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 showringreadyblog@gmail.com

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 showringreadyblog@gmail.com