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

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