Ace It

...and on the eighth day God created the horse in perfect image, to romp, graze, gallop, play and make manure wherever it darn well pleases, in divine grace.

The event is Hunter Hack, the challenge is to ride the over-fences portion of the pattern, which accounts for a majority of the score.

You should have a fluid and rhythmic ride by mapping out strategy beforehand, so you know how and where you’ll be going in the show ring.

Do your warm up with care.

Jumps in hunter hack are low, 2 feet to 2 feet -9 inches and seasoned jumping horses may get careless and drop or bump a rail. This means points off for errors.

Keep your horse fresh; avoid over-jumping in the warm up area. If he jumps well one time during warm up, that is enough. Do the second jump first, that will keep him focused.

Use corners to your advantage. Rather than cutting corners, guide your horse right through them. They give you an opportunity to increase contact with your horse’s mouth, thus maintaining balance, and lengthening or tightening his stride to keep the 12 foot step. Release and soften between the corners and on the line towards your first fence.

Look early and often toward the jumps. As you reach the middle of the arena’s short end, you should already be looking at the first obstacle. You should be able to ride straight lines out of corners to the middle of the top rail on the first obstacle. Turning too soon out of corners makes you have to adjust to reach the middle of the jump, thus throwing off the horse’s rhythm. This causes him to arrive at the fence incorrectly and forces him to take off from too close of a spot, thus causing the famous “chipping.” It also causes him to launch from a spot that’s too far away. The same thing can happen if you come out of a corner too late.

Many amateurs freeze up as they enter the ring and they focus on the judge instead of their horses. Big mistake.

If the pattern asks for trot, this is your chance to establish your horse’s rhythm and assess his attitude. If he is too tense, take a deep breath and soften your hands to help him relax. If he is being lazy, wake him up with your leg. It is very important that you have the ability to read and react to your horse as this can affect the rest of your pattern.

Precision is key on any canter-depart requirements. You can make up for small mistakes over the fences if you nail your canter-depart with perfection. Your 12 foot stride should be cadenced. Use the corners to adjust and re-balance. Center your horse to the first fence and approach it with a cadence that will give him the jump “out of stride.” That means he pushes off from 6 feet in front of the jump and lands 6 feet beyond it on the other side. If he lands less than 6 feet beyond, you must make up the distance between the first and second jump and this could throw off his rhythm.

When the horse lands, get a consistent and straight stride to the next jump. As you clear that obstacle, find a focal point directly beyond so you can ride a straight line to the next part of your pattern. If you are heading for a corner, ask for the lead change before you reach it, if it is required. Look around the turn for the next marker in the pattern.

As you are cantering, start to slow down about three strides before you reach the marker, so that if a stop is asked for, you can nail it precisely opposite of it.

Immediately ask for back, approximately 2 horse lengths. Then, drop your reins, wait several seconds, and give your horse a pat on the neck.

Exit the ring.

Your show season count down is as follows:

3 months: Condition, condition, condition. No one waits until 2 weeks before the show to try to get their horse in shape. He should be in shape and ready to perform by the time the show arrives.

1 week: Write down everything you need to pack from tack to clothing to all horse show essentials. Remember health papers, rags and silver polish.

1 day : Arrive early. You and your horse need time to relax. You should be there early to prepare the horse stall and to let him check out the show grounds and arena.

3 hours: Feed him and allow him plenty of time to finish his meal.

2 hours: Prep time. Groom, final clip, hoof paint, tail and mane. He should already be bathed and clipped. Get into your show outfit.

1 hour: Relax mentally. You will communicate stress to your horse, then nobody will be relaxed.

3- 4 classes before: Get to the warm up ring. Warm up slowly; slow down your body and hand movements, focus on performing basics. Do not train or school your horse here, do not introduce new techniques or methods. The time is here to perform and show what each of you have learned.

During your class: Relax and enjoy. Do your best and remember it is not life or death, only someone’s opinion on a given day, and put it under your belt as a good learning experience.

The aforementioned article is meant as a guideline and not training or showing advice! Always seek the help of a professional horse trainer should you want to condition your horse and enter the show ring for serious or fun competition.

Not from an Oxer, nor a Sunken Road or Coffin; just from the rail this time, leaving you with the immortal words of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Happy Trails to You.”