Last year, one of my favorite parts of the show at Milner was watching the Canadian Hunter Derby. The big grass field lends itself to a Derby course - and I enjoyed learning about the Canadian format.
Going into this year I wasn't sure if Winds would have the fitness to enter again, but he felt so good at 3' on Thursday that we opted to go for it.
Down here, the USHJA runs derbies over two rounds. The first round is scored like a traditional hunter round (out of 100), with the opportunity for earning up to 4 extra points if you jump all 4 high options offered. The top 12 horse and rider combos return for a second Handy round which offers a shortened course where the judging emphasizes efficiency and brilliance. Again the round is scored out of 100, with a possible 4 extra points for high options. Scores are added together to determine the overall winner.
I love the drama of coming back for the Handy Round in reverse order. It's fun, and the top competitors have an idea of how much they have to push it in order to get a winning score.
However the downside of the USHJA format is that it takes forever and spectators can lose interest watching 50 Classic rounds, and even in smaller classes the horses have to stand by for the Handy, which is sometimes tricky, especially if you've got multiple rides.
In Canada, while the course format and build is similar, they have condensed the Derbies to only one round. You still get a base hunter score out of 100, but then you are awarded 2 points for every high option (there are 5), and also given a score for handiness on a scale of 1-10. This means the high options and handy score account for a possible 20 bonus points, and can swing the total score dramatically.
The other big difference, is that where the USHJA National Derby is 3' with high options up to 3'5" and the International Derby is 3'6"-4' with high options that are at least 4'3" - in Canada they offer two height sections, one with the base fences at 3'3" and the other with the base at 3'6", but the height sections are still judged as one class.
I like that the one round format keeps the class a bit more spectator friendly (and for the moment anyway, I like that it is fewer jumps). Also, for horses who also go in divisions with their owner, or do a full pro division, I think it's easier to add the Derby to your schedule when it's 12 jumps, not 20.
But I digress - One round, we had nothing else to show that day, so Winds was entered.
While my excitement for a Derby can never be contained, I was also a little nervous to test the beast at 3'3". He hadn't jumped that high since Paso back in November, which meant I wasn't sure if he would be overly excited and crazy, or stiff, or come up sore afterward...
Winds warmed up well. He was a bit stuck behind the leg, but that was a problem we knew would go away once he was in the ring. To his credit he was following the rein better than he normally does and was stepping through nicely on landing (which is my major paranoia these days).
The disadvantage of the one-and-done format is that you don't know how handy you have to be to win. When you come back in reverse order for the USHJA class, you have a sense if you need to go big and make up points, or if you can play it safe and try to just not screw up.
In the Canadian class, especially if you are early in the order you don't know if someone is going to post a huge score after your go - so your strategy has to shift a bit. For this round, the high options weren't really very high. Some of them were nearly the same height, but offered a slightly more difficult track. The plan was to pick up bonus points on 4 of the 5 options - leaving a split rail fence that was airy and on a tough track. Other than that, there were options for some nice inside turns, long gallops and not a single related distance.
Winds marched straight into the ring and looked FABULOUS. Every time this horse goes in for a derby it reinforces to me that this is where he shines. He loves hunting the jumps, and perks up in a way that he doesn't for Hunter rounds at the same height. It's a joy to watch.
Things that I love about this round -
Winds looks eager and interested.
He landed all his leads easily
NO CROSS LEADS
His big open step.
His cute squishy face.
The judge also loved his trip and rewarded him with a base score of 89 (his highest derby score to date) with 8 for the high options and a 7 for Handiness for a total of 104. I was thrilled, but tried not to get too excited about holding first place, as last year we were knocked into second by the very last horse to go.
This year however, Winds held the top spot and got to lead the victory gallop, which is always a lovely frosting on top of a great ride.
Next up - The Ammy rounds with yours truly.....