Saturday, March 10, 2012

Chilled Out

Or In as the Case May Be

The weather did turn again, though not too badly. 40'sF and windy, so I opted out of riding. I still did a short, brisk walk, though, so I didn't forego exercise altogether.

A word here about the jumping for those of you who may not know. I used to be a hunter/jumper rider and I evented as well. So jumping for me is nothing new.

I gave it up for various reasons.

First, my Toby--the now senior horse--was not reliable over fences. He has/had tremendous athletic ability, with a huge jump, but not enough courage to go along with it. He would not jump fences "cold," without having a good look at them first. While I might have been able to train that out of him with lots of experience, I was much more focused on dressage at that time and didn't have the time or will to make the effort. I did event PJ before that and, of course, Russell R. who was a fabulous jumper. PJ had tons of courage and Russell had tons of skill and enthusiasm, making them wonderful horses to ride over a fence.

 Here I am eventing PJ at his first competition. He cleared this one with plenty of room to spare! *G*
Here I am on Russell at one of our early events. Later we jumped higher obstacles with equal ease.

But, I shall go on with the second reason to stop jumping--money and the competition. As time went on the hunter/jumper world, in particular, was infiltrated with more and more money. Not only did the entry fees for shows increase, but the quality of horses in the shows kept getting fancier and fancier. I can still remember competing at a relatively small show against a big, fancy horse that bucked his way around the course. He won the classes over Russell. "Back in the day," what really mattered was how the horse carried the rider around the course. In this case, because that horse "snapped his knees" over the fence and was, I guess, an expensive mover, he won over my rounds. OK, so that's the way it goes, I guess. But, as time went on, I, as a true amateur rider, found myself being "run over" by trainers and riders from big stables.  I would put my number in to ride in a certain order, warm up, go to the in gate to do my jumping round, only to find out that "Big Trainer" from "Fancy Stable" had stuffed five of his students into the order in front of me, and I was going to have to wait. It happened over and over, messing up my riding strategy and wearing out both Russell and me with repeated warmups.

The third reason?  Where do you go from here? I've jumped some big fences in my day--even been over some five foo ones--but I didn't have the nerve to do too much of that, even if Russell, and probably PJ were more than able. The amateur owner hunter division, at 3'6" was just fine, and eventing over a similar height was OK too. But add the politics of "Big Trainer" to the hunters, and the revised notions and rusle in eventing, and I wasn't really going anywhere. The eventing world seemed to think that there were too many people going "clean" on the cross country rounds, so they decided to up the difficulty for most levels. I rode successfully a number of times with the newer heights--3'9" for solid fences--but managed to crash once or twice along the way, dampening my enthusiasm for that pretty quickly. I either had to drop down a level or just stop.  I evented PJ, of course, at the lower levels two or three times, and then, despite placing in the ribbons, decided enough was enough. Somebody, most likely me, was going to get hurt. So, there was really no way to progress in the sport as far as I was concerned.

Reason number four? Dressage was fun.  Please note, I said "was."  When I started eventing, I discovered the wonderful notion that if you were scheduled to ride at, say 1:04 PM, you rode darn close to 1:04.  At a hunter show, you might sit around for hours waiting for your class to begin.  Straight dressage was even better than eventing time wise, as with the events you usually did have to wait for the stadium round.  But at a dressage show, you knew when you arrived on the show grounds, exactly what time you were going to enter at A.  Cool.  And, again, at first, the playing field was pretty level.  If I rode a good test, I had as much chance of placing well as anyone else in the class.  Horses and riders were actually being judged on their training and performance alone. Even cooler.  I had plenty of room to move up from one level to another, so there was always a challenge in front of me, and training was, and still is, a fascinating experience. And, with no jumps in the way, it was relatively safe, in comparison. I was getting older, and the prospects of crashing over a jump were not too appealing any more.

Please note, I was extremely well trained as a jumper rider. Prudence Morgan at the Princeton Riding Center, here in NJ, was one of the best teachers I have ever known. I had solid basics and we jumped hundreds of little fences in all kinds of gymnastic exercises week after week to train both Russell and me to manage most any challenge we might meet in the show arena.
Here's an example of no stirrups and no reins over a fence. This might have been during a clinic with George Morris, but regardless, it was exactly the kind of thing we would do in a regular lesson as well.

So, despite my skills, I just kind of gave up jumping.  As I said, Toby's lack of courage helped, but as time went on, I found I didn't miss it too much.  But, every now and then, I do look back and remember the exhilarating feeling of soaring over a fence on a good horse and I take a deep breath of nostalgia.
Here are Russell and I jumping a true outside course over 3'6" at a park that no longer holds shows like this. The smaller shows are largely gone around here.  I used to be able to show every weekend. This park grounds is about four miles away from my house.

Competition dressage has lost much of its appeal for some of the same reasons that I stopped jumping competitively.  Like the hunters, money has stepped into the dressage arena as well. Fancy horses with extravagant movement can and often do place in the top of all the classes regardless of how well they might actually be trained. Riders go out and "buy" the show winner rather than "making" it. I've sat with judges in the booth, scoring, and know full well how this can work.  I can even remember a top and well-respected judge noting to me as a well known rider came up to the arena, "Now we're going to see a really good test,"  before the horse took one step though the in gate. Sure, the ride was good, but I'm not 100% convinced that the scores they received were not inflated by reputation more than by actual performance. (Side note:  This same judge, at another time was overheard to say as my friend entered the arena on her quarterhorse, "I hate this horse."  He still ended up scoring her in the top of the class because her ride was really good, so go figure.)

It's frustrating to spend hundreds of dollars on a show or two (I was paying up to $150 for just one competition) knowing that no matter how well you rode or how well your horse might go, as long as "Fancy Horse" was in the class with you, the top ribbon was never going to end up in your hands. Again, there are still some smaller shows around where the playing field is more level, but they are fewer and farther between nowadays. Judges's fees and all the other costs associated with running a show have put the "smaller guys" out of business.

If I ever get him trained to a level of competence in the dressage levels, I may show Chance once or twice, but no biggie if I don't.  As for the jumping? Now and again, and all just for fun.  It's good for the horses and something else to do in the schooling process.

Do I miss it?

Not much.


  1. Anonymous11:45 AM

    Thanks for all the pictures of you and your horses!

    I haven't showed in a long time - got tired of the expense, waiting around, show/judging politics and the "show culture" - kids and adults waited on hand and foot by grooms - a lot of them never touched the horse except to ride it after the trainer had schooled in and shown it in several classes. And some of the bad training and treatment of both horses and riders in the warm up rings that sometimes occurred.

    I'm pretty happy just working with my horses. Someday, Drifter and I might try that dressage test by video service I've read about - you do your test and have it videoed and then it's graded and commented on by a judge. Sounds like fun, and without all that show hassle.

  2. I have nothing much to add because I absolutely agree with everything you've said about what showing and competition has become. The state of affairs nowadays is the reason we've stopped showing. Here's one incident I remember: I was at an A show in North Salem and actually saw a rider being delivered to her horse in a limo, the groom handed her the horse, she rode, got off handed the horse back to the groom and got back in the limo and left. That's not what horsemanship is all about in my book. Years ago the Hampton show used to be good, now it's all about what celebrities show up, the jets being sold, the elite in their viewing tents etc. The showgrounds are getting smaller and smaller so more boutiques can be put up. Everything has turned around so much in the show world that it's not enjoyable anymore.

    Once in a while I think it would be nice to show again but then I come to my senses. It's so much more fun and rewarding to work with the horses at home now.

    Great pictures of you and your boys having fun.

  3. I was pretty surprised when I found out that jumping classes didn't have set times. That would drive me nuts! I like to show up, ride my test, then go home. None of this "hanging out" business for me!

    Beautiful pictures! Thanks for sharing! It makes me wish that I hadn't been so cheap and bought pictures back in the day, or at least brought along someone with a camera.

  4. wow, very interesting - OMG look at that huge leap over that first fence!!! I've said it before - jumping is crazy enough (I've never done it) and eventers are CRAZY! I wouldn't have the nerve.

    It's a bummer when politics start getting in the way of competition and having fun. It's a good reason I like endurance because there's not TOO much of that. more or less, you finish where you finish, and nobody cares if you ride slow or fast, and the vets are pretty fair.

    and sounds like showing is more expensive than endurance.

    thanks for the pix and experience!

    - The Equestrian Vagabond