Thursday, May 27, 2010

Trainer Conflicts

When there are several rings running at a horse show, it can be difficult for a coach to get to every ring on time. This results in what we call "trainer conflicts".

You are not expected to warm up and enter the show ring without your coach being present. The in-gate person will generally try to accommodate you in the order, provided you have informed them of the conflict and tried your hardest to get there on time. If you are ready and at the ring, the show management will be more likely to help you out than if you and your horse are absent and not ready to go at a moment's notice.

If the conflict drags on for too long or if you are taking too long to prepare once the conflict has been resolved, the show could institute a time limit for you to enter the ring. In order to avoid this, be organized and plan your day as well as you can!

It's always a good idea to find out which ring has the highest priority of the show. This ring usually has the most important classes, the most classes, or a posted order. Because the show wants this ring to run smoothly, long waits are less likely to be tolerated and trainers should make sure to be on time for that ring.

The lowest priority ring is likely to have longer waits and be more lenient because some trainers must be at the higher priority rings. If you will be showing in a low-priority ring, prepare yourself to wait through conflicts and try not to stress out when it seems as though the conflict will never end. As long as you keep in touch with the in-gate person, the class is not likely to end without you.

Communication is key!

Friday, May 14, 2010

What Happens if I go Off Course?

Hopefully, you will never make the mistake of going off course during a round, but what happens if you do? Regardless of whether you are competing in the hunters or the jumpers, going off course incurs elimination.

Going off course includes jumping the fences in the wrong order, jumping a fence that is not part of the course, omitting a jump, etc.


If you are aware that you have gone off course:

Once you know that you are off course, you should stop jumping immediately and exit the ring promptly.  

If you are not aware that you have gone off course:

At most shows, you will be asked by the announcer to leave the ring: "Rider in Ring _, you are excused." Once you have been told to leave the ring, you need to stop jumping immediately and exit the ring.

At some shows, you might be asked to leave by the in-gate person instead. In such as case, as soon as you hear the shouting from the in-gate, you need to stop your round.


As soon as the judge notices that you are off course, the bell will be rung repeatedly to indicate that you have been eliminated. Once the bell has been rung, you should not continue on course.

Going off course in the jumpers includes not crossing between the start timers and missing a mandatory turning point (generally seen on banks). Carefully checking the course diagram before the class can prevent some of these errors of course.

You can correct your deviation as long as you make a change before jumping the first wrong jump. Circling back or crossing your path when you notice that you are about to go off course will incur four faults but you will at least avoid being eliminated. Once you have taken a jump backwards or in the wrong order, no corrections can be made to avoid elimination.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


You might be tempted to wear some flashy clothing or tack into the show ring to get noticed, but are you allowed to have "bling"?

Here are the EC rules that apply to this situation:

2. [...] Only approved helmets (see Article G102) of a conservative color are allowed.

1. While exhibitors and judges should bear in mind that entries are being judged at all times on ability, it should be noted that neatness is a first requisite regarding rider's dress.
2. Jacket - conservative colour; Jodhpurs or breeches; ties, stocks or chokers must be worn; boots; black or brown smooth leather half chaps are permissible providing they match the boot colour.
3. Conservative-coloured protective headgear (as per Article G1004) with no additional adornments.

Conservative coloured protective headgear (as per Article G1004) with no additional adornments.

7. Browbands: All leather of any description but not coloured or jeweled.

Horse-wise, in the jumper ring, you can use as much "bling" as you'd like and you will still be allowed to compete.  

In hunter or equitation classes, any "bling" on the horse is not appropriate. The bridle should be plain brown (or black) leather with no metal clinchers or jewels on the browband (or on the noseband, for that matter). The padding should also be brown or black, not coloured. It should be the horse that is flashy, not what you've put on the horse! Some riders will put a small charm in one of the braids. This is a personal choice, but make sure that it's subtle if you choose to do it.

The official Equine Canada rules really only take into account flashy helmets as far as the rider is concerned. In all rings, including the jumpers, helmets must be of a conservative colour. In equitation and medal classes, there must be no additional adornments, either, which means no jewels and no coloured stripes.

In equitation classes, jackets must also be of a conservative colour. You should be fine as long as you don't stray from the standard colours (navy, black, grey, dark green, etc.). While most riders will wear a white show shirt for equitation classes, there is no rule requiring it.

Belts with bling are also quite popular. These should not be worn for equitation classes, and judges for the hunter ring might also disapprove if they find the belt to be distracting. There is nothing to stop them from being worn in the jumper ring.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tack Boxes

Tack boxes are very handy for getting your equipment to and from each show while keeping it all neat and organized. They come in all shapes and sizes and which type you use will depend on your budget, available space and preferences for weight and style.

Most tack trunks fall under one of the following categories:

Vinyl Trunks - These are usually the most stylish option, often made with custom colours and the rider's name or initials printed on the trunk. They are available in a variety of sizes and the largest ones can generally fit anything that you'd like to put in there. The downsides to this option are their space requirements and their weight. The larger models can be very wide and therefore don't fit in the more narrow tent aisles. In such a case, you would be forced to put the trunk outside or in a tack stall (it will take up a lot of space in there!). They can be difficult to carry around even for two people, so they are not a good option if you'll be doing most of the loading or unloading yourself. They are also very expensive.

Wooden Trunks - These also look very classy when they are done well. Again, they can come in a variety of sizes but I have found there to be a lot more narrower widths available than in the vinyl category, which makes fitting them in tent aisles much easier. They can be quite heavy, so again, usually two people are required to move them around. The cost varies depending on the size and quality. If you can build one yourself, it can be a very inexpensive option.

Plastic Trunks - These provide a lighter alternative to the vinyl or wooden trunks while still providing some bigger sizes to fit all of your equipment. They tend not to look all that nice and a lot of riders will use a special trunk cover to improve the look. They are generally a bit cheaper than wooden trunks. The Stanley brand is very popular.

Rubbermaids - This is my tack box of choice! They are inexpensive, very light and come in a variety of sizes. They tend not to look all that attractive, but they are practical. One strong person can often lift even the larger ones without help, so they are great if you will be working solo. I also like being able to empty some of them into the tack stall and then just tossing them back into the trailer for storage. Not necessarily the best choice if you're worried about looks. 

Whichever type you choose, make sure that the box will fit through the tack room door of any trailer that you will be using. Some of the wider trunks will not fit through your average trailer tack room door and therefore need to be transported specially!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Jumper Tack: Reins

As far as reins go, anything goes in the jumper ring! You can use whichever combination of whichever reins you'd like and be perfectly legal.

The most popular are probably rubber reins due to their excellent grip. If you use them, make sure that you don't use saddle soap or any sort of conditioner on them as it can make them grungy. The rubber will eventually wear down over time with use and you will need to either get them re-coated or buy new ones.

Some riders prefer to use web reins. They are not as bulky as rubber reins and are less likely to become slippery when wet than leather reins.

Leather reins, laced, braided or plain, are always an option. They provide a thinner alternative for a curb rein but don't tend to be as grippy as the other choices.

If you are using a running martingale, make sure that your reins have rein stops on them (seen on the reins in this photo). If either of the rings gets stuck on the end of the reins or on the bit, your horse is likely to panic and using rein stops between the martingale and the bit will prevent that from ever happening. Most rubber reins tend to come with leather rein stops already attached, but if your reins don't have them you can buy rubber ones that are quite easy to slide on to the reins. It really is important for your safety not to use a running martingale without them.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hunter Tack: Reins

Hunter tack tends to be very limited in its options, and reins are no exception. The rules state that the reins must be made entirely of leather, so that means that rubber or webbed reins are definitely out (unless rubber reins are allowed in bad weather, which is extremely rare).

The EC rule:

6. Reins: entirely leather of any description, buckled, studded or sewn; single rein pelham and pelham converters are only allowed in junior and amateur classes in 3’ (0.90m) or below. In the case of bad weather, at the discretion of the judge, steward and/or competition committee, rubber reins may be allowed.

So which reins can you use?
Laced reins

The most commonly-seen reins in the hunter ring are laced reins. Each side is made of a long piece of leather that has two narrower strips of leather woven through it for grip. They are relatively easy to keep clean and, while they are not as grippy as rubber reins, they are easier to hold on to than plain leather reins.

Braided reins are not as popular as laced reins, but they are made entirely of leather and are allowed in competition. Rather than having a solid piece of leather down the entire length of the rein, braided reins consist of a length of braided narrower strips of leather.
Plain reins

Plain reins are just a solid piece of leather and are generally used as a curb rein because they provide less bulk and allow the rider to feel the difference between the two sets of reins. They are less grippy than the others and so are not generally used as the main reins. Plain leather reins with rubber on the inside for extra grip are not entirely made of leather and are therefore not legal.

Whichever type you choose, the key is for the reins not to stand out. They should be the same colour as the rest of your bridle. Whether you go with a buckle attachment or a stud attachment is your choice, but I find that the stud attachments blend in better and provide a cleaner picture.

Most reins are available in different widths, and because there is no rule about rein width, you should just choose whichever width feels best in your hands.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Jogging for Ribbons

In sanctioned or rated hunter divisions, horses are required to jog for soundness before receiving ribbons. In schooling divisions or unsanctioned divisions, jogging is done only at the judge's discretion, which is very rare!

In order to jog, you will need to remove your horse's saddle and martingale completely (detaching the martingale from the girth and keeping it around the neck is not acceptable). If you have the time, try to remove any saddle marks. Keep the bridle on and done up completely, and then use the reins to lead the horse.

The in-gate should have a standby list near the end of the class with the numbers that are expected to be asked to jog in for ribbons. This list can, of course, change as the last riders complete their rounds, but you should be prepared to jog regardless if you are on that standby list. After all of the horses have finished, the in-gate will call the numbers of the horses that need to jog and you must enter the ring in that order. 

If you are jogging in second place or lower, all that you will need to do is follow the first rider's path through the ring. If you are jogging in first, ask the in-gate where you should jog to if you're not sure. You will generally jog diagonally across the ring from the in-gate to the far end, passing in front of the judge and then circling back and coming to a halt before you obstruct the judge's view of the other horses. The horses should remain lined up in the same order in which they were called.

For a more in-depth look at where you should jog to, see How to Jog.

Wherever you end up in the line, ensure that you leave enough room for all of the horses to jog and line up. If the first horse doesn't go far enough or if the horses are too spread out, the last horses might not have enough space to get a jog going.

If you are not sure whether your horse jogs well, practice at home. It helps to have a crop in one hand at first so that you can give the horse a little tap on the side as you begin to jog rather than trying to pull him forward with the bridle.

The rider should be dressed completely while jogging, including wearing a helmet (absolutely necessary for junior divisions) and number.

If you are showing multiple horses in the same division, you can have another rider jog one of your horses for you. For amateur classes, that spare jogger must be an amateur, and for junior classes they must be a junior.

Here are the EC rules relating to jogging a hunter for soundness:

5. In all hunter classes except miscellaneous hunter, horses and ponies must be jogged for soundness (see Article G406.2). Juniors showing any horse in a jog for soundness must wear approved protective headgear with the attached safety harness fastened.
6. All horses and ponies showing in junior classes must be jogged by a junior.
All horses and ponies showing in amateur classes must be jogged by an amateur.

2. Horses must be serviceably sound in eye, wind and limb. Horses are required to jog for soundness in all except miscellaneous hunter classes.

1. When required to return to the ring for conformation or soundness, entries will be refused an award unless they return in the complete bridle in which they have shown.
15. Bandages and Boots: No bandages or boots are allowed; in the case of bad weather, at the discretion of the judge, steward and/or competition committee, tendon, ankle and bell boots may be worn in hunter classes but boots must be removed before the horse jogs in front of the judge for conformation and/or soundness.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Numbers Worn on the Back

In the hunter ring and for equitation classes, the number must be worn on the rider's back. This allows it to be seen from both sides in any classes run on the flat while at the same time being neat and inconspicuous.

When you are competing over fences, the number should be centered in the middle of your back. In an under saddle or flat class, enter the ring with your number centered and then adjust it to one side or the other before the class begins. If the judge is sitting outside the ring, she will most likely ask you to move your number slightly to the outside. If she is standing inside the ring, she will ask for it to be moved slightly to the inside.

Moving your number slightly is very important. The judge must be able to take a quick look at any horse in the ring, and there is not time for her to watch you long enough to try to catch a glimpse of your number as you go around a corner. When you turn your number, make sure that you don't turn it so far that your arm covers the number!

The string that you should use to tie the number around your waist is generally a dark shoestring, available at the show office when you pick up your number.

There is a definite wrong way to thread your number; passing the string over top of the number is a big no-no:

There are two possible correct ways to thread it.  One way allows the number to move along the string, which is useful if you hide the knot in a buttonhole on your jacket, making the string itself impossible to turn during a flat class:

My preference is to thread it so that the number is centered on the string and cannot move. This is done by first threading it through as seen in the two photos above. The next step is to ensure that the number is centered. This can be done either by holding the two ends of the string up together and moving the number until it hangs parallel to the ground or by stretching the two ends of the string out together and measuring by eye:

The next step is to then take each end of the string and thread it back through the hole it originally came through (in the same direction):

This creates a tight loop of string around the cardboard at the edge, keeping the number from sliding along the string. After securing both sides, the final result should look something like this:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Hunter Tails

In the hunter ring, horses' tails are generally left longer and more natural-looking than the banged tails of the jumper ring.

There is actually quite a variation in the tails seen on hunters, with some riders not trimming the tail at all while others do bang it (albeit leaving it longer than most jumpers would). My personal preference is something in between the two extremes: trimming the tail to a length that suits the horse without leaving it with such a square bottom.

Lengthwise, you should be aiming for the tail to finish no higher than just above the fetlocks. The horse's conformation and the thickness of the tail determine how much longer I will trim it.

I find that a thin tail looks better if it's slightly shorter because increased length will just make it look thinner by increasing the length to width ratio. Fake tails are available to supplement a thin tail and they are legal in the hunter ring. Sometimes the fake tail will help to balance out the look of the horse as some horses look very heavy on the forehand with just a thin tail.

A thick tail tends to look a bit too blunt if it's cut too short, so those ones are best left longer.

When I trim a hunter's tail, I tend not to cut straight across, but rather I make multiple small cuts on an angle to create a slight variation in hair length. This keeps the tail looking more natural than it would if it were banged.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Numbers Worn on the Saddle Pad

There are multiple ways of wearing your number in the jumper ring. These include wearing it on your back, attaching it to your saddle pad, attaching a small number to your martingale or breastplate, or attaching a small number to your bridle. The most popular is, by far, pinning it to your saddle pad.

The choice of which side to put the number on is not yours to make. The number is there for the in-gate person to see as you enter the ring and it should therefore be on the side of the horse that faces the in-gate person while you're on deck.

Whether you choose to attach it horizontally or on an angle is up to you. Just make sure that the number is entirely legible!

To pin your number to your saddle pad, you will need a square pad and two or three large safety pins.

Most cardboard numbers come with one hole punched on each side and then a couple of holes punched at the top, as shown in the diagram on the right. While it's possible to attach the number using just these holes, I find that it makes for a loose number, and those sideways pins on the sides aren't very attractive, either!

Instead, I like to use the pin to create an extra hole on each side. In order to create a nicer picture, I like to run the pins through from underneath so that the bulky parts of the safety pin are hidden beneath the number. When done this way, only a thin strip of metal is visible between the holes.

To run the pin through from underneath, start by positioning the number where you would like it on the saddle pad. Insert one of the large safety pins up through one of the original side holes from the back of the number to the front, piercing the fabric of the pad slightly as you begin. Run it about an inch straight down across the top of the number and then pierce the cardboard, pushing the safety pin back down and into the saddle pad.  Once you've pierced enough fabric to hold it on well, close the safety pin and repeat for the other side.

It will take some practice to get the correct amount of fabric on both sides to make the number completely secure. If you've done it correctly, the bulk of the safety pin should be under the number like in the photo below.

If you are worried about either of the side pins coming undone, you can run another safety pin through the top holes. Again, try to hide the pin behind the number. This time, you won't have to pierce any extra holes because the two at the top should be close enough together.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Banging the Tail

In the jumpers, most horses are shown with their tails banged. A banged tail is one that is cut straight across at the bottom to make it shorter. The bottom of the tail is not actually horizontal relative to the ground when the horse is at rest, but is cut to be horizontal when the horse raises its tail during work.

The length of the tail is really up to personal preference. Most jumper tails end somewhere between the fetlock and halfway up the cannon bone.

I'm going to show you today how I, personally, bang a tail to mimic the lift of the tail while the horse is ridden. I am right-handed, and the white circle represents my left hand while the red circle represents my right hand.

Step 1 - Put your scissors in a place where they will be easily accessible to you, such as in a pocket. Grasp the tail with your right hand right under the dock.

Step 2 - Lift the tail up to about the average carriage that you have seen when the horse is worked.

Step 3 - Keeping the tail held up with your right hand, wrap your left hand around the circumference of the tail just below your right hand. Squeeze the hairs of the tail together with your left hand as you run that hand down the tail to just above the height that you want to cut it at.

Keeping the tail held up while you do this step is very important!

Step 4 - While squeezing very tightly with your left hand so that no hair slips, let go of the dock and grab the scissors with your right hand. Cut straight across right below your left hand. You can cut straight across at this point because now the difference in hair length to account for the raised tail is above your fist rather than below it.

Step 5 - You're done! Lift up the tail by the dock again just to make sure that you've gotten it right (if you have, it should appear pretty much straight across when it's lifted as you see in this diagram). If it doesn't look perfect, just try again and take off the minimum to keep the tail from getting too short.

Some riders like to put something like a towel under the dock to hold it up while you cut. I believe that this just complicates things unnecessarily if you're able to keep the hair squeezed at the correct length with your fist, but use whatever works best for you.

Hunter Striding

A very big part of being successful in the hunter ring is learning what the ideal stride length feels like. Adding or subtracting a stride in a line is a major fault so memorizing what is expected of you at each distance is a must.

Rather than standing at the in-gate attempting mental math, it really is best just to memorize the striding. If you are showing a horse, memorize the most common line lengths (usually four, five or six strides) for a 12-foot stride. That's just three numbers to remember and the math to determine how short or long those lines will ride is easy! If you're riding a pony, memorize the most common line lengths for the ideal stride corresponding to your pony's size category.

Most courses are set for a 12-foot stride, so that is what you should aim to get a feel for at home. Some novice classes at schooling or 'B'-circuit shows will be set using an 11- or 11.5-foot stride to account for smaller jumps and less experienced riders. The higher hunter classes on the 'A'-circuit, on the other hand, will be set for a longer stride due to the bigger jumps. Because the distances will be written on the course diagram between the fences, there will be no surprises while you're on course!

There is a great chart here showing the distances for horses and ponies for each number of strides and at almost all stride lengths (check out GrandPrixDesign's main website for many more course design tips).

The course designer's aim for the hunter ring is to make each horse look as good as possible. This is why you will find that the distances in lines heading away from the in-gate will be shorter than the distances in the lines heading towards the in-gate. Horses will generally lengthen the canter slightly when they're coming towards home, so this will make all of the lines ride roughly the same.

Keep in mind that getting the striding in the lines alone is not enough; the judge does not want to see a slow, relaxed canter around the corners and then a rushed canter in the lines to make the distance. Keep your canter the same throughout the course by having every stride you take be the ideal length for your class.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Jumper Boots

The seemingly wide variety of boots worn by jumpers can make choosing a set for your horse a daunting task. Luckily, the basic boot is essentially always the same, with the styling, materials and colours varying.

Because jumpers need to be careful, we don't want the horse to have a lot of padding on the front of any of the legs. If the front of the boot is padded, the horse will not be able to "feel" any rubs and might become careless. For this reason, we almost always use open-front boots. Open front boots protect the tendons at the back of the legs from the horse over-reaching and protect the inside of each leg from the horse hitting itself.

While we are focusing on boots for the front legs, open-front boots are also available for the hind legs should your horse need protection there, too.

Here you can see the difference between an open-front boot (on the right) and a closed splint boot (on the left).  The open-front boot leaves the front of the leg exposed except for the leather straps while the splint boot has neoprene wrapped around the entire leg to cover the front as well. Note that this horse is also wearing bell boots. These are not often used on jumpers unless they are absolutely needed because, again, the horse might not feel rubs with them on.

There are many different styles of open front boots available depending on your preferences and your budget. The most expensive, and nicest-looking for the show ring, are usually the leather ones while those with hard plastic outer shells and neoprene lining are usually the cheapest.

Here are the standard materials used for the boot itself:

Leather - While leather boots look very nice, keep in mind that the narrow leather straps can dig into the legs of some sensitive horses. They do tend to require a thorough cleaning after each ride because the inside of the boot will acquire a coating of grit and sweat. There should be elastic incorporated into the straps to allow some give. Leather boots are also available with sheepskin linings, which, while gentle on the horse's legs, can be difficult to keep clean.

Plastic Polymer With Neoprene - These boots have a semi-rigid plastic shell with a neoprene lining. The hard shell protects against cuts and knocks. Since the shape of these boots is not adjustable, they can rub some horses' legs. Certain horses react poorly to the neoprene, in which case these boots can be used with a sheepskin lining instead. While they are available in almost all of the colours of the rainbow, they really should be black, brown or white for the show ring.

Plastic Polymer With Memory Foam - These boots have a similar semi-rigid plastic shell for protection but conform to the legs better than neoprene due to the memory foam lining. They are also an option for horses that are allergic to neoprene.

Another factor in choosing the right set of boots for your horse is the type of closures. Here are the basics:

Buckle - Buckle closures stay done up very well but some horses can't tolerate those narrow straps. If the straps have many tightly-spaced holes, the boots will fit better than a pair with fewer, widely-spaced holes that might not correspond exactly to your horse's leg circumference.

Tab/Stud closures - These boots have tabs with keyhole-shaped holes that hook over metal studs on the boot. While these closures tend to stay on very well, I have found them not to fit most horses as well as I would like. There are usually only two or three different tightness options and the boots will be too tight or too loose if your horse is not one of those three sizes!

Velcro - Velcro on elastic is, in my option, the best in terms of fitting because there are no set sizes. The downside to using velcro is that it can come undone more easily than the other closures, especially in muddy conditions or on horses with a lot of knee action. If your horse tends to lose boots, sometimes wrapping Vetrap or tape once fairly loosely around the boot is enough to keep the velcro secure. Velcro straps come in different widths; the elastic is thin enough that it really doesn't matter how much of the leg they cover.