Sunday, February 27, 2011

FAQ, Part 3

Why would a jumper use an open front boot?
Open-front boots are designed not to protect the front of the horse's legs. This is because we want a horse to be able to feel it when they rub a jump in order to learn from the mistake. If you pad that part of the leg, you risk the horse becoming careless. The hard sides and back of the boot protect the horse from hitting itself with the other front leg and from damaging the tendons by striking the back of the leg with a hind foot.

Rules for horse boots in the hunter ring?
Boots and bandages are not permitted in the hunter ring unless the weather is terrible and the steward gives permission for them to be used. Otherwise, you may warm up with boots on, but they must be removed (along with the tail wrap, if you use one) before you set foot in the show ring or you will be eliminated.

What makes a handy hunter handy?
Handiness is basically brilliance and efficiency. A handy horse will be brave and very rideable while being able to execute tighter turns and more galloping than you would normally see in a hunter course, all while maintaining the usual hunter qualities. In a handy hunter course, you're likely to see roll-backs, trot fences and option jumps (choosing a more difficult line or a bigger jump). In some classes, you might even need to open and close a gate or dismount (or even dismount and lead the horse over a small jump). Overall, I would say that handiness is very similar to rideability.

Why do you jog for soundness?
It is a rule that hunters must be sound in limb. Jogging for soundness before awarding ribbons ensures that all of the winners meet this criteria. If a horse is lame, the judge will excuse it from the line-up. This is the best time for the judge to evaluate lameness because it is not a requirement for the horses to trot before or after finishing their course in the over fences classes.   

How do you attach a martingale to a belly guard?
It depends on the particular girth. Some come with carabiner-type clips in the middle that can open and close. If you use such a girth, all you have to do is slip the loop of your martingale into the clip.  Other girths have a solid ring in the middle for attachments.  You need to attach a clip (like a halter snap or leash clip) to your martingale in order to use the ring for that purpose. With some work and dismantling, you should be able to slip the clip right onto your martingale. A third type of attachment, that sometimes comes with the solid clip, is a leather strap, secured with either a stud or a buckle. To attach a martingale without a clip, undo the leather strap on the girth, slip it through the loop of your martingale, then re-attach the leather strap. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Something to Watch

For those of you who weren't already aware of it, I thought I'd draw your attention to the 2011 George Morris Horsemastership Training Session videos.  This is a series of videos, provided free of charge thanks to the group of sponsors, showing the 2011 clinic given by George Morris to a group of young equitation/jumper riders.  The videos are all very informative, but there are a few that you might want to focus on if you're short on time:

- Day 4 Lecture 2:  Course design with Anthony D'Ambrosio.  He explains many elements of course design and I think that it's great information for all jumpers to have.
- Day 5 (Group 1 or Group 2):  The mock horse show.  The riders warm up individually as they would at a horse show and ride an Anthony D'Ambrosio-designed course.  It includes commentary on warming up and riding a full course.
- Day 3 (Group 1 or Group 2): Gymnastics and the introduction of the water jump.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

FAQ, Part 2

Do you need different tack for hunter and for jumper?
Not necessarily. Hunters have very stringent rules for tack while jumpers allow pretty much all tack that is humane, so if you outfit your horse for the hunter ring, that tack will also be allowed in the jumper ring (except for the standing martingale, which is not allowed for the bigger jumper classes).

How do I read a horse striding chart?
For reference, we'll use the chart provided here. In this chart there are options given for different jump heights, stride lengths and pony heights. Choose the number of strides that you want (given here in rows) and use the corresponding number in whichever category you are interested in. For horses, a 12' stride is common. This means that for a 4-stride line, you would select 60 feet, which is four times 12 feet, plus another 12-foot stride for the combined landing and take-off distances. In the hunter ring, longer stride lengths are usually used in the course design when the jumps are bigger and when the lines are coming towards home.

How do you know when to compete at higher levels on your horse?
This is something that is best discussed with your coach. You should always school over higher fences at home than you will see at the horse shows. This is because the show ring is a much more stressful atmosphere and the technicality of the course can make even small jumps quite difficult. Exercises at home are usually designed to suit the horse, while course design at shows is meant to challenge horse and rider. If you and your horse are competing confidently and comfortably at a certain height, you could consider moving up if you have been schooling above the next height bracket at home.

How to memorize hunter courses and striding
Honestly, it's just practice. If you are tired or stressed out, you might find it more difficult to remember the striding. If you are worried about remembering the numbers, try to look at the course at the beginning of the day, well ahead of your class. If you can, watch others ride over the same course so that you can get used to seeing each line ridden in a certain number of strides. As far as the course itself goes, many hunter courses flow quite well if you know the first jump and the last jump (your options are often limited because going off course would involve taking a line backwards!). Many pros will find their way around the ring with just this information. For some riders, memorizing the colours of the jumps/lines helps to cement it in the mind, while for others it's more a matter of "inside-outside-diagonal-outside-diagonal".  If you're really worried, check to see if it would be possible to go off-course without jumping a line backwards.  If you couldn't, then you have one less thing to worry about (you would never jump an oxer backwards, would you?).  If you're worried about forgetting where the course ends, ask your coach or friends to start clapping as you come over the last line of the course.

Is it acceptable to keep a horse's mane long for hunter classes?
Not unless you are attending a breed show and the long mane is part of your breed standard. Hunters are very tradition-based, and the accepted way is to pull the mane to a length of around 4-5 inches and braid it in the hunter style. There is a reason why you see hunters and jumpers with shorter manes; it's very difficult to release properly over a jump if there is long hair to get tangled in. If you are attending a casual schooling show, you can probably get away with the longer mane, but I would recommend doing a running braid to keep the hair neat and out of the way.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

FAQ, Part 1

While I was looking through my Analytics data for this blog, I realized how many of you come here by asking questions on search engines. For some of your questions, I either have no corresponding blog entry or the answer lying deep within one of my posts might not be very explicit. For that reason I've decided to start a series of FAQ posts, answering some of the questions that have gotten you here. As always, the answers will be based on Equine Canada rules. Most countries should have similar rules, but please double check in your rule book before you show.

As usual, you're welcome to send me a message or leave a comment if you have a question that you would like to see answered on the blog. I will try to finish answering all of the questions from the Analytics in a future post.

Can you use reins with clips in jumper shows?
Yes, you can. Pretty much anything goes for reins in the jumper ring, provided they are attached to the bit or bridle.

Can I use rubber reins with a running martingale?
(also, Do you need rubber reins for a running martingale?)
You can use rubber reins with a running martingale in the jumper ring. The material that the reins are made of does not affect how a running martingale will work. Make sure that whichever reins you use have stoppers on them to avoid the martingale rings getting caught in the bit area (if your reins don't have them, rubber stoppers are available that can be coaxed on).

Can you have a martingale when entering shows?
(also, Can you show hunters with a martingale?, Length of running martingale?, Standing martingale purpose?, Why and when to use standing martingale?)
It depends. In the jumper ring, a running martingale is permitted at all levels while a standing martingale is permitted at the lower levels (1.15m and under). Restrictive devices such as the German martingale are never allowed when jumping. In the hunter ring, a standing martingale can be used over fences (running martingales are also technically allowed but are not seen), but not in any under saddle or flat class. For more about martingale use, see here and here.

Can you wear anything in a jumper ring?
No. Jumper attire can be more casual than hunter attire, but there are still rules in place. On very hot days, or during the week at some shows, polo shirts can be worn instead of formal attire. For a full explanation of jumper attire, see here.

What does crossing your path mean?
Crossing your path between two jumps counts as a disobedience. Crossing your path is essentially circling while on course, except that it can be any size or shape. This rule also keeps riders on the track desired by the course designer because it forces you to go directly to each jump without coming around from another direction to get a different approach, as shown by the diagrams below (the first is the correct line while the other shows crossing the path). 

Knowing how this rule works can keep you from having a penalty if you start to go off course and need to correct yourself, as you can see in this next diagram. The first picture would result in four faults for crossing the path, while the second would result in zero additional faults (except for the extra time taken).

Describe how to execute a correct courtesy circle before a jump
In the hunter ring, there is usually a clear space left at either end of the ring. If you choose to circle (only once) at the beginning or end of your course, you should use these clear spaces beyond the jumps. Try to fill most of that space (unless the ring is abnormally large) with your circle. Proceed directly to and from your circle without wandering around and crossing your path to avoid being penalized with an extra circle.

Rubber reins for hunters?
Rubber reins are never allowed in the hunter ring unless the weather is terrible and you have the permission of the steward. Reins must be made entirely of leather. The reins that are made to look like leather by using leather on the outside and rubber on the inside are illegal in the hunter ring.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Why Fake Tails Are Used

The frequent use of fake tails in the hunter ring is sometimes used as an example of hunters being about prettiness instead of about the performances of the horses. I will explain how fake tails can actually be used to balance out some horses in order to give a better performance.

Horses, like people, are born with different qualities of hair. Certain horses have a huge tail, no matter how you treat it, while others will always have a thin, airy tail. We're used to looking at the horse as a whole, tail included. This means that the volume of the tail can affect how we see the horse's balance.

A horse with a long or thick neck can look very front-heavy if there isn't enough tail to balance the picture. Similarly, a very short neck can look even shorter if there's a huge tail making the horse's body look even longer in comparison. Part of good turn-out for a horse show is learning what to do to give each individual horse the best overall picture. That is not to say that a judge cannot detect each horse's conformation anyway, but first impressions are everything. If you enter the ring looking perfectly balanced, you're already ahead and your terrific round will raise your standing even further. If you enter the ring looking unbalanced, your great round will have to first make up for that impression rather than add to it. That initial doubt in the judge's mind isn't likely to disappear completely.

This is especially important in an under saddle class when the judge has only seconds to look at each horse before narrowing the field down to the real contenders. If that first impression isn't good, you aren't likely to have a shot at a ribbon.

Most people aren't too worried about a horse's tail looking too thick. If your horse has a shorter neck and a thick tail, braiding the tail usually works very well to lighten the back end. The same amount of hair can look very different when the braided section breaks up the mass of body and hair.

I've modified a photo that I took at a horse show to illustrate why you might want to use a fake tail. Earlier I mentioned the usefulness of a fake tail on a horse with a long or very thick neck. These photos show another scenario in which the horse's head looks very large compared to the body.

The first photo is the original. This horse does not have a very thick tail, but it is also not abnormally thin. Your first impression might be that the horse is dragging himself a bit on the forehand. Now look at the photo for a bit longer. He's actually tracking up and using himself quite well. His head is quite large compared to the rest of his body (especially the neck, which it is most likely to be compared to due to its proximity), and this makes him look unbalanced at first, even if he actually is working from behind. The point of the working hunters is not to penalize a horse for having a large head, and by focusing on turn-out we can prevent that from happening.

This next photo shows what would happen if the horse's tail was very thin. The front-heavy effect is multiplied, even though the rest of the horse is identical. When you look at this photo, chances are that you will look first at that head.

The following shows the exact same photo, but with a thicker tail. I wouldn't consider this tail to be overly thick; in my opinion, it gives the horse just the right balance. Compare this photo to the one above and ask yourself which horse you would prefer if you only had a few seconds to compare them.

The last photo I will show you isn't all that useful for this particular horse, since he benefits from a thicker tail anyway, but it makes for an interesting comparison. This is a rough drawing of what this horse might look like with a very thick, loose tail. The look is not as refined as it is with the braid, but it really changes the first impression of the horse's balance.  Take notice of where your eye is drawn to in this photo.  Odds are, your eye will be drawn further back, taking in more of the horse.

When you're preparing for the show season, try to look at your horse's conformation objectively. Seeing your horse ridden in a video or by another rider can sometimes allow you to notice things about the picture he presents that you might not otherwise see. Choosing whether or not to braid the tail, and whether or not to use a fake tail, is more about your horse than about being pretty. Part of succeeding in the show ring is learning how to give your horse the best shot at winning before you even step into the ring.