Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Why Hunters and Jumpers Don't Have Ride Times

There is one question that is bound to come up any time a horse show runs late or after a particularly long episode of "hurry up and wait". That question is "Why don't hunter/jumper shows have ride times?". The concept works well in the dressage and eventing worlds, so why not in the hunter and jumper rings as well?

It turns out that it isn't simply the hunter/jumper world being stubborn or show organizers wanting to torture the competitors; there are fundamental differences between the disciplines that make it very difficult to assign accurate times in most cases.


One of the biggest reasons why ride times are so difficult to use in the hunter/jumper world is because we have the ability to add or scratch classes, with no limit (aside from monetary penalties) until the class is over. This structure allows a horse to be moved up or down in height depending on how things are going that week or even on that day, with no guesswork as to what the horse might be ready for weeks in the future. It allows trainers to enter the horse in as many or as few classes as are needed to get the best out of the horse on that day.

In the dressage and eventing worlds, you need to declare which classes you'll be entering at least one or two weeks before the actual show date. This is not a big deal because a horse will usually be aimed at one particular level throughout the season, or there might be a plan to upgrade at a particular event known to be on the easier side. In the jumper world in particular, moving up is done when the horse or rider is felt to be ready for it, and factors such as course design can come into play to determine the timing, which is difficult to know in advance. Given that it takes several days to draw up ride times, classes would have to be entered at least a week in advance and without the knowledge of how confident the horse or rider will be feeling that particular week.

In the hunter ring, if the trainer feels that a horse is spooky in the show ring, they currently have the ability to enter the horse in any additional classes that it is eligible for in order to get more ring time. If declarations had to be made far in advance, guesses would have to be made about the number of classes needed and a horse might end up too tired or too spooky to perform well in its main division.

Number of rings

Another aspect that makes many hunter/jumper shows very different from the other disciplines is the number of rings running at one time. Hunters and jumpers are very popular, and that means that there is a huge number of horses showing each day, split into multiple rings. With multiple rings come trainer conflicts.

Trainer conflicts occur when a trainer has to be in two or more places at once to warm up multiple riders, and/or to ride multiple horses. Not every barn is large enough to warrant having assistant trainers who can take over at other rings, which means that a ring with lower priority will have to wait on the ring with higher priority. Even if the show staff were able to arrange the ride times in such a way as to avoid trainer conflicts, all it would take would be one accident or one longer-than-planned course change to throw everything off between the different rings.

Events and dressage shows often do run multiple rings at once, but there are usually fewer rings still and the warm-up strategies are different. At a dressage show, a coach can warm up two riders for different classes at the same time because the necessary warm-up area is the same and the coach can simply tell the riders to do different movements. At a hunter/jumper show, two riders competing in two different classes are likely competing at different heights and each particular horse might do best with a different series of warm-up jumps. Without ride times, the trainer can group together those horses that can warm up together while keeping the others separate. At an event, the above dressage warm up applies similarly to the dressage phase, but the jumping warm-ups also tend to have jumps at fixed heights and widths shared by all with no trainer required to save one or to make adjustments. It also isn't likely that there would be two stadium rings or two cross-country courses running at once, which limits the potential for conflicts between divisions.


In the jumper ring, the time per horse changes depending on whether the horse qualifies for the jump-off. Immediate jump-offs are easier on the horse and its connections by allowing for just one warm-up and no hanging around and waiting for the other horses to go. When it comes to timing, however, the immediate jump-off presents a problem because it isn't known in advance who will require those extra two minutes at the end of their round. If the show organizers were to add extra time to every ride to account for the jump-off, the day would run into the dark or horses would have to be turned away due to a lack of time. Another ring could be added to take the overflow, which would contribute even more to the trainer conflicts. Adding a smaller amount of extra time to every round to account for the occasional jump-off would make the actual ride times inaccurate and defeat the purpose of having anything more than a division start time and a posted order.

Again, this isn't a problem for the other disciplines because eventers don't have jump-offs, making everyone's round take a similar amount of time.

When ride times can work

At invitationals or shows that require qualification, the number of entries per class is known well in advance, making it possible to accurately time the schedule. These shows often only have one show ring or one main ring catering to a particularly large audience, making it possible for that ring to run without delays (if there is an annex ring, it could be prone to long waits due to trainer/rider conflicts if there are to be no delays in the main ring). Also, at these shows, course changes are planned out so carefully that they can be done in a very short and accurately-estimated amount of time. This is thanks to a large jump crew, a good course designer who can set the fence heights and filler in advance, and the knowledge of all that it needs to be done quickly.

What can be done to lessen the waiting around without instituting ride times?

For the vast majority of hunter/jumper shows, instituting ride times is just not realistic unless we want to change the flexible way in which we can currently compete or allow fewer horses to show. That isn't to say that things can't be done to improve the communication and lessen the waiting around. Here's a short list of improvements that shows can make:
  • Have a white board at each in-gate with an estimated start time for each division, updated throughout the day to account for course length, course changes and trainer delays
  • Post the number of entries per division the day before, even if some entries are expected to be added the day of (this at least makes it possible to calculate a "not-before" time). This is the norm at most 'A' circuit shows but is fairly uncommon at the lower levels
  • Use online tools to update competitors on the progress in each ring in real time
  • Record the start times of each division for use in estimating division start times at future editions of the same show 
  • Keep the in-gates in communication with one another and encourage the trainers to plan their day with the aid of the in-gates

There are six days left to enter the Dream Horse Studios $75 gift certificate giveaway! All you need to enter is your name and your e-mail address; no Facebook account or sync necessary! Consider donating to the Dream Horse Studios Kickstarter campaign while you're at it. Not only are the rewards extremely generous, but each pledge above $10 comes with a 50% off coupon valid on your next purchase at Dream Horse Studios in addition to what's listed on the Kickstarter page.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Dream Horse Studios Giveaway Reminder

Just a reminder that the Dream Horse Studios $75 gift certificate giveaway contest is running until November 6, and you can enter every day until then for additional chances to win by sharing the giveaway or Kickstarter campaign.

I have heard a rumour from a very reliable source that the thank-you note included in the Kickstarter rewards for donations above $10 might include a coupon for a very significant discount on your next purchase from Dream Horse Studios. With their products already at extremely reasonable prices, donating to the Kickstarter campaign could be a way to get yourself a new pair of horse boots, or a bridle, or a halter, etc., at a cost significantly below what you would pay at a tack shop or any online store.

The giveaway post is here

And you can go directly to the Dream Horse Studios Kickstarter campaign here

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Giveaway Time, Courtesy of Dream Horse Studios!

This is a very exciting post because it marks our very first giveaway contest on this blog! Read to the end to find out how you can win a $75 gift certificate to spend at Dream Horse Studios just by sharing!

Frequent readers of this blog are probably aware that I don't like to mention brand names. The important thing is to have clean, conservative, well-fitted tack and clothing rather than a particular "stylish" brand. Having said that, there are still some brands that tend to be particularly suitable for showing or that are good to know about for their value and innovation. Today's post involves the latter.

Dream Horse Studios takes a different approach to tack, with a focus on quality, good design and affordable prices, while at the same time offering options for those wanting something that stands out. I've been drooling over their Calypso boots, an outer shell in a choice of conservative colours (patent or leather, it's up to you) with a coloured calfskin lining in your choice of five fun colours to give the appearance of piping when they're worn. Imagine boots with the same colour of lining as the trim on your saddle pad and fly bonnet!

The Calypso boots in patent leather with red lining
If it's a classic look you have in mind, several models are available for you to choose from at prices below what you might expect to pay at a tack shop, and made from English leather, to boot (no pun intended!).

Cambridge leather jumping boots
They also make extremely colourful boots that would be fun for schooling, as well as a variety of other products ranging from beaded halters, belts and dog collars to bridles and decorative browbands.

A rainbow of fleece-lined Carnivale boots
Dream Horse Studios has now taken to Kickstarter to raise funds for an expansion of their product line to include a complete selection of bridles, girths, breastcollars, and more.

Donations start at only $1, and there are fantastic reward packages available. At $50, for example, you will receive a beaded leather bracelet with a custom engraved stainless steel or brass charm. For $100 you can receive a padded leather stable halter in your choice of size and colour; how often can you even purchase a padded leather halter for that without also helping a promising new business? To top that off, for just $25 more, you will receive a raised leather halter in the colour of your choice complete with a custom engraved name plate!

Additional rewards include sets of boots, bridles, show sheets, shipping boots, girths, breastcollars and more! How often does a Kickstarter campaign offer rewards at prices that are similar to what you might pay for something in-store?

Check out the campaign here!

Now to the even more fun part, the giveaway! In exchange for spreading the word about their Kickstarter campaign, Dream Horse Studios would like to offer you a $75 gift certificate, valid on any of their products. All you have to do is share it in one or more ways, and you can share it daily for extra entries! For an additional entry, you can also "like" Dream Horse Studios on Facebook and keep up to date on their goings-on.

We'll be using Rafflecopter for the giveaway. If you aren't familar with it, it's a way of keeping track of your entries and randomly drawing a winner. You can sign in either with your name and e-mail or with your Facebook account. I will only e-mail you if you have won the gift certificate.

Each day, you'll have three options for sharing the Kickstarter campaign, and you can use anywhere from one to all three options every day. "Liking" Dream Horse Studios on Facebook is good for one additional entry to the contest only once during the contest period.

Entries will close at 12:00 a.m. on November 6, 2013, the final day of the Dream Horse Studios Kickstarter campaign. The winner will be revealed on November 7.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

November 7th: Congratulations to the winner of the giveaway, Anne G.!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

How to Quickly Set Warm-Up Jumps

Jump-setting might not seem like a very difficult thing to do, but there is an art to doing it quickly. The number of jumps available in warm-up rings is limited, and setting the jumps slowly will slow the ring down while also disrupting the rider's warm-up routine. The last thing most riders want is to have to pull up or circle across others' jumps because their own jump wasn't set in time.

Learning how to set jumps quickly will not only make you a better ground person in general, but if you're interested, it will also give you a better chance of becoming a show groom if you prefer the horse show side of things to mucking out stalls. Many riders won't allow their grooms to set in the warm-up ring until they've displayed the ability to set jumps quickly at home. Coming to the job with that ability will give you a step up from the start.

Different riders and trainers have different preferences for the spacing of rails and ground lines and many variations can be made with those four rails and four standards that you have available. For that reason, I won't mention too much about when to move out/in ground lines or how to space the bottom rail(s).

The key to setting jumps quickly is to be efficient; if you minimize the number of steps to do or distance that you need to cover, you will be faster. It is much easier to set quickly with two people so that one can stay on each end of the jump without crossing back and forth and any changes in height or width can be made in unison to lessen the chances of rails accidentally falling. You're never guaranteed to have a partner, though, so this post will explain how to set jumps when you're alone. The same concepts apply, just with a few more steps and walking.

Initial setting

When you initially set up a jump, aim to get the height right immediately. With practice, you should be able to put the cups at a good starting height on all the standards so that any adjustments are within a hole. You can measure the jump against part of your body or simply remember how far down to reach your hand, whatever works best for you. If the standards all have similar markings or screw holes, those can be used to make the height even, too.

Most riders or trainers have a preference for what type of jump to start with, so you can go ahead and set the usual first jump before you've had a chance to ask what they'd like. Any changes from it are likely to be minor and setting the jump as soon as you get to it will allow the rider to begin their warm-up sooner.

If you're setting up the jump from scratch, first lay the jump rails on the ground where they will be positioned (just start with one for a vertical or two for an oxer). This will give you the spacing for the standards. Add the standards and then set the rails on the cups. Make your final height adjustments and then add in your ground lines and any rails below the top rail.

If I'm setting an oxer initially, I find it easiest to judge the squareness by using just the cups without rails. The roundness of the rails can throw off your sense of crouching level with the height, whereas the edges of the cups can give you good points to judge by. You can't accurately judge the squareness of an oxer without getting your eyes level with the rails or cups.

Once your first jump is set up, the variations will include changes in height, changes in width (for oxers), and changes from an oxer to a vertical or vice versa. Combinations can also be used in the warm-up ring at many shows, but those aren't used very frequently.

Changes in height

Changes in height are usually asked for by the rider or trainer calling, for example, "Up two", "Down two", "Up two behind" or "Down two in front". For a change that is specified as front or back, only change the side specified (it will be to either make a rampy oxer square or to make a square oxer rampy). Front is the side with the ground rail, or the side that the rider just jumped from or is in a position to jump from if there are ground rails on both sides. Just specifying the number of holes when you're setting an oxer usually means that the change should be made all around.

It's very important to keep track of which hole the jump was set at when you change the height. If you remove the pin or cup and the pole sinks down or bounces up, you won't have a reference to count from. For this reason, you should keep one hand under the rail as you remove the cup/pin with just enough force to keep the rail level (this can take practice). You can count holes with your fingers or your eyes depending on your personal preferences, as long as you're consistent. Ending up with an uneven jump for no good reason after a height change is frustrating to the rider warming up.
Be careful when making changes of more than two or three holes at once because the rail could slip off the upper cup if it's on too much of an angle since the distance between the cups will be greater. Having the rail fall on your foot or arm when this happens can be very painful!

Changes in width

The most common mistake I see with oxers being widened occurs when the changes are made in big steps rather than small ones. If you think about it, when you pull one standard out further than the other, you're making the distance between those standards greater. The rail will slide closer to the edge of the cup and if it slides too far, it will fall off and hit you or the ground. Having to reset the rail not only takes longer, but that heavy rail can cause a lot of damage to your body if you end up too close to it.

For that reason, if you're alone, you should make changes in width gradually, about six inches at a time, alternating sides. It takes a bit longer than doing each side in one shot, but it's safer and faster than having to reset a fallen rail. Make sure that you don't pull the standard towards the outside as you move it over or you'll make the distance even greater; the straighter you can keep the standard, the better.

Also, check that the rail is snug in the cups before moving the standards. If the rail is on the edge of the cup to begin with, it's almost guaranteed to fall when you widen the jump.
Small increments keep the rail in the cups
Larger increments bring the rail to the edge of the cups
It's also important not to make big changes in height and width at the same time because having the rail on an angle in two directions at once would exacerbate the problem.

If you have a ground line on each side of the oxer and need to widen it, first roll the ground line out on the side you're moving. Trying to push against a ground line is hard work and is likely to result in an angled standard and a fallen rail. It's much easier to roll the ground line out first and then roll it back into place after you've finished.

If you're ever asked for a skinny oxer, this usually means an oxer with the smallest width you can create. This is done by bringing the standards in with the feet beside one another but still resting on the ground, like this:

All of the same tips apply to lessening the width of an oxer as they do to widening one.

Oxer to vertical

Changing an oxer to a vertical is very easy; all you need to do is drop the back rail to the ground, swing the standards out of the way and then adjust the ground line on each side.

The reason for swinging the empty standards out is for safety and to make it easier to roll the ground line out without interference. If the horse drifts over the jump, leaving the standards in place could result in an injury to horse or rider from the cups or the standards themselves. Simply pivoting them away on the foot closest to the standard beside brings them out of the way and makes it easy to pivot them back into place for another oxer.

Vertical to oxer

Changing a vertical to an oxer is more complicated because it's more about building than about disassembling.

First, pivot your empty standards back into place and at your desired width. If the jump height has changed, try to make your height change now while there's no weight in the cups.

Next, take the ground line from what will be the back side of your oxer and put it in those cups.

Finally, double-check the height and roll the ground line in on the front side as far as desired.

Ground lines

Whenever you're rolling ground lines in or out, roll them from the center of the rail. If you try to roll them from the ends, the rail will roll on an angle and will require fixing. Nudging it with your foot as you walk past the center of the jump will make it roll out straight and takes very little time.

Whether you're grooming, simply helping a friend or setting jumps for yourself at home, learning how to set efficiently will make the process much easier on everyone and is a good skill to have and can help to avoid injuries on the ground that could interfere with your riding time!