Happy Friday beautiful people!
I hope you are all going into your weekend feeling accomplished in one way or another. Accomplishments come in all shapes and sizes, of course.
Last winter I had all of these good intentions for things that I wanted to do and see while I was here in horsetopia. I fell short on accomplishing many of them. The days seem to go faster here, even more-so than they usually do for me. There are so many opportunities that it can be overwhelming. You have to make an effort to get out of your normal everyday routine and try something new…see what there is to see.
I decided I would start by attending this weeks “Lunch and Learn” – a weekly educational series hosted at the Wellington Club and sponsored by different entities each week. These opportunities to expand our knowledge take place once per week throughout the twelve weeks of WEF. The topic of week two was “Riding the perfect hunter round”, sponsored by the Palm Beach Riding Academy.
I arrived ready to take in what they had to offer. The session is offered at no charge to riders, owners, and trainers. I thought that was nice. They had a buffet style lunch with great looking options. I am basically on a lettuce diet, so not being able to take advantage of all the food offerings both during this and over in the international club has been slightly heart breaking. I’m surviving. Okay, back on track. A panel of show officials were there to give a Q&A and talk about their roles within the horse show world.
I was proud of myself in that A. I went. By myself, B. I sat at the front table, and C. I asked questions.
Geoff Teall was on the panel representing the judges. One of the first things he talked about was the “elephant in the room” that he says is typical. Are the hunters judged fairly and honestly or is it a big political popularity contest? According to him, it is 95% honest and fair and much less political than many of us think. He addressed this a little bit further in explaining that he sees it as momentum versus politics. In that, he explained that when someone has great horses and puts down great rounds time and time again and in turn wins consistently that gives them momentum. It creates a kind of expectation when they come into the ring and the judges can’t help but view them differently. At the end of a class, it all comes down to how each horse compares to one another. He said that he loves rewarding for a great round and in fact is rooting for you! Probably more nervous than you are as you come down to the last line on course – he even confessed to clucking and even yelling whoa from the judges booth at times. My question for Geoff was about what prevents them from being able to share their judges score cards with exhibitors. I guess I sort of knew what he was going to say, but it couldn’t hurt to hear it said another way. Geoff said that his cards were chicken scratch first of all, but that he is always happy to share if someone wants to go through the channels to do so. He’d rather have you ask than be mad at him because you didn’t realize your horse hung a leg over the single oxer. He said that basically it just isn’t part of our culture. Another attendee asked a question about whether or not hunters would ever be an olympic sport. Laughing, he said he hoped not. He explained that he’d had a conversation with someone recently about having an FEI type of platform for hunter classes to show that there can be zero tolerance in hunters too (pertaining to drugs and horse welfare). I thought that was really interesting. I think it would be great for this level of competition. It would eliminate a lot of these “misunderstandings” we are seeing occur in the hunter world. Of course hunters are really a US discipline, so I’m not sure that putting world governance on it would make sense. Maybe there is a new platform on the horizon.
Liza Boyd stepped in to the discussion between rounds in the Grand Hunter ring. Geoff mentioned right away how Liza’s meticulous care of her horses was a big part of her success. She talked about managing different horses in different ways based on there needs. Do they need to school on Tuesdays or do they not. If they are more seasoned they go over to the show specifically to show, but are otherwise working at home or trail riding. If she has a younger horse she will have them spend more time at the show grounds to take it all in – even if that means just trail riding around the show grounds. She talked about the importance of keeping your mind slow in the hunters and not having that freak out moment as you approach the last line and start running at the distance. Riding it as a beginning, middle, and end. She also gave an example of a round she had done that morning in which she didn’t get the score that the horse had the potential to get. It was speaking to the importance of flatwork and quality of the canter between the fences. The quality of the flatwork between the fences can be the difference between an 86 and a 90 if 2 horses both have a 10 jump. The work she’ll do with that horse at home before its next time in the ring is counter canter and good flatwork to keep it from leaning on her during the course.
Phil DeVita was on the panel for his work in course designing. He is also a judge. He’s been designing courses since 1982. He expressed that footing is the #1 item of importance. True that. He explained his tactics for designing a course as making it approachable with the ability to build a good rhythm and have a nice flow. He said that the judge should be judging the class, not the course. I liked that. During Q&A, I asked him if there is a certain reason why a course designer would have the hunters start on a line. It’s just something I’ve often wondered about when I’ve encountered it in competition. He said that it was somewhat old fashioned and not his preference. A better round is more likely starting on a single. Thank you very much. It can come down to where the course starts and getting 8 jumps completed. Maybe a shortage of materials. I was glad I asked – now I know its not some tactic to make a fast track or just to be cruel.
One of our USEF stewards was also there representing. Geoff was first to say that being a steward is one of the many thankless jobs behind horse shows. Mary explained to everyone some of what is involved in being a steward. She described the role as being the liaison between all of the different people involved in the horse show – from exhibitors to judges, management and officials, and of course the USEF. They interpret the rules. They do everything from walking the barns and checking water buckets, measuring horses as required, reporting accidents, monitoring the quality of lunging areas/dragging, that horses are properly lunged, general horse welfare, and even making sure the restrooms are up to standard.
Jessica Nichols was on the panel representing the sponsor, Palm Beach Riding Academy. She spoke a little bit about their program and how the kids their are taught. It is an important program that provides the opportunity to begin at the entry level with the very basics of horsemanship and riding and move up in a consistent horse show environment. It is pretty unique in that respect being located on the grounds at AGDF.
A couple of random facts: Here at WEF, there are typically 15 judges per week and 12 course designers. It is amazing what all goes into making a venue like this function. There are an overwhelming amount of details and work that goes on behind the scenes. It is really quite impressive.
I am really glad that I went and participated. We are really fortunate that these types of opportunities are available. I will definitely attend again. In fact, next week’s topic is something I’d like to attend. “Constructing a Wellness Program for the Aging Performance Hose with Marian G. Little, DVM” Sponsored by Adequan.