Sunday, December 30, 2012

Turnout Critique #7

In this Turnout Critique, we'll be taking another look at a horse and rider who we've seen before at their very first horse show. Now we'll be looking at their turnout for the cold season.

Clipping might not be an option for certain horses depending on their living conditions (indoors vs. outdoors, blanketing, etc.) and workload. If you choose to show in the colder months without clipping, you need to go a step further with your turnout to show the judge that you haven't simply pulled your horse out of the field and onto the trailer. In this particular case, the step further would be to braid, even for a schooling show. The messy mane and forelock add to the overall hairiness and make it look as though all of the effort has gone towards the rider rather than the horse. Braiding at least the mane would demonstrate that an effort has been made. The hooves should similarly be polished as a finishing touch.

It's difficult to tell based on these photos alone whether the tail is dirty or simply has dark colouring. Even in cold weather, it's possible to partially wash the tail without making the horse wet by using a clean, damp sponge. Spread the tail across your knee and wipe each section down with the sponge until it comes away clean (rinse the sponge when it gets dirty). You could even use shampoo on the sponge if you're careful to rinse it away with another sponge afterwards. Using this method, it's possible to get quite a clean tail that can be easily brushed out, even in the winter!

Trimming the whiskers would also help to refine the turnout, but some riders do prefer to keep them, especially in the off-season.

While the feathers look like they started off clean and white, which is great, long hair does tend to capture dirt and you can see in the bottom photo that they did not stay white. If you do not wish to trim the leg hair, you can bring a stiff brush to the ring to remove most of the dirt from the warm-up and then apply baby powder or corn starch to the white socks to further whiten them.

If the coat is long, it will usually form a wavy pattern as the horse sweats. If you are showing a horse with a winter coat or whose summer coat has not finished coming in, bring a hard brush to the ring and run it over the horse right before entering the show ring to remove that waviness, making the horse appear sleeker and neater.

This bridle is not acceptable for the hunter ring, with its contrasting padding on the noseband and browband. The bridle should be brown or black with no accents of any other colours. I also wonder whether these reins are leather; I can't zoom in closely enough to confirm but they strike me as possibly being rubber or webbed, which would be illegal in the hunter ring.

The saddle pad is very clean and fits the shape of this saddle as well as can be expected, given the saddle's all purpose shape. Further down the line, this rider might think of switching to a proper jumping saddle that would help her to maintain the position and balance desired for the hunter ring. Her peacock irons are acceptable for a junior rider but I suggest that she keeps an eye on them as she grows as many brands are not designed to take an adult's weight. The excess stirrup leather is short enough that it is acceptable as is, but if it were any longer I would suggest either folding it under the saddle flap or trimming it.

I prefer the fit of this jacket to the one that we saw this rider in last time; it is slightly more fitted at the waist and through the arms. Paired with a clean white shirt and beige breeches, it is a classic combination that always works. The black crop is also appropriately conservative, and the clean black leather gloves add a polished subtlety to the hands.

From what I can see from these angles, the rider's hair appears to be appropriately neat and contained.

Several inches of the helmet strap hang down, and this is distracting. If it does not stay in the original harness set-up, I suggest trying to add a black braiding elastic or something similar to keep that excess strap contained.

The black field boots are very well-fitted, but they should always be polished before a horse show. It's the small details like polishing boots and hooves that really bring turnout to the next level.

I suggest that this rider practices braiding before her next show. That, combined with a change of bridle and a bit of polish, will make a big difference to her turnout, especially if she develops some special routines just for winter shows. 

Thank you very much to this week's featured rider for submitting these photos!

If you would like to submit one or more photos for a future Turnout Critique, send them to

Saturday, December 15, 2012

FAQ, Part 8

Does my tack need to match?
Not necessarily. It's quite common for there to be a couple of shades difference between two pieces of tack, especially when a rider uses one saddle between several horses whose bridles might not all be the same colour. What will stand out is if you use different pieces of tack with entirely different tones, but staying within the same colour family will usually work. Pairing orangey brown Newmarket with a dark brown would likely look bad, whereas pairing medium brown with chocolate brown is not likely to stand out at all (see Dover Saddlery's handy guide to leather colours). It's about creating a harmonious picture, so the less your tack stands out, the better.

Should I use light tack on a light horse and dark tack on a dark horse?
It depends. Tack colour preference seems to be highly regional, with some areas preferring lighter tack and others preferring darker tack. Obviously, lighter tack will stand out more on a darker horse, so in general darker tack would be preferable. Similarly, chestnut-coloured tack would stand out less on a chestnut, but most people aren't likely to find that a darker brown clashes with a chestnut coat, either. Tack colour for grey horses can be highly controversial. Overall, the general rule is to use a tack colour that you like and that complements your horse's coat colour without drawing the eye away from your horse.

Which stirrup irons are acceptable in the hunter ring?
As with anything in the hunter ring, conservative is best. Solid stainless steel fillis irons are always acceptable and are the most classic and attractive choice. Jointed irons are also acceptable, especially if the joint blends in with the stainless steel of the iron. Plastic composite irons can also be used. Modern aluminum stirrups with wide foot beds can also be used provided they are conservative in colour, but the style itself isn't exactly conservative. For equitation classes, black stirrup irons are no longer permitted.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Crossing Over Into Dressage

Sometimes it can be beneficial to take your horse to a dressage show as a chance to get off property or as a schooling opportunity. There is a lot of conflicting information available about what from the hunter and jumper rings is and is not allowed in the dressage ring, so this post will attempt to clarify things.

The advice in this post will be for attending schooling or Bronze-level shows, as these are the most likely shows for a hunter or jumper to attend. Keep in mind that the judging is usually more lenient at the lower rated shows and you're likely to be able to get away with more legal "faux pas" that might garner you more dirty looks at a Gold level show. 

Choose Your Level

Check out the tests of the various levels that you're considering showing at (the show should make it clear whose tests are being used; check out Dressage Canada and CADORA for the most commonly-used tests). The horse show's prize list should let you know which tests are being offered. Generally, the more advanced tests for each level are used later in the year while the easier ones will be used at the beginning to allow for an increase in difficulty.

If this is your first dressage show, you'll probably be looking at Walk/Trot or Training Level, or First Level if your horse is very well-schooled on the flat. Walk/Trot is, as the name implies, a test consisting of only walk and trot with the most basic figures. Training Level consists of walk, trot and canter (all working), as well as the basic figures. First Level introduces lengthenings in the trot and canter, as well as leg-yielding, 10m (trot) and 15m (canter) circles, and preparation for the counter canter. Most dressage riders school one level above what they show at, so you shouldn't necessarily choose the level with movements that you're just learning.

Study your test alongside an arena diagram to determine where each movement should be performed, as well as to choose visual markers to help make circles and other figures the correct size and shape.

Tack and Apparel

You will be just fine attending a dressage show (but always double check the rules governing your show series, just in case!) with your brown jumping saddle and beige breeches. Wear your darkest show jacket and a white show shirt, with either a regular choker or a stock tie. Your field boots will also be acceptable, as will be your dark gloves. Check the rule book to confirm that your spurs are acceptable, as well as the length of your dressage whip if you use one.

Most dressage riders put their hair in a bun below the base of the helmet, but hunter hair is also acceptable.

Most dressage riders will use a loose ring snaffle with a flash or regular cavesson, but you are also allowed to use eggbutts (including full cheeks) and D-rings. Check the rule book to find out if your mouthpiece is acceptable. Many dressage riders consider a figure-eight noseband to be a faux pas, but it is allowed and I showed at First Level with one without the judge or steward commenting on it. You may also use rubber reins, webbed reins or leather reins, depending on your personal preference. Most riders will use a square white saddle pad, but you're allowed to use a fitted pad, or another conservative colour, if you wish.

Your horse may be allowed to wear a fly veil (check your local rules), but keep it conservative. Don't stuff the ears or you will get eliminated.

You are allowed to use a running martingale for schooling, but no martingales may be used in the show ring. Many schooling shows will allow the horse to wear conservative boots or bandages in the show ring, but most riders will remove them after the warm-up anyway.

Dressage riders tend to put less emphasis on braiding than do hunters or jumpers (I've seen dressage horses at national shows with four braids total), so whatever you're used to doing as braids, whether with yarn or elastics, is likely to be acceptable as long as the mane is braided and neat.

Numbers are usually worn either on the bridle or on the saddle pad, depending on the type of number given to you. The bridle numbers have a little hook that you put through the browband loop as you would a ribbon, while the saddle pad numbers will come with pins or holes for pins. The number is usually put on the side that the judge will see as you turn left or right at C after your initial halt.


You will be given ride times for your classes, often posted online. Re-check the day before the show because the times can be changed to manage conflicts. Also be aware that the rings can run early or late, so you should always check with the in-gate throughout the day. They should be able to provide you with an estimate of how many minutes you should adjust your time by. If the ring is running early, everyone will appreciate it if you move up and go early, but I don't believe that they can force you to go before your time.

Class Procedure

Plan your warm-up so that you will have a few extra minutes to remove any bandages, put your jacket on, etc. before heading into the show ring.

You will be allowed to enter the area around the show ring when the rider ahead of you has done their final halt and salute. You may work your horse around the outside of the show ring until the judge rings the bell, at which point you will have 45 seconds to get in the ring to begin your test (45 seconds is plenty of time to gather yourself and trot around the entire ring without rushing). If the judge looks up at you while you pass by the booth before your test starts, you should say "Good morning" or "Good afternoon" and confirm your number with the judge and scribe if they ask for it.

If you have a caller with you, they can enter the exterior of the ring at the same time as you and they should position themselves at E or B just outside of the show ring, preferably facing away from any other show rings to avoid disturbing other riders. If the ring is isolated, it's best for the caller to stand on the side that is upwind of you.

To salute, first halt your horse, put both reins in one hand, then drop the other hand (not the one carrying a whip!) down beside your leg, nod your head, and then pick your reins back up.

Once you have completed your final halt, you must leave the ring at the walk on a loose rein. Most riders will continue straight towards the judge before turning back towards A in case he or she wishes to give any verbal comments, and so that the rider can thank the judge. This also teaches the horse to continue moving in a straight line after a halt.

Tack Check

As you exit the ring, refrain from stopping or changing any equipment. Don't let anyone touch you or your horse until you reach the tack check area, where a steward will be waiting to make sure that your equipment, including the mouthpiece of the bit, is all legal. Once the steward has given you the okay, you can start removing tack and apparel if you have time to relax between tests. If the tack check is not performed (provided there is one at a schooling show), you will not be allowed to collect any ribbons or prizes.

Ribbons and Remarks

The awards need to wait until all of the scores have been tabulated and recorded, which can take anywhere from minutes (if computerized) to hours. Many dressage shows simply hand out ribbons from the secretary's office rather than having a formal awards ceremony. You will receive a copy of your test with the judge's remarks at the same time as your ribbon so that you can learn what the judge liked or disliked about each of the various movements and the test as a whole.


- Working gaits: Often more energetic than what we think of as the working gaits of hunters and jumpers, but not a longer stride.
- Free walk: A lengthening of stride and frame in the walk, along with a stretch over the back. Make sure that your horse maintains energy rather than thinking of the walk as a break. The degree of contact desired (light or loose) seems to vary from region to region.
- Stretchy trot circle: Allow the horse to take the reins to really stretch down and out while maintaining just a light contact. Start to pick up your reins with about 1/4 of the circle left to go.
- Half circle: Completing only half the circle to form a semi circle.
- Medium walk: More step than a working walk; they're looking for the horse to really march.
- Loop: Similar to a shallow serpentine in shape, hitting all of the designated letters.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Natural Obstacles: The Grob

The grob, also known in some areas as the Devil's Dyke, is not as common in show rings as the bank, liverpool or open water, but it is still a fairly frequent obstacle in certain derbies. When it is present, it often makes a big impact on the outcome of the class.

A grob is dug into the ground so that each half slopes downward to meet in the middle at the deepest point. It is usually the width of the rails used for the jumps, so it can be relatively narrow and some horses don't enjoy the feeling of being funnelled down into such a restrictive, low area. For this reason it can be an especially spooky jump.

At its most difficult, the grob is a triple combination with one or two strides between each jump, depending on the length of the particular grob. It's more difficult at one stride because there's no room for error if the horse backs off on the way in. The course designer can also choose to only place a single jump in the center of the grob for the easiest set-up so that there's no striding to worry about.

There is usually a dry ditch or liverpool located at the bottom of the grob, under the middle jump. This can make the horse back off the combination even more.

Most grobs are dug straight, but some, including the one I am showing in this photo (with no jumps set up in it), are curved.

Due to the nature of the obstacle, a refusal at the second or third obstacle in the combination will require the horse to circle and retake the jump using only the space between that jump and the previous jump. Because the sides rise up as the horse goes down into the grob, there is no way for the horse to exit out the side to retake the combination as a whole.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Foolproof Jumper Braids

In this post I will describe how I create my foolproof jumper braids. They aren't necessarily the easiest or fastest braids, but they look consistently good, they stay put and they work on almost any mane (aside from a natural one, of course). I have used these braids in both the jumper ring and the dressage ring and have gotten many compliments in both, and they easily survive several classes per day and/or being left in overnight.

I braid with yarn rather than elastics because the yarn stays in better and creates prettier braids by helping to keep the braids as close to the neck as possible rather than having them stick out sideways.

The number of braids that you should do depends on your personal preference and on your horse's particular mane. Thicker manes usually require more braids to keep them a manageable size, while thin manes can require fewer braids in order to give more bulk and roundness to each individual braid. If your horse's mane is extremely short, you should take smaller sections of hair to keep hair from popping out mid-braid (the further the hair has to move sideways to get into the braid, the shorter that section of hair becomes compared to the middle section).

Before starting, get your supplies ready. You'll need yarn that matches your horse's mane, a spray bottle of water (or Quic Braid if you prefer), a pull-through/rug hook (available at tack shops and at craft stores), scissors, elastics (optional) and a seam ripper for removing the braids afterward.

To measure and cut the yarn, grab the end of a roll in one hand and start wrapping it from that hand around your elbow (on the same arm) and back up to your hand. Keep wrapping until you have about 12 to 15 wraps, depending on the number of braids you plan on doing.  Find where you've grabbed the end of the yarn and cut through all of the wraps at that one point. This should leave you with 12 to 15 pieces of yarn of the same length, about double the length of your lower arm. Hang these in an easily accessible spot, either somewhere around your belt or on your horse's halter.

I recommend starting behind your horse's ears so that the higher braids end up more evenly spaced. If you reach the end and have to do one wide or several narrow braids, the difference in size will be less obvious at the withers where your hands and saddle pad will hide the braids anyway.

Step 1

After spraying the first few inches of mane a few times, grab a section of it (I prefer to simply use the same hand motion every time to get the same amount of hair rather than using a comb) and braid it straight down. Straightness is important at all times because crookedness in the braiding process will result in a crooked braid. You can make the first couple of cross-overs fairly loose if you would like to give your horse some room to stretch and then braid tightly the rest of the way down.

Step 2

About 1/3 of the way from the bottom, grab one piece of yarn while pinching the braid tight with your other hand and fold the yarn in half. Lay it behind or in front of your braid so that the middle of the yarn is against your braid, and continue to braid the rest of the way down, incorporating the two ends of yarn into two sections of hair in the braid. This is the same technique as you use for hunter braids.

Step 3

Braid until you are just above the ends of the hair. Tie off the braid by wrapping the yarn around the braid and tying a knot. If you aren't sure how to tie a braid off, this is an excellent article using a contrasting yarn colour for clarity. If your horse's mane is thick, it can be difficult to get the knot tight enough so for those manes I like to wrap a braiding elastic over the knot (make sure to gently pull the ends of the yarn out of the way).

If a minor imperfection develops in the second half of your braid, as has happened here when my horse shook her head, don't worry about it. That part of the braid will be hidden later on.

I like to braid the entire mane down before moving on to the next step to help me keep an eye on the size and length of my braids.

Step 4

Take your pull-through and insert it down through the braid about 2/3 of the way down. Insert it straight down through the center (it's much easier if you insert it through a gap between cross-overs and that helps to keep the braid straight).

Step 5

With the hook in the open position, put both ends of the yarn inside the loop and then close it. Bring the pull-through back up through the braid so that the yarn ends stick out of the front of the braid and then let the yarn fall out of the pull-through.

Step 6

Gently pull the yarn straight down. Your braid should fold up and finish with the yarn pointing at the ground.

Step 7

Now insert the pull-through straight down through to the back of the braid at the crest, as you would for a hunter braid. Grab the yarn again with your pull-through and bring it back up through the top of the braid.

Step 8 

Gently pull the yarn taut. Your braid should fold up a second time, with the folded bottom of the braid from the previous step ending up at the top of the underside of the braid. You might need to gently guide the folding process with your fingers as you pull.

Step 9

Keep the yarn taut as you bring one piece of yarn around each side of the braid, tying a simple overhand knot under the braid.

Step 10

Now bring one piece of yarn up around each side of the braid and tie another overhand knot on top. I like to use a surgeon's knot at this point, twisting an extra time to make it even more secure.

Step 11

To finish, bring one piece of yarn down around each side of the braid again and tie them together underneath the braid, using two overhand knots to make sure it won't budge. Again, I like to use a surgeon's knot at this point. All of these passes above and below the braid serve to make the braid round and to corral any loose hairs into the braid.

Step 12

Grab the two yarn ends and pull them out to the side or bottom of the braid so that you can cut them with the scissors without cutting the braid itself. There should be enough stretch in the yarn that they should disappear back under the braid when you let go of the cut ends. 

Repeat the same steps for the rest of your braids until the entire neck is done.

To remove the braids, you'll need to cut through your final knot underneath the braid and then you might also need to cut your wrap knot from the initial braiding down.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Turnout Critique #6

This week's featured rider clearly tries hard to have good turnout and is doing a lot right, but she needs to focus on a few more details and ensure that she is using her safety equipment in a way that allows it to work as it should.

This was this rider's very first Bronze-level show and her turnout is extremely good for a rider starting at that level. 

Her pony is in excellent condition, shiny and in good weight. He is very clean and has nicely oiled hooves. The tail is brushed out nicely and is an excellent example of what a properly brushed out tail should look like. Each hair flows freely with none bunching together, which comes from working through the entire tail from bottom to top. I also appreciate that the mane is braided, and although I cannot tell much about the quality from the resolution of these photos, I can tell that they are thin with no frizz. It's possible that some of the braids have turned, which can be remedied by starting with a shorter mane if that is the case. The pony also appears to be nicely trimmed.

I'm not sure that the shape of the saddle fits this rider (although shortening the stirrups might help to put more bend in her knee and therefore use the front half of the saddle more), but it appears to be clean and in good repair. My biggest issue is with the stirrup irons. In two of these photos, the peacock safety stirrup is positioned so that the open (with rubber band) side is facing the pony. It may be that the stirrup leather was twisted for the flat phase, but it's important for that open side to face outward. If this rider were to fall, the only way that the rubber band could pop open to help release her foot would be if it was on the outside, the direction in which she would move in a fall. If this rider wishes to continue using safety stirrups, she should make sure to keep on eye on the peacock irons as she grows. Most brands are not designed to take more than a child's weight (due to the open side) and could bend, especially with the forces involved while jumping. There are other types of safety stirrups available, and a properly-sized solid stirrup iron can be very safe as well.

This rider actually commented to me that her saddle pad was too small, but I disagree. The flap area of this saddle pad is actually too large for this saddle (even when it slips back there is still about an inch of pad showing in front but three or four inches too much in the back), both in width and depth. The pad might be too small under the back of the saddle where I don't have a clear view of it, but simply going up to a horse-sized pad from a pony pad to fix that would make the flap area even more distractingly large. I would instead try different brands of pony-sized pads to find one that fits all the way around, leaving an inch or two of pad showing everywhere.

The bridle appears to be properly fitted and clean, and a converter is being used with the pelham as is allowed under EC rules for juniors. I would double-check the length of the standing martingale just to make sure that it isn't restricting the pony in any way. He is hitting the end of it while landing in the photo below, but this might be the highest that his head ever goes on landing. Personally, I would lengthen it by a hole or two just to make sure that the pony stays comfortable.

The rider is correctly turned out for the hunter ring in a classic combination of dark jacket, white shirt, dark gloves and beige breeches. It's possible that her boots could use a coat of polish because I can't detect much shine in these photos.

I am not a big fan of Tipperary helmets for the hunter ring, personally. I find that the sun's reflection off the shiny finish is distracting and the shape of the helmet can make it appear that the rider is looking down, which could count against you in an equitation class. There is such a variety of safe helmets available in all price ranges and fits, so I recommend that this rider search for one that is more conservatively-styled when the time comes to buy her next one.

This rider's hair is up in a bun, which is much better than a loose ponytail. I find that the bun is a bit large, though, so I might experiment with different styles to find something that stands out a little bit less. Some long-haired riders like tucking a long braid inside the shirt collar, while others find different shapes of bun to work better than others. I understand that very long or thick hair does not always fit inside a helmet, and some riders simply aren't comfortable with putting it there for safety or comfort reasons.

Overall, this rider is doing an excellent job so far and there really isn't much to change. The effort that she puts into her turnout is obvious and I'm sure that the judges notice it, too.

As always, a big thank you to this week's featured rider for submitting these photos! If you would like to participate in a future turnout critique, please send your photo(s) to

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Equine Medications Resources

I've posted about the equine drug rules before, but mostly about what is permitted and what is not permitted. To expand, I will post a few resources about withdrawal/detection times to help plan showing when certain drugs must be used. Of course, it is best to consult with your veterinarian whenever you use a medication and never trust the detection times completely, but these provide helpful general guidelines.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Turnout Critique #5

This week's featured rider appears to put a lot of effort into her turnout. We're going to look at a few ways to further refine their look with a little bit more attention to detail.

One of the first things that I notice is that the tack all appears to be properly fitted to this very cute pony. The noseband is correctly placed at the right height, and everything looks clean. I would like to see the long excess stirrup leather either tucked under the flap or trimmed so that it doesn't flap around. Also, make sure to check the keepers on the bridle before entering the ring because one has slipped down and that might cause the cheek strap to flap while you're showing. If your keepers have a tendency to slip, it can sometimes be better to push them up slightly higher than normal where the leather might be thicker, filling the keeper better.

The saddle pad appears to fit the shape and size of the saddle nicely, which can be difficult to do with an older saddle like this one.

I assume that this show took place during a cold part of the year based on the pony's long coat. Clipping the coat would really sharpen their turnout while helping to remove the yellow tinge that can be very difficult to remove from long hair (although this rider has done quite a good job of cleaning this long-haired pony up). If this pony has a long coat during the warmer seasons, clipping would be a good idea both to keep her clean and to keep her comfortable.

I recommend shampooing grey manes and tails frequently, even outside of shows, to keep them as white as possible. Once stains have set in they can be very difficult to remove, and frequent shampooing can help to avoid the yellow tinge that we see in this pony's mane, which is practically impossible to get rid of in just one or two pre-show baths.

I am always a fan of braiding the mane, and I think that a row of hunter braids would suit this pony very well, especially since her naturally frizzy mane is difficult to keep neat. I also think that oiled hooves would show off her clean grey coat nicely, as would trimming the long hair on her legs.

While the rider's boots appear to be perfectly clean, they don't shine as though they've been polished. I recommend polishing field boots before every show. Wiping them off with a dry rag will keep them polished while removing any dust that settles on them while you're riding.

I feel like a broken record, having said this in just about every turnout critique so far, but I feel that this rider's jacket is too big and looks a bit messy because of it. The only location on a jacket that really needs to be spacious is the shoulder area because of all of the arm movements associated with riding. The rest of the jacket really doesn't need to be anything but fitted, especially with the stretchy materials that are commonly used today. Some jacket brands offer slim cuts, and some brands simply fit slimmer builds better than others. If all else fails, you could always ask if a tailor could bring the jacket in at the waist. If this particular jacket's buttons have a tendency to pop out, which has happened here, looking down and checking them before heading into the ring might be a good habit to get into.

I like that this rider is wearing clean, dark gloves, and her white show shirt is clean and classic.

While I commend this rider on wearing a hairnet, it's distractingly low. The hairnet should just cover the hair, which means that it shouldn't come any lower than the helmet on the forehead, and shouldn't cover the entire ear if the hair isn't. One more little detail can be fixed with the helmet's chin strap cover, which is sitting off to the side instead of in the middle. In an equitation class, that sort of thing could make her look crooked.

This looks like a rider who puts a lot of effort into her and her pony's turnout, and I think that they will turn heads in the ring if they put just that much more emphasis on the details.

Thank you very much to this week's featured rider for submitting these photos! As always, if you're interested in being featured in a future turnout critique, please send your photos to

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hunter Derbies

Hunter derbies have become increasingly popular in recent years. They challenge horses to step outside of the usual hunter box and display more bravery, athleticism and handiness. This allows for some jumpers to participate, too. For the uninitiated, the judging and course plan can be somewhat of a mystery, so today we'll be looking at how these classes are run and judged.

Hunter derbies can vary slightly in format. We're going to focus on how the derbies are done in Canada (specifically for the Canadian Hunter Derby Series), so while things should be similar elsewhere, make sure that you check the class specifications and rules in your area before forming your plan. In the US, hunter derbies may include multiple rounds with different specifications for each.

The hunter derby is usually run in a larger ring than that used for your typical hunter class. Sometimes the class takes place in a jumper ring and sometimes it's put in an enlarged hunter ring. The course will be longer than most hunter courses, more on par with a hunter classic, but with options both in terms of height and in terms of approaches. The jumps should be very natural-looking and usually include things like hay bales, wood piles, coops, walls, natural rails and extra-filled hunter jumps.

Additional tests may be asked for, like walking or trotting a jump, dismounting, opening or closing a gate, etc. Any of these tests will be specified on the course diagram.

I've included two different course plans from this year below so that you can get an idea of what a hunter derby course might look like. You can see that the high-performance options are all labelled as such, but the handiness options are to be identified by the rider alone. If you're worried about keeping track of all the options while you walk the course, you can usually pick up a copy of the course diagram from the show office at some point on the day of the class.

The score for each horse is composed of three parts: the hunter score, the high-performance score, and the handy score. We'll take a look at what each score means and how you might try to increase each one.

Hunter Score

This is what your score would be if the derby were a normal hunter round. The judge is looking for consistency, rhythm, jumping form, way of going, manners, good distances, etc. Horses who show some expression after the jumps aren't usually overly penalized for it in a derby.

Essentially, you want to keep a similar feel as you would have in a regular hunter class while still being able to negotiate the derby course and keep a bit more pace.

The hunter score is usually a score out of 100. A score in the 70's is good with some minor mistakes, while a score in the 80's or higher is very good.

High-Performance Score

The high-performance score is a score out of 10, used to give the horse bonus points for jumping the high-performance options. These options are usually three to six inches higher than the other jumps, or might occasionally be a difficult natural option like a bank. There will likely be five high-performance options, each worth two points.

Each time you successfully navigate a high-performance option, you add two points to your high-performance score. Knocking down one of these options would not result in those points being added, and the judge would lower your hunter score down into the 40's for the knockdown.

Not risking the high-performance options would not lower the hunter score, but would also mean not getting any of those 10 bonus points, so the risk needs to be weighed against the potential benefits.

Handy Score

The handy score is also out of 10, and how these points are assigned is at the discretion of the judge. Many judges seem to designate certain areas of the course for a point each, such that a horse who takes all the handy options will receive a handy score of 10, a horse who takes half will receive a score of 5, and one that takes no handy options will receive a score of 0.

It can be useful to go later in the class in order to get a feel for which approaches seem to be rewarded, and to see certain options being tried that you hadn't thought of.

Handy options can include any of the following, and more:
  • Handy approach to the first jump (doing a rollback turn, cantering straight from the ingate, etc.)
  • Direct routes between jumps
  • Hand galloping long, straight distances
  • Inside turns and rollbacks
  • Taking jumps on an angle
  • Choosing short approaches
  • Handy exit after jumping the last jump (can include landing and turning, cantering straight to the out-gate and walking out - but only if you don't need to stay in for your score, etc.)
Keep in mind that any of these options needs to be done smoothly. Poor execution can affect your hunter score and even mean not getting the handy points for that particular option. Tight turns should be smooth and hunter-like, regardless of the size of the turn.

I've drawn out the path on one of the course diagrams that produced a near-perfect handy score of 9 during that class to show where all the options were that day. I suspect, based on watching other rounds, that the judge was looking for a left rollback off the last oxer for the final handy point:

The top horses will usually return to jog for ribbons under saddle, and will finish with a victory gallop!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Turnout Critique #4

This week's featured horse and rider are dressed for a casual schooling show. We'll look at how to dress them up for a more formal hunter show while making a few equipment changes to bring them in line with hunter rules.

The first thing that draws my eye in these photos is the rider's bright blue polo shirt. While I'm told that polo shirts were the standard attire at this particular show, I would much rather see a show shirt and jacket to enhance the overall picture and keep the focus on the horse. If polo shirts are to be worn instead at a hunter schooling show, I would prefer to see a more subtle colour like white, black or navy blue be worn. The polo shirt is correctly tucked into the breeches and worn with a belt, as any show shirt should be.

I also notice that this horse appears to be clean and well-taken care of, looking neither too fat nor too thin. Oiling the hooves before entering the ring would add extra polish to their turnout, as would braiding the mane. As it is, the mane is neat and short, but braiding would really make them look like they came to win. The legs look trimmed and tidy.

This horse is wearing bulky saddle pads. The shaped pad is too large for this saddle, with several inches of white showing in certain areas instead of the more subtle and preferred one to two inches. On top of that, there's what looks like a black foam pad on top. Not only does this add extra bulk, but the black colour makes it stand out even more. For the two minutes that it takes to go around the show ring, most horses should be able to go without extra padding. If it's needed, perhaps a saddle fitting or change is in order, or a more advanced shaped pad with inserts or natural sheepskin to protect the back.

The tack looks clean and the excess stirrup leather isn't overly long. I personally prefer the look of a solid stirrup iron in the show ring, but I understand why some riders prefer to use safety stirrups.

Elsewhere on the horse, this rider is using a pelham bit without a snaffle rein. This set-up is not appropriate for the hunter ring; there should be attachments to both the snaffle ring and the curb ring, using either a bit converter or two sets of reins, depending on the rules of the class. Using a pelham in the way that we see here means that only the curb (leverage) action of the bit can be used. Because of this, every touch of the reins is amplified in the mouth, and poll pressure is constantly applied. Using a converter allows some of the pressure to be gained through direct contact, lessening the leverage action, and using two sets of reins allows the rider to determine when to use snaffle vs. curb action. This is especially important with a horse that likes to over-jump like this one, because it's so easy to get left behind and end up pulling back on the mouth.

Returning to the rider, I would like to see her wear gloves in the hunter ring. Her hands are very noticeable against her dark horse's neck while jumping, and wearing gloves would harmonize things. Dark gloves should almost always be a standard part of hunter attire. Her breeches and boots are appropriate, with the boots nicely shined. Her hair is neatly contained in her helmet as far as I can see. 

Overall, this horse/rider combination is almost there! Just a few minor changes would bring them from a casual but workmanlike appearance to a polished, formal hunter turnout.

As always, a big thank you to this week's rider for submitting her photos! If you would like to participate in a future turnout clinic, send your photo(s) to

Friday, June 29, 2012

Turnout Critique #3

This week we have a neatly dressed horse and rider who are new to showing in the hunters. While they show good turnout for a new pair, their presentation could be improved further by putting even more emphasis on the horse.

One of the first things that jumps out at me is all the HAIR! You can never go wrong braiding a hunter's mane, and this horse would be well suited to neat hunter braids. His mane will need to be pulled/shortened before being braided in order for the braids to be short enough to stay neat all day. At higher levels, braiding the tail would also help to refine the picture. As it stands, the tail is perfect for an everyday class, having been nicely brushed out. His mane doesn't look straight but it's hard to tell whether that's the way it's been trimmed or whether the waviness of the mane is just making it look that way.

The feathers on the legs could also be trimmed to further refine the turnout. This can be done with clippers or scissors (either special curved scissors or regular scissors used at an angle so as not to leave straight lines), and just shortens the feathers to the same length as the rest of the hair on the legs.

His socks are nice and white, and oiling the hooves would help to add some extra polish while bringing the white socks out even more.

The saddle pad was very well-selected to fit this saddle properly, with just the right amount of pad showing evenly all around the saddle. The excess stirrup leather isn't too long and it's neatly contained in its keeper.

It's hard to see clearly from the quality of the photo, but I believe that the noseband and browband have white padding. In the hunter ring, the bridle should be entirely brown or black. Padding like this on the noseband and browband is fine, but it should match the rest of the bridle. The bridle is adjusted properly with the bit and noseband at just the right height.

This rider is neatly and conservatively dressed, as she should be for a hunter class. Her black gloves, white shirt, grey jacket, beige breeches and black field boots are all very appropriate. Her hair appears to be nearly contained in her helmet. The jacket might be a touch large but I could just be seeing wrinkles from the movement in that moment in time. I also wonder whether this rider's field boots might be a bit too large in the leg; the bulge at the back of her leg makes me wonder whether her heel has risen up in them. If so, she could try tightening the laces more if a new pair of boots isn't an option.

Overall, this rider is off to a great start in showing with clean, well-fitted tack and apparel. With a few tweaks and some extra time spent grooming, this pair could easily grab the judge's attention.

Thank you very much to this week's rider for submitting this photo! If you would like to participate in a future turnout critique, send me an e-mail with your photo(s) to

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Turnout Critique #2

In this Turnout Critique we'll be looking at a very well-presented horse and rider combination who could make a few small changes to further improve their turnout.

The first impression that I get from these photos is that this rider really cares about presenting her horse and herself as well as possible. The first thing that jumps out at me for possible improvement is the saddle pad. Its shape doesn't quite fit the saddle, and unfortunately the worst-fitting part is the same part that has a tendency to slip back. When positioned correctly, it doesn't look bad aside from showing a little bit more white than is ideal. If the pad slips back during a course, though, as has happened above, the section behind the saddle flap really stands out because it naturally slips back and reveals even more white.

The next thing I notice that could be improved is the fit of the rider's jacket. There are wrinkles in the sleeves and body of the jacket in both photos, and while it may just be the timing of the photos, I suspect that this rider would be flattered by a jacket one size smaller. She does not seem the type to put on a wrinkled jacket so this must happen while the jacket is in use!

This rider might benefit from using bobby pins or something similar while putting on her helmet, as it seems that her hair has slipped down in the hair net. Her hair is still fully contained and is not to the point of looking messy, but it could be improved.

The only other criticism I have is that I am not the biggest fan of the type of girth that this rider is using. While the various rings on the girth are handy as attachment points for various training devices, they do catch the eye and I prefer a more standard traditional girth for showing. This is, however, personal preference.

This rider is using well-fitted tack, including a cavesson noseband fitted correctly just below the cheek bones of her lovely Thoroughbred and he is clean, trimmed and shiny, and is obviously well taken care of. He has a neat braid job on both mane and tail and his white sock is clean as can be. His hooves have also been oiled to finish the look.

The rider is neatly and conservatively dressed, allowing her horse to stand out. Her boots are fully shined and the bottoms are free of any dirt.

It is clear from their presentation that this rider truly cares about turnout and I'm sure that the judges notice. Well done!

I will leave this horse and rider anonymous unless she chooses to name herself in the comments. Thank you for submitting these photos!

If you would like to submit a photo (or photos) for a future turnout critique, send an e-mail to

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Natural Obstacles

Today's post is about some of the more common natural obstacles that you might find in the jumper ring. It is just a sampling of the natural obstacles that you are most likely to see in North American rings and is in no way comprehensive.

Natural obstacles, with the exception of the liverpool and the water jump, tend to be used more in derby or speed classes. The course designer can still use them in other classes, though, so it's a good idea to become acquainted with them.

Sometimes natural obstacles can be placed between hedges or other natural settings. These can serve to make the jump slightly more spooky for some horses because they darken the area around the jump.

We'll start with the liverpool:

The liverpool consists of a jump placed over either a permanent in-ground or moveable above-ground water tray. The entire width of the jump mustn't be more than 2 m wide, including the water portion. The water tray for most liverpools is rectangular, in various sizes, but round versions are also available.

The water may be placed directly underneath the jump, or in front of/behind it. If it is placed in front or behind, there mustn't be a gap between the end of the tray and the vertical plane of the front of the jump. A liverpool cannot stick out more than 1 m in front of an oxer. Changing the placement of the liverpool serves basically to alter the ground line of the jump.

Moving on from the liverpool, we have the open water:
The water jump is wider than the liverpool, being more than 2 m wide. It also must be dug into the ground. The traditional water jump, as shown above, has a small obstacle at the front of the jump (between 40 and 50 cm high), which does not count towards penalties. With an open water jump, the horse must pass to the inside of all the flags in order not to have a disobedience, and the horse must not land in the water or touch the (usually) white lath at the back of the jump with any foot or shoe. The open water is not typically seen in lower-level jumper classes in North America.

There is another version of the water jump that is more inviting and requires no extra judge on the ground, and it is therefore seen more often at levels where water jumps are introduced:
This type has a vertical set over the water, no further back than 2 m from the front of the obstacle. The lath can still be used as a visual aid, but the obstacle is judged as a vertical and therefore faults are only added for a disobedience or for knocking down the rail. The difference between a vertical over water and a liverpool is that the water jump is wider, can only be a vertical, and still incorporates the take-off element of the open water.

A jump that is slightly similar to the liverpool is the dry ditch:
The dry ditch is essentially a shallow wood-lined ditch filled with stones. This creates a visual element but almost no actual depth. The jump over top can be a vertical or an oxer.

A completely different type of obstacle is the table top bank:
This obstacle can take a variety of shapes but is almost always rectangular with a flat top and revetted sides. One or more of the sides may occasionally be sloped rather than upright, or it may be set against the side of the ring so that only two or three sides can be jumped.

The course designer can use flags to indicate where the horse should jump on and/or off the table top, or there may be jumps set against one or more of the sides. If there are no jumps used, only disobediences can incur faults at the table top. If only one jump or set of flags is used, the rider can decide which side to approach or leave the obstacle from to save time, depending on how it is set up.

The bank is a related obstacle:
Unlike the table top, the bank requires the horse to climb up and down the taller, sloped sides. It can take a variety of shapes and sizes, and it can be used in a variety of ways. If no jumps are used, the course designer can place one or two sets of flags on the bank to indicate where the horse must go. As long as the horse passes between the flags (white on the left, red on the right) without any disobediences, no penalties are given. If only one set of flags is used, the horse can turn as tightly around the inside flag as is desired before heading back down the bank.

The bank may also be used with a jump on top:
In such a case, flags on the ground aren't usually required because the jump itself requires the horse to travel all the way up the bank. This obstacle is judged like any other, with faults for a knock down and for any disobediences along the way. The jump is usually a bit smaller than others on course to compensate for any loss of impulsion from the bank or limited space to set up for the jump.

The bank can also be used to make a jump at ground level more difficult:
In this example, the horse must travel up the bank and pass between the flags before coming back down the bank and jumping the vertical, with only a few strides in between. This tests the rider's ability to focus and balance the horse, and may offer a variety of routes to choose from, from the difficult and direct route to the safer but longer one. Jumps can also be built heading toward the bank, but in such a case the bank would serve more as a distraction or attempt to back the horse off.

To learn about another natural obstacle, the grob or devil's dyke, see Natural Obstacles: The Grob.