Thursday, March 26, 2015

What is a Medal Class?

You might see the term "medal class" on a prize list and wonder what makes it different from a regular equitation class. Both are judged on the rider's equitation, so what is the difference? At its most basic, a medal class is an equitation class with additional tests.

Sometimes those additional tests are incorporated into the jumping course, while at other times there is a fairly typical jumping phase followed by a flat portion and/or ride-off, all judged as one class. The prize list or rule book governing the particular horse show should help you to determine under which format a particular medal class falls.

Medals may be handed out according to the level of competition (for example, bronze for the winner of a qualifier, and then gold, silver and bronze for the top three of a national final), for the top three placings in an individual class, or the show might decide to use the term "medal class" outside of the literal description and simply award ribbons.

The hunter-type medal classes are often the kind judged as a single jumping round with additional tests worked into the course. The top riders might be called back by the judge to jump over a shortened course, or to demonstrate some movements on the flat (or the judge could make their final decision based on the first round alone). Typical tests on course at the most basic level are trot jumps and halting between markers at the end of the ring. Expect the course to have some rollbacks and less of a typical hunter flow.

At the higher levels, additional tests worked into the course can include counter canter, halting within a line, and hand galloping a jump. The course can include a "skinny" jump, a jump at the end of the ring, etc. The full list of additional tests is below, and includes those that can be used in a ride-off (check the Equine Canada rulebook Article G1009 for restrictions, and note that unlisted tests may be used for CET Medal classes):

a) Dismount and mount
b) Rein back
c) Individual performance
d) Figure eight at trot, demonstrating change of diagonals
e) Figure eight at canter with simple change of leads through the walk or trot
f) Gallop and stop
g) Extended trot
h) Turn on haunches through the walk
i) Trot and canter without stirrups
j) Change leads on a straight line down centre with simple change through the walk or trot
k) Counter canter
l) Demonstration of about one minute on own mount. Rider must advise the judge beforehand what he/she plans to demonstrate
m) Pull up between fences except in a combination
n) Jump low fences, at walk, trot or canter
o) Jump without stirrups (stirrups must be removed from the saddle when over fences)
p) Change of leads with flying changes

For USEF shows, the additional tests that can be used for equitation and medal classes are:

1. Halt (4 to 6 seconds) or halt and back. When riders working collectively are asked to halt and then back, they must not be penalized if they walk forward a few steps and halt after backing.
2. Hand gallop. A hand gallop may be used on the approach to a jump.
3. Figure eight at trot, demonstrating change of diagonals. At left diagonal, rider should be sitting the saddle when left front leg is on the ground; at right diagonal, rider should be sitting the saddle when right front leg is on the ground; when circling clockwise at a trot, rider should be on left diagonal; when circling counterclockwise, rider should be on the right diagonal.
4. Figure eight at canter on correct lead, demonstrating simple change of lead. This is a change whereby the horse is brought back into a walk or trot (either is acceptable unless the judge specifies) and restarted into a canter on the opposite lead. Figures to be commenced in center of two circles so that one change of lead is shown.
5. Work collectively or individually at a walk, trot and/or canter.
6. Jump low obstacles at a trot as well as at a canter. The maximum height and spread for a trot jump is 3’ for horses, 2’ for ponies in classes restricted to ponies.
7. Jump obstacles on figure eight course.
8. Question(s) regarding basic horsemanship, tack and equipment and conformation.
9. Ride without stirrups, riders must be allowed option to cross stirrups.
10. Jump low obstacles at a walk as well as at a canter. The maximum height and spread for a walk jump is 2’.
11. Dismount and mount. Individually.
12. Turn on the forehand done through the walk or the halt.
13. Figure eight at canter on correct lead demonstrating flying change of lead.
14. Execute serpentine at a trot and/or canter on correct lead demonstrating simple or flying changes of lead. (See EQ112.4 for simple change.)
15. Change leads on a line demonstrating a simple or flying change of lead. (See EQ112.4 for simple change.)
16. Change horses. (Note: this test is the equivalent of two tests.)
17. Canter on counter lead. (Note: no more than twelve horses may counter canter at one time.) A canter on the counter lead may be used on the approach to a jump.
18. Turn on the haunches from the walk.
19. Demonstration ride of approximately one minute. Rider must advise judge beforehand what ride he plans to demonstrate.

For those classes that do not incorporate specific tests into the jumping phase (often the more jumper-oriented medals, such as the CET Medal in Canada), there will be either an equitation-style or jumper-style course and a certain number, often anywhere from the top eight to the top twelve, will be called back into the ring to complete a flat phase. Ribbons are awarded for the class as a whole; neither phase is a class in itself. An elimination in the jumping phase will preempt a rider from proceeding to the flat phase, even if there are fewer riders in the class than there are spots in the call-back.

The flat phase will usually include the working walk, trot (sitting and rising) and canter, as well as lengthenings, counter canter, halting, turns on the haunches, etc., all performed as a group. The prize list or rule book should specify the weighting of the phases (for example. 60% over fences and 40% flat). Depending on the class, there may be additional testing after the flat phase, either over a shortened course over fences or with additional flatwork.

Rules vary regarding the tack allowed for each phase, and whether the tack must be kept the same for both, so be sure to read both the prize list and the rule book before you compete.

Overall, if you are entering a medal class, expect a higher level of difficulty than you would find in a typical equitation class. Practice trotting jumps and halting at various points during a course. Ensure that your flatwork includes basic lengthenings at the very minimum, and practice the counter canter if you plan to enter medals beyond the introductory level. Watch your competitors and learn how the most successful ones enter and the leave the ring, and what sort of inside turns they plan. Medal classes are a way to really test your skills and they also provide an excellent introduction to course strategy.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Review: Making the Running

My first thought when I was asked to review this novel was that an equestrian romance novel likely wouldn't fit into the theme of this blog. Upon further thought, I realized that it would be entirely appropriate because I'm sure that most of us have, at least once, struggled to read through a horse-related novel riddled with so many errors that the author couldn't possibly be a horse person. Reviewing an equestrian-themed novel on a blog devoted to the intricacies of grooming seems like a pretty good way to screen out painfully inaccurate or pseudo- horse books.

Making the Running, written by Hannah Hooton, takes place in the world of jump racing. While the discipline is not something that most of us hunter/jumper riders take part in, we share a lot in common and it provides an exciting background to the human side of the story. Hooton's race descriptions are both enlightening and exciting, allowing the reader to feel as though they are anxiously watching from the sidelines alongside our protagonist Kate.

Kate Cresswell is a stable lass at Aspen Valley Racing Stables. She juggles her job and a dysfunctional family life, and things only get more complicated when she meets polar-opposite brothers Nicholas Borden, a preppy investment banker and his family's racing manager, and Ben de Jager, an amateur jump jockey with a mysterious past. Kate struggles to support her siblings while making tough choices about her horses and her love life, all in the lead-up to the famous Cheltenham Festival.

Making the Running is the fourth book in Hannah Hooton's Aspen Valley series, but it easily stands on its own as the main characters are new to the series. Having never read the previous novels, I had no trouble dropping into the Aspen Valley world, though I am sure that there are enough references to events and characters from the previous books to satisfy regular Hooton fans.  

As a horse person, it's a relief to come across a line on the very first page such as "his poor excuse for a forelock" because that is a description that only a true horse person would think to use. Despite being a romance novel, the horse world is depicted in a very real way, with no hesitation in having the equine characters slobber, head-butt and generally put themselves between the human characters. Given that there is no attempt to falsely paint every human character within the business as a devoted horse lover, Hooton has clearly been in the industry and understands the diverse cast of characters to be found.

Hooton creates characters full of depth, each with his or her own back story. The relationships between and setbacks suffered by all of the characters feel real; this is not your typical fairytale romance. Hooton deftly handles dark topics such as alcoholism without losing the light tone of the novel.

While some of the plot lines are somewhat predictable as can be expected in a romance novel, it's an enjoyable ride and Hooton even manages to sneak in a couple of surprises near the end. Although there are a couple of scenes with adult content, this book is much more about the emotional relationships between characters rather than the physical.

Overall, Making the Running is a fun, well-written book, with the reader's attention captured alternately by the fantastic race descriptions and duelling characters. It's available as an e-book (Kindle users click here), and for those wishing to start from the beginning, the first book in the Aspen Valley series, Keeping the Peace, is currently available for free in various formats through Hannah Hooton's website, where you can also learn more about her other books!

Disclosure: I have received no financial compensation for writing this review aside from a sample or copy of the product to be reviewed. My reviews are always my honest opinion and experience. Readers who use reviewed products do so at their own risk.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Unusual Tack: The Waterford Bit

The "Unusual Tack" feature aims to bring to light or describe lesser-known or frequently misunderstood pieces of tack.

The Waterford bit can be controversial, but what can't be argued is that it is a fairly popular bit in the hunter ring. To the outside observer it might appear to be an uncommon equipment choice, but D-ring cheeks can hide many a different mouthpiece!

The Waterford is a four-jointed bit, unlike the two joints of the french link or the one joint of a regular single-jointed snaffle. Because there are four joints, the bit is very flexible. This can make it a good choice for horses who tend to lean down onto the bit because there is no solid piece for the horse to hang onto.

The allegations of harshness likely have to do with the possibility for the mouthpiece to wrap around the shape of the lower jaw if too much pressure is applied without release. Any bit will become harsh if used by harsh hands, but special care should be taken with the Waterford to avoid its use by uneducated hands not because it is an inherently harsh bit, but because its construction has the potential to offer the horse no relief from pressure in the case of heavy hands. Because many horses will learn to lean on a rider's heavy hands, rider education can sometimes be a better solution than a switch to the Waterford bit.

Its popularity in the hunter ring likely lies in the typically low way of going favoured for hunters, which can occasionally transition from long and low to downright heaviness. A Waterford can provide a gentle reminder to a heavier-travelling horse to lighten its forehand when used by a considerate rider. Combined with the light contact favoured in the hunter ring, the Waterford in theory can be a gentler choice than a bit that would require more pressure, constant reminders or increased leverage.
Stubben Waterford Max Relax

For those concerned about the placement of the joints near the corners of the mouth, at least one company now makes a three-jointed version of the Waterford which provides a longer length of attachment from the joints to the bit rings.