grandmother's silver.  Sure, they mostly do the same thing, but one is just yummy in your hand.

Antares lost me with their weird new anatomical crown (they still offer the less dramatic version).  It looks like an awkward hat and I haven't seen it sit well on a single horse.  I'm sure it works wonders for someone, I'm just not sure who.

My favorite piece in the next price bracket down, is the Nunn Finer.  I've always thought their leather was of a good quality, and their styling is classic.  It takes some work to get it broken in - but once you get it - I think it rivals Edgewood for quality at a fraction the price.

Based on pictures alone, the Voltaire piece is not something I would have ordered.  Their trademark contrast stitching is ALL OVER IT.  each piece of leather has bright stitching down it's side.  Not just the noseband and browband.  Fancy stitch is EVERYWHERE.  Cheek pieces, cavesson hangar, etc. EVERYWHERE.  It's busy.  And the monocrown means that not only is there an extra buckle for the cavesson, but even the throatlatch has a double hanger - which makes for a lot of buckles.  And while the crown isn't overly padded or huge, I wasn't sure about the signature Basque stripe on the top of it.

But alas.  we got it. 

The narrower leather looks good on him I think.
(I also shouldn't have chided Voltaire for their photos, as I have NOT exceeded those standards... whoops. )

While the stitching is bold, the leather itself is rather narrow, and it fits his chiseled-pony-face quite nicely.  The contrast looks classy, and at least on a gray doesn't seem too busy.  After a few applications of conditioner and a night in a ziplock with some oil, everything is feeling appropriately soft and pliable.  The reins are still a tad stiff (and I will note a preference for the CWD laced reins...) but the quality is undeniable.  The padding is also exceptionally squishy, hopefully it is also sturdy.

Blurry, but at least his whole face is included

Still not sure I would have pulled it off the rack if I was actually shopping, but now that I have it, I like it.  And I enjoy that it looks a bit different without being obnoxious. 

What do you guys like to see in a bridle? How different is too different?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Meet Quiz! (and a naming contest)

It's been really, really, really hard not to jump the gun on this, but meet Quiz!

Picture already shared.  Need more stat.

Quiz is the aforementioned Brown Brad, a 5 year old cute gelding by Quadroneur (drool).

Much like Windsor - (while adorable) he appears to be far too chill (and slow) to really excel in Europe as a Jumper.  Fortunately for Quiz, he's cute as hell, trots like he's on a cloud, and I think will make one heck of a fancy little Hunter stateside.

I have always coveted liver chestnuts, and also the Quaterback lineage, so I'm just giddy as all get out at the prospect of finding both in Quiz. 

Quiz lacks the significant resume that Windsor had (no world championships for this guy), but he's only 5, and while he has shown, 1.10m is the extent of his experience at this point. 

What I really like about Quiz other than his color (and his daddy, and his trot..) is that he appears to have a very Windsor-esque brain.  Very chill, not in a rush to get anywhere and very unconcerned about where you pilot him to in front of a fence.  Chip in? Leave long? NBD.  We'll just lope around and figure it out later....


His classy good looks are just some really, really nice icing on a lovely liver chestnut cake. 

The wire has been sent, and his ticket is currently being booked.  Fingers crossed he gets here soon!!

Without further ado, some video.  Please note, this boy is in steel.  Swoon. 

The plan will be to get him out right away, (likely in August at Thunderbird) and see how he handles life as a Hunter.  Part of my agreement with The Husband is that this horse (unlike Winds) will always be for sale.  I hope I get to enjoy him for a while before someone snatches him away, but make no mistake - I have my Windsy, and while I'd love to have two - I will definitely allow another ammy to find theirs if the situation presents itself.

Anyway, the second order of business is that this thing needs a USEF name.  He is literally registered as just "Quiz," which I think is cute and will definitely keep for his barn name.  But he needs a big boy name for the show ring.

I already have a short list of favorites, but since none of them are perfection, I'm going to mine the blog-hive and see if you guys can top it.  (which, very likely).

Here are the guidelines:

1) start with a Q.
2) Sound like a regal, fancy, calm Hunter.
3) Don't be something that USEF has a ton of (Quiescence, Quintessential, Quixote, etc). 
4) I am open to creative spelling (Qredit is an example), but bear in mind ease of announcer pronunciation.
5) bonus points if it ties into Heir Apparent/Windsor.  I love a theme!

If I end up using your suggestion I will get you a $50 gift certificate to the online tack store of choice (Dover, SmartPak, RH, etc.).  If I stick with one of my picks, I get the gift cert (lol).

The "contest" is open until I actually register the beast.

Sound good? 


Monday, July 10, 2017

Windsy's Big Trip (aka, first show back)

Belated, but happy, show round up!

Have you missed us? BECUASE I HAVE.

Almost two weeks ago, Winds got loaded up and made his way back to Thunderbird for our first (!!) show of 2017.  The plan was mostly to get him out to stretch his legs (literally) and keep me from going stir crazy at home in the indoor (also, literally) - and I think we accomplished both.

Winds was reportedly quite fresh for schooling day, and in lieu of spinning on the lunge line he had two a day hacks with a decent canter set to help get the wiggles out.

I was there for the first day of showing, which saw Windsy entered in a Hi/Low 2'9" round.  His warm up looked honestly a bit stiff, but in the ring he looked loose and a bit more forward thinking than I am used to the Gray Prince being.  (you can tell because his ears are pinned forward and he's using his shoulders well... otherwise it only *feels* like a powder keg and looks like a lazy Hunter).

Canada now does red/blue rankings for their Low classes, so they don't get traditionally pinned, but a ribbon gets assigned based on how good your score is.  (Winds got a Red, which is first in Canada). I like this system as a way to handle the huge Low classes, but it sorta sucks they all show up as. "DNP" on the USEF record...

Anyway,  that was it for Wednesday.  Thursday I got early to hack Winds around the rings and loosen him up.  He felt great, and it was so, so, so, so nice to be on a horse, in a warm summer breeze taking in the bustle of a show before classes got underway.  SO nice. 

A couple hours later Winds had another Low 2'9" round.  This warm up looked a bit smoother, he was stepping under more, and using his back a bit better.  I breathed a small sigh of relief that his body seemed to feel good and watched him head for the ring.

The course looked a lot like the day before.  Totally chill and quiet from my perspective, powder keg on hooves according to the trainer.  So.... another early hack was scheduled for Friday before my magnificent return to the equitation (cough, 2'6", cough) ring. 

Friday, I had two rounds and a flat.  And it was hot.  That actually worked in my favor since Winds decided to blow a furry coat out in mid June and was a bit... well... wilted in the sunshine.

Our warm up was blissfully short as I somehow found all my fences decently so we parked at the back gate and watched a couple rounds.

I will say that for having not been in the show ring for 8 months, I feel really (really, really) good about this ride.  There are some, uh, misses.  But, overall, I like my hip angle more, I like Windsor's balance more, and in general it feels more thoughtful that our previous courses together.

I feel like it's weird to post a video of an Eq round and say "just watch the part between the fences" but that's what I'm doing, so just focus on the ride between the fences.

He looks sexy.  (I, on the other hand am in the only hunt coat that currently fits,  WHOOPS).

I actually felt ok about most of the fences, including the first one (YAY!).  But, I was particularly bummed about the single oxer - couldn't make a decision, then when Winds made one for me, I thought that not staying with him would somehow be a good idea (it wasn't). 

Then the rest worked out ok, I kept his balance up and that saved most of it until I chipped the crap out of the bending line at the end.  Lost his mouth, fought for a change, then got out ok.

I got 5th.  And that ribbon is going ON THE WALL, because we made it to a show, made it around and all is right with the world again.

Anyway, second round.  Started with the bending line I ended with before and threw in a rollback (what is this, medal finals??? I'm old and hot and tired...). 

sorry for blurry stills, pro photos on order!
Winds was amping up a bit, but we fixed a few mistakes - namely the bending line.  Then I got tight into the diagonal, but recovered.  Into the Judge's line Winds locked on HARD and started dragging me, so I choked him back and got a little weak.  I almost couldn't pull him out of the line (whoops), but I finally got him to let go of the oxer out and pay attention to the rollback.  I actually really liked how I finished the rollback, given how we started.... 

Then, Winds was thinking this must be a jumper course and he tried to switch gears.  I over compensated and we crawled to the last line, but finished ok.

Oh, also, the video is sideways.  I have no idea how it got sideways, and even less of an idea of how to get it un-sideways, so...sorry

We got 2nd.  In a nice division of 12.  So I was pretty stoked. (plus, 2nd is blue, so... that's always a plus).

The flat was toasty and a bit brutal.  Winds was good, but apparently I looked a bit droopy (sidenote: I am a bit droopy these days).  My sitting trot is not where it should be, but all else was fine.  Winds couldn't care less about traffic and that's a great feeling when you are nose to tail and fighting for space down the quarterlines.

Somehow our 3rd place on the flat was enough for Reserve, so Winds and I managed to maintain our weird streak of getting Reserve in every division we enter at Tbird.  (it's great for the ribbon wall).

His neck is somehow 2" long in this pic.. but RIBBON
I stuck around to watch the Juniors do their thing, but then I hit the road to join the family for the 4th.  Winds enjoyed some down days and turnout (I LOVE the turnouts at Tbird. #grass).

So now we are home and gearing up for Milner Downs, which you may recall is where I got all my lovely pictures of Windsor galloping across a big grass field.  They also have a really fun Derby.  I'm not sure we'll be ready for it, but I'm not-so-secretly hoping we can enter. 

He's been feeling great at home, and I'm really hoping we hold the trend.  This horse is so incredibly fun to ride and learn on, I just want to ride him forever. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Brad's Come in Brown Too....

So, uh - I wouldn't say that I've been shopping, more like "keeping an eye out" for anything super interesting. 
Oh.  Interesting.
We've even gone so far to bop around a bit and see a few younger prospects that have popped up.  And while I've never been a good window shopper, it's amazing how much less desperately I shop when I have a great horse at home in the barn...

Of the horses we've seen, there are a few lovely ones I liked, and if I were horseless, I probably would have jumped all over them...  But for one reason or another (size, price, grumpy face...) I could easily pass while I've got a wonderful Windsor waiting for me at home. 

Anyway, I really don't think I've ever actively shopped when I haven't been horseless and willing to compromise (sometimes a lot), so this whole "be really picky" thing is new to me. 

The idea with a possible new pony would be to have something fun to ride that could get me some good mileage while keeping Winds' schedule a bit lighter.  Since I'm not sure I can actually show two horses actively, I'd want the second horse to be something that would be easily marketable in a year or so. 

I should clarify - this would not be an investment horse.  I remain skeptical that such things exist.  But it would be nice to have something that's nice, calm, and attractive enough that I'd have a shot in hell of moving it along to another happy ammy.

In my crazy dream world, I'll have Windsy for ever and ever, and possibly have a rotating second horse that I learn on, show a little, sell -  then go find something else to learn on, show a little and sell.  I have zero illusions of making money - and I'm not sure the rotating roster idea will even work - but it's helping to at least define what to maybe-possibly search for.

Anyway, the current contender is definitely the flashiest of the group we've considered thus far.  A nice liver chestnut with a cute face and a daisy cutter trot.  He's 5, hasn't done a ton, but has shown 1.10m with an amateur.  I like his balance, looks, and gaits.  His jump isn't the biggest, loftiest thing out there, but it's cute and consistent.  He seems straightforward, forgiving (and is a total push ride) - all things that are good for an increasingly chicken, ammy...

blurry - but you can imagine
There are still a few question marks that need answering, but I like him and while I know it's dangerous to name the puppy (especially before you vet it), I can't help but to start brainstorming names.....

Vetting is scheduled for Monday.  Cross your fingers, toes and hooves!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Showtime. (finally)

Trunk Packed.

Trailer Packed.

Horse is on a trailer!

My actual Windsor updates have been a bit sparse the last few months (well, all of my updates have been a bit sparse I guess), but things have been plugging along quite nicely. 

Aside from being perhaps a tad too chubby, Winds looks great.  He's feeling strong, supple and eager to work.  We've been slowly building up fitness and increasing his jump load, typically bouncing around ten to twelve 2'6" jumps a few times a week. 

His changes are light, he's loading his hind end beautifully at the base, and it feels like he's landing and carrying through better than has.  Mind you, the jumps are tiny, so all this should be easier - but still...

It all means that I can finally justify a field trip to get off the farm a bit - So we are headed to Tbird (for one week only) to see how Winds' brain is off the property and see how he does opening up on a bigger stride and jumping around a tad. 

Expectations are... non-existent, and I don't even know what exactly we'll be entering.  Probably something at 2'6" or maaaaybe 2'9" but I'm not certain.  the idea is to do a course (possibly two) for a couple days, then he'll just hack out easily over the weekend without any classes.

I think we're both ready for a change of scenery though, and I'm eager to see if he looks as good as he feels!

The slow winter and spring have been great for our skills though, and while I know at this point we'll take the rest of the season relatively easy - everything just feels a bit more polished and put together than it did this time last year. 

Finally - I uh.... have been shopping a little and there may or may not be a few new possible "Brads."

Things are cooking, and I'm hoping to share some pics/deets soon!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Barn Rat

Taking the kid to the barn has been one of the more entertaining things going on this Spring.  As she exits "babyland" and sets foot firmly in toddlerdom, the opportunity to saddle her with my crippling horse obsession has presented herself.

I try to keep my expectations low, and whenever anyone asks me if "she loves horses too" I tend to respond with "she loves anything that's fuzzy.  Including old socks." 

And while that's true, the kid does adore the horses and pretty much all of her imaginary playtime is taken up with them somehow (unless she's playing with her fake kitchen emulating my cooking - which involves a lot of shouting and frustrated noises... shrug?). 

Anyway,  It's cute. 

At home she has commandeered an old Hobby Horse which takes turns being Windsor, or another Eq horse in the barn, or Chico Linda (sp!?) from Spirit- running free. 

on course.

She takes her Hobby Horse management very seriously, and you WILL be scolded if you try to ride before brushing your horse.  You will also be scolded if you don't give the Hobby Horse a carrot.  Or enough pats.  Or tell it thank you for jumping...

Also, everything is a jump, (her lead changes are pretty good) and she is disappointed when she knocks something down.  She sleeps with a plastic (non breyer) horse named "White White" and recently started trying to learn how to wrap polos on her pretend ponies.

At the real barn, she is obsessed with a big, lovely (fancy) mare who tolerates her.  She attempts two-point while walking over poles and can hand out over 10lbs of carrots in under 2 minutes.  She loves to brush legs and thinks hoofpicks are fascinating.

She recently got a new helmet and won't take it off (new paddock boots are on order and will likely suffer a similar fate).

But perhaps one of my most enjoyable moments to date, was taking her up to a horse show last weekend, and watching her ride the Derby winner back to the barn.  Just last year she was too small to ride Winds when he won the class, but my trainer's son had the honors. 

It was one of those moments where I realized how fun it was to have her along and actually enjoying the horses and the show and the camaraderie of our barn family. 

I'm thinking there is a whole other aspect to this horse thing being a mom - and it looks like a lot more fun than I thought it would.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Long Overdue (the post, not the colt..)

Checking back in! holy moly lots is happening.  But most notable to the blog-o-sphere is probably the arrival of Prairie's colt.  (squee!)

You may recall - Prairie is enjoying a new life as a broodmare with an old friend from Pony Club.  She was bred to their KWPN stud, Versace (Ferro/Idocus) last year and gave birth to a healthy little colt in April.

Anyway, all is well.  The colt is strong and social and all things you want a baby to be.  He has been named "Vegas" and will go by Ace in the barn.  I hope I am able to follow his journey and see what life has in store for this little guy.  I believe he will be presented for inspection with the Oldenburg NA this summer, but we shall see!  Just in case anyone is shopping, his full description is here.

As for Daddy (since little Ace isn't doing much yet), he doesn't a huge competition record to share, but he's cute and the babies have a reputation for extreme rideability (which would be a nice feature to add to Prair...).  Most of his accomplishments have come on the breeding side of things, including a couple approved sons and being the Dressage Sport Horse Breeding Champion for KWPN in North America.  Seems like a cool dude.

Interestingly enough, Versache was gelded a couple years ago and is actually for sale if anyone is looking for something snazzy to place with!

More updates on Windsor and the rest of the clan to come!


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

(Nice) Stuff to Hold the Stuff

I love bags.  Purses, luggage, beautiful tech covers.  Anything really.

A bag for everything and everything in a bag I say. 

But, much like actually blow-drying my hair (a thing that didn't happen today), or putting on a sharp outfit (also a thing that didn't happen).... There is a transformative power when I am carrying a nice bag.

And I don't mean that in the "this-is-a-$40k-birkin-what-up" way.  I mean that I feel very adult and organized when my purse is nice, my luggage is classy or I if have my favorite reusable grocery bags with me (thanks Silver Oak winery!). 

Similar to the hair/outfit condition - even though I appreciate them, I don't always have nice bags. 

Specifically, for the last three years I have been carrying my hunt coats around in the tack-store-provided garment bag.   At best, it is designed to hold one hunt coat decently while you walk out of the store.  Instead I have asked it to carry 3 coats, at least 2 shirts and a whole mess of gloves, hats and hairnets up and down the West Coast.

To its credit, the free coat bag has handled this task better than expected.  In fact, it's done a pretty excellent job.  In addition to being over stuffed, the poor thing has been shoved in my trunk and shipped 1200 miles, strewn in the back of my car for weeks on end, used as an umbrella while sprinting to the barn, wiped off wet bleachers and other non-traditional tasks.

But last summer I noticed that the weird plastic/fabric was finally starting to disintegrate and that my days of making the most of the free-coat-bag were numbered.

So I started the casual hunt for a nice garment bag for use at the shows.  And since I like to match, first stop was Noble Outfitters' Signature line.

Last year at some point I got myself the Noble Outfitters Signature boot bag.
I swear I wrote about it, but I cannot for the life of me find a review anywhere so I'm going to assume it is on the rather long list of things I forgot to blog about.

I LOVE it.. 

And after a full season of dragging it around, I love it even more.   It is attractive and thoughtful in its construction - both key considerations when I am making a horse/show related purchase.

First off, the bag is crazy tall, so my mutant Konigs fit nicely.  The boots themselves are separated by a nice padded divider and the foot portion of the bag is roomy enough that boots easily slide in and out without wrestling and shoving.

The liner easily wipes clean (when muddy boots have been shoved in) and there is enough extra space that I can keep a rag or two tucked in the main bag as well.  My polishing kit fits in the side pocket and I adore the leather trim (and nameplate they provide).

At $109 it is not the cheapest boot bag on the market (by a long shot), and while I think the initial purchase was potentially wine induced, now that it's stood up well to a year of abuse, I can justify the steep price.

So naturally, when the freebie-coat-bag started to lose it, I turned to Noble Outfitters again for the coordinating hanging option.  At $149, it was a bit tougher for me to justify the upgrade, (since the first bag was, well... free).  But at some point during the Black Friday or Cyber something madness, I stumbled across it for under $100 and bit the bullet.
Having been used to a glorified drycleaner bag for so long, the new Signature bag feels a bit huge and bulky.  It easily holds all of my things (and backups for my backups), and frankly has enough space for me to pack ALL my clothes for a show in it.  The one thing I'm not sure of yet is that the zipper only extends part way down the bag, which makes it slightly more awkward to get hanging items in and out, but does keep all the random crap in the bottom from spilling all over the tack room....

I think it is a near certainty that I will have lots of random crap in the bottom - this is probably a net win.

There is about 18" of bag beyond the bottom of my hunt coats... could be good for a shadbelly?? or just lots of crap...

The Signature bag is more akin to traditional luggage than it is to just a "cover."  While this is good for storage quantity and durability, it does add weight.  The bag has it's own hanging hook, and organizes the shirts/coats inside, rather than having your own hangers poke out the top for hanging. 

pictured: actual garment bag hook thing

This definitely helps keeps items on their hangars, and is beneficial if the bag is going to be thrown around in your car or trunk, but not necessary if you just need to keep the dust off.  It's also handy if you don't travel with a larger barn that sets up a clothing rack as the bag's hook easily latches onto a stall, trailer door or pretty much anything in sight.

I finally got around to getting the included plates engraved, so now they really feel fancy.

(fluff monkey obviously attached at all times)

Long story short, the Signature bags are gorgeous - and to get back to my original point, I feel downright classy and organized with both of them slung over my shoulder.

Most importantly though - it leaves both hands free for a large coffee and a tall toddler. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Slow Start: Diagnosis

Well, we have a diagnosis. 

And (more importantly) we have good news.

I call this series: in search of hidden treats

Turns out, the nagging slight lameness we had been noticing was a slightly pissed off lateral collateral ligament in the coffin joint. 

Sneaky little suckers are often hard to pinpoint and require an MRI to confirm.  (which we did, without anesthesia, go team).

The MRI shows that there is a mild strain (moderate focal tissue disruption), but that it's already healing.  The big lovely swingy trot that we noticed after some time off from the holidays is the result of that healing, and now that we know for sure what's going on - we can be more mindful of how to move forward without risking a re-injury. 

As of last week, Winds feels fab, and his slight inconsistencies from left rein to right rein no longer block out in the foot.  So we are (reasonably) confident that the collateral  is no longer causing pain, and that the inflammation has all but gone away.

The bummer is that while I was initially aiming for a season opener up at Thunderbird next week, we are on an (even) slower plan to hold off on jumping for a while longer and continue to just increase the workload on the flat in two week increments.  At this point I'm probably pushing back our first show to the end of June, assuming we don't hit any speed bumps between now and then.

Winds feels awesome, and I know that this easy spring has been good for his body. With a confirmed diagnosis I am even more convinced that we did the right thing, and I can't wait to see how this horse jumps and moves when he's feeling his best. 

In the meantime, it's all that boring, but oh so useful flatwork while we continue to build up strength!

Anyone have experience with Collateral strains?

I like our current plan of action, and am grateful that even with his crazy hard season last year, all we have is a slight strain (no tears, no holes, no scary anything) - so the prognosis is about a good as it can possibly be... but any magic tricks or special considerations are always welcome!

And lest you think I'm not getting enough saddle time, there are a few irons in the fire that hopefully I'll get to talk about sooner rather than later!

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Hunters (a brief intro for those on the other side)

I was reminiscing over old blog posts and reliving last year's show season, when I noticed a trend of comments saying "great job! can you explain the hunters so I know what it means" or "cool! I think.... because I don't really understand what you guys do.."

And I remembered that I have always intended to do a "Hunters for Dummies" post, but never gotten around to it. 

Ideally you get to wear a shadbelly while jumping.  #goals.
So we're getting around to it.  I'll do my best to explain the sport, but please bear in mind that this pony-clubbing-former-eventer is by no means a sanctioned ambassador of the Hunter Ring. 

Hopefully my (reasonably) fresh eyes will be more helpful than my currently eroding vocabulary.

Let's start simple.  People often refer to Hunters and Jumpers together.  But once you set foot in H/J land, you realize that the Hunter ring and Jumper ring are very different places (usually on literal opposite sides of the show park).  For the purposes of this post, I'm focusing just on the Hunters. 

For anyone who lives really, really far away from H/J land - Jumpers are objective - make the time allowed, don't knock stuff down.  Hunters are subjective - jump the (easier) course assigned, get judged for how you look doing it. (think: ice skating).

What the Hunters mean for me, is that a ride that would have left me cheering in my youth (yay! No stops no rails!), is now something that I can beat myself up about (my canter sucked, we had a late change, and we left a stride out of the line...). 

Why I chose to do this to myself I don't know.  Maybe it's the perfectionist DQ lurking in me..and since I like jumping, but am too chicken to do XC anymore - the Hunters are where I belong....

The Goal:

When presenting a horse in the Hunters, the goal is to basically show that your horse is athletic, polite and safe.  All things that would make a lovely fox hunter out in the field. (though the number of show Hunters who have ever been fox hunting is a very, very tiny number that is very, very close to zero).

What that has come to mean is that successful Hunters complete their task in a relaxed, easy going manner, while showing brilliant (scopey, even, careful) jumping style, and covering the ground in an even, balanced rhythm. 

Exhibit A: Windsy
To translate further:  A competitive Hunter a) is pretty, b) moves well, c) has a big stride and slow step d) explodes into the air with a round jump, knees square (ideally touching it's nose) and ears forward e) looks EASY to ride f) shows no sign of irritation or anxiety.

So let's say you read that and say "hey! I have that horse (fyi, if you do you're sitting on a gold mine), how do I get one of those fancy Champion ribbons at a show?"

You enter a Division.  Divisions are comprised of 3 or 4 separate classes over fences at a given height and one flat class called the Under Saddle.

Your classes over fences will be a straight forward course of 8-10 jumps. Typically you figure eight around the ring (line, diagonal, line diagonal...) alternating related distances with single fences.  for some of the bigger divisions, the last class over fences with be a designated a "Handy" round which means you're supposed to show off how agile and adjustable your horse is.  Typically you see fewer related distances, options for inside turns, sometimes a hand gallop or trot fence gets thrown in. (it's as close to a jump off as the Hunters ever get..)

Traditional Hunter courses are not that technical, and the jumps tend to look similar enough that you expect the leaderboard to be decided by the subjective performance, rather than major faults like refusals or rails. 

USEF defines a Hunter "performance" as "an even hunting pace, manners, jumping style together with faults and way of moving over the course. Manners to be emphasized in Ladies and Amateur classes; brilliance in Corinthian and Formal Hunting Attire classes."

Not exactly a lot to go on.  But don't worry, the list of stuff you aren't supposed to do is nice and long:

1. The following faults are scored according to the judges opinion and depending on severity or division, may be considered minor or major faults.
a. Rubbing the jump
b. Swapping leads in a line or in front of a jump
c. Late lead changes
d. Spooking
e. Kicking up or out
f. Jumping out of form
g. Jumping off the center line of jump
h. Bucking and/or playing
i. Adding a stride in a line with a related distance
j. Eliminating a stride in a line with a related distance
k. Striking off on a wrong lead on the courtesy circle. (May be corrected with either a simple or flying change of lead)

2. The following are considered major faults.
a. Knockdown
b. Refusal
c. Refusal or stopping while on course
d. Crossing the track. A track is established once a horse has landed from a fence or completes a required test and follows the horse until the consecutive fence is jumped or the next test is executed. Upon completion of each consecutive fence or performance of the next test, the track is erased. Crossing a track between obstacles and/ or required tests shall constitute a disobedience and will be penalized by the judge(s). Exceptions 1.  A course diagram that requires a rider to cross his track. 2.  Snake or multiple panel jumps that are jumped consecutively.
e. Dangerous jumping
f. Addressing a jump - coming to a stop in front of a jump in order to show the jump to the horse.
g. Completely missing a lead change
h. Adding or eliminating a stride in an in and out.
i. Breaking stride, or Trotting while on course. (Exceptions-Where posted on the course diagram i.e. trot jumps, steep banks, etc, and also as outlined above in HU137.1k. Striking off on a wrong lead on the courtesy circle.)

So, you know -just don't do any of that stuff.

(we did almost all of that stuff)
Anyway, so you and everyone else in your division jump your rounds, and each class is pinned separately, so you collect a different ribbon for each. (or if you're me you collect a ribbon, then chipped/pulled/crosscantered your second course, so you don't collect another one...)

The final component of a full division is the Under Saddle class, which is a traditional rail class.  Everyone is in the ring at the same time, and asked to walk, trot and canter both directions.  It's basically a beauty pageant and horses are judged on their way of going and general impression.  Hunter judges like to see a big sweeping trot with daisy cutter movement (aka - a flat knee).  Again, horses should look relaxed and obedient (but Prairie taught me that you can look like a lunatic and still win with a big trot in front of the right judge....).

Tension with a side of nice trot.
When it's all said and done, a Champion and Reserve Champion are awarded extra ribbons (and sometimes a cooler!).  That designation is made by tallying up the results of all the results in each class of the division.  First place gets you 10 points, Second gets you 6 points, Third gets 4, Fourth gets 2, Fifth gets 1 and Sixth gets 1/2 a point. 

That point spread means that blue ribbons are worth their weight in GOLD.  If you can win a couple classes and blow the other ones, you're still doing better than the horse that is consistently third and fourth... (I think this is weird, and the point spread in Canada rewards consistency a bit more which I like).

So that's your basic "how to" on getting a cooler.

Like any discipline there is a ride range of levels and weird restrictions. 

The "Open" divisions tend to be mostly pro's and start with the Green and Young Hunters.  Young Hunters is a new thing, and restricts the divisions by age.  Horses 5 years and younger show at 3', 6 years and younger at 3'3" and 7 years and younger show 3'6". 

It's new, we'll see if it sticks, I hope it does.

Green Hunters just got a revamp, but similar to the Young Hunter divisions, it offers a place to show developing horses away from the big veterans on the circuit.  USEF has worked hard to elevate the Green Program and at a lot of the shows they are some of the most competitive classes in terms of numbers and quality of horses.

The Green program allows horses so spend two years showing at 3' and 3'3" before having to either move up to Green 3'6" or compete against the other more experienced 3'3" horses.  Horses also have one year to show in the Green 3'6" and another year to show in the Green 3'9" if they can.

Good form, nice expression, super polite.
Windsor showed last year in the Pre-Green 3'3".  The name Pre-Green has been replaced, and this year he could choose to spend a second year at Green 3'3", or move up to the Green 3'6". But basically, last year he was always showing against horses who were also in their first or second year at 3'3". 

If you're horse isn't eligible Green or Young, you get kicked into the general open divisions.  These start at 3' (split into Small and Large Hunter for under/over 16h), then move into the Performance Hunters which are offered at multiple heights and not restricted by age or experience.

If you have a real looker (with no popped splints or windpuffs) you can also enter the Conformation Hunters which places a higher emphasis on conformation (duh) and way of going.  Conformation divisions also have an in-hand class added to your over fences classes and Under Saddle.

Still with me?

Ammy's and Kids have their own divisions that start at 2'3" and go up to 3'6".  We also ride 4 courses over fences and parade around in an Under Saddle. 

Typically you see the open(/pro) divisions run on Wednesdays and Thursdays so that us ammy's can show on the weekend and kids don't have to miss too much school. 

You can start to see how if you have a horse who shows with a pro, then goes around with an ammy or kid on the weekend - it's pretty easy  to rack up a packed schedule - and we haven't talked about Derbies, Classics or if your horse also takes you in the Equitation ring...

One of the things that's been tough for my former Dressage/eventer brain to comprehend is the nature of numerical scores in the Hunter Ring.  Judges take notes during every round, and at the end of each course, they assign an overall score (0-100).  However, scores are not always announced (though they are for WCHR classes, derbies and medals), and you never get to go pick up your scorecard like you do after a dressage test.  While most judges will score the same round within a point or two, there seems to be less consistency than there is in Dressage for how you score a particular moment, which makes it hard to even compare your own personal scores from day to day. 

When I was riding Dressage, the first time I would score 70% on any given test always felt like an achievement, and like it was a pretty consistent benchmark of my ability.  Last summer I can distinctly remember Windsy getting a 92 for a lovely round up at Thunderbird, but knew in my head it was probably closer to an 88 from a majority of other judges, which sort of cheapened the score.

There is also the oddity of a judge not being able to assign the same score to more than one horse/rider pair in any class.  So, let's take Windsy's 92.  He could have gotten a 92 because the judge got excited by an earlier trip and threw out an exuberant 91 to someone else.  Then Windsy comes along and he thinks to himself, hmmm I like this a bit more than the horse we gave a 91 to... so I'll go 92 which still leaves some room for a 91.5 (or even a 91.25) if another horse splits the difference.

In that way, the scores lose a bit of their independent meaning as judge's focus on making sure the performances are ranked correctly more than the true independent legitimacy of any one score.

A little odd right? it's taken me some time to get used to, but I think I've acclimated enough that I'm no longer shocked by the process...

At it's heart, I really do like the core of what Show Hunters do. 

Be athletic.  Be polite.  And look lovely doing it. 

However, like any sport - there is a dark underbelly to achieving the most extreme interpretation of that goal.

The Hunter Ring has been berated for rewarding relaxation so much that it has encouraged a dead-head, sedated look where the horses are cantering soooooo sloooowly that whether or not they've actually been drugged, it's the look that wins.  The courses have also been dumbed down over the last couple of decades, and I've seen more than one hissy fit at shows if the course designer tried to shake things up a bit.

However, I think the pendulum is swinging the other way.   Judges are being encouraged to reward brilliance and forgive the horse for acting like a reasonable horse, if it say... shakes it's head after a fabulous jumping effort. 

I specifically recall that during one of Winds' derbies last summer, a (very competitive) horse on the circuit laid down a lovely, albeit SLOW trip where it barely centered up to each fence before heaving itself over (stylishly) and loping off on the other side.  I was sitting there thinking to myself that we were screwed if the judge threw a high score at that round. 

Much to my surprise it got a shockingly low score and the judges consistently rewarded horses showing more pace, brilliance and general expression.  (I will say this shift is most obvious in the derby ring where brilliance is specifically called for, but still.... things seem to be trending in a good direction).

So there's my basic, rambling Hunters 101.  What did I forget? And for those who have been doing this waaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyy longer than I have, what do you add when describing Hunter Land to people?

Friday, March 10, 2017

Slow Spring Start

As the close of Q1 looms large on the horizon, I realize that we haven't really done much. 

Winds ended up with about 5 weeks off during the holidays (not the worst thing that's ever happened), but more than the time off - there has been a slow (inconsistent) return to work and that's left us nowhere near ready for show season. 

But we are 100% ready for Leadline

We think that Winds' left front was nagging at him.  And that it might have been the culprit of the not-so-spectacular performance in Paso, as well as what was driving the moments of cross leads and seemingly random inconsistencies last summer. 

His symptoms never got objectively worse with work (and there was a LOT of work)..

They also seemed to crop up randomly (though usually in smaller arenas..), which made it really tricky to pinpoint. He wasn't always worse after two weeks of showing.  Sometimes it was day one.  Sometimes he was great the whole time.  Sometimes he was stiff at the end... I sliced and diced and tried to come up with constants that could predict the cross lead - but alas, no strong hypothesis.

The upside of the randomness, is that he never steadily got worse, and the flares stayed small and short lived.  But they were there, and that was always in the back of my head.

So, time off. 

And ooooh boy does he feel rested and strong.

In fact, he looks pretty awesome.  He's put a little weight on (probably more fat than muscle, but me too..) and it looks like he has sorta grown into himself over the last year. 

His butt is bigger, his shoulder is filled in, and he just looks more mature than he did when he walked off the trailer 16 months ago. 

On top of that he feels AMAZING.  His trot feels looser, his shoulder feels swing-ier, and like he's reaching through the bridle instead of leaning on it.

That said, it might be time to put a spur back on... my heel is working overtime trying to nudge him along.  oooof

So that's neat, I think we're on a good track, and now that we know he can feel like this, maybe we can figure out how to keep him here.

Sadly time off hasn't had the same transformative effect on me.  In November, I felt ready to step straight into the 3' ring.  Today I feel less capable (both mentally and physically) of that particular task, and am lacking the urgency I usually feel this time of year about tackling new goals.

I'm not sure what exactly that means - but it has me feeling less pressured about where we're going and what we'll be doing when we go there.  (though, knowing my tendencies, that will likely change as soon as I get a whiff of show season).

Our Spring schedule is looking quite a bit difference than last year.  Our first potential show isn't until the end of April, and it's possible we'll wait until May. 

If we make it to April, it'll be back to Thunderbird, for what will most certainly be a rather wet week.

Winds would do a very light schedule, maybe not even any full divisions... but it would be a road trip and check-in to see where we are at while taking advantage of nice big rings to do it in.

Stay tuned for more schooling updates as we inch closer to the back gate! 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Man I'm bad at this

I don't know where my blogging voice has gone, but it has vanished.  I feel a little like Ariel when she trades in her oh-so-lovely singing voice for somewhat useless getaway-sticks so she can be on land.

(it's possible my kid is watching a lot of Little Mermaid these days.  like.  A lot.)

Anyway, It's not for lack of fodder.  I have a relatively entertaining call with the pet psychic to report on (spoiler alert, Winds was THRILLED he made the Christmas card, and the cat was pissed I moved his chair for the Christmas tree...) and some really fabulous year end awards that I'm proud of (including a Horse of the Year award).

And we even have soundness drama as we are chasing a very subtle, very sneaky ghost in pursuit of physical perfection.

But I just can't seem to sit down and get the stories all the way out. 

For that - I apologize.  I'm really hoping that 2017 sees the rebirth of my snark and ability to find 5-8 paragraphs on any given ride or piece of equipment.

At the very least, I hope I don't get worse - because that would be sad for me.  I relish looking back at old blog posts, and 2016 marked a low spot for my own personal record keeping.

Thanks for sticking with us, and I hope we have some fun adventures to report on for 2017.  Happy New Year!!

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