There is a great deal of discussion in the world of hunters and jumpers right now (USHJA and USEF specifically) about how to define “amateurs” in the sport. Lots of talk about being a sponsored rider or a social media influencer or doing various barn activities for pay and whether those things prevent someone from being an amateur. And quite frankly, I think it’s all dumb.
Lets back up a little bit and I’ll share a bit about my and my family’s background in horses. I grew up in a very horsey family in Montana. My Dad grew up on big ranches and rodeoed in his younger days and when I came around he was active in showing Snaffle Bit horses (basically NRCHA now) and cutting. My Mom’s family raised and showed a LOT of Quarter Horses when she was a kid and she showed as well as rodeoed. She even went to college on a rodeo scholarship. When I was young she was doing mostly barrel racing, but she switched back to showing stock breed horses after I went to college. Before I was born my parents had race horses. Mostly Quarter Horses, but I think they had a couple thoroughbreds. Some of the mares they ran were broodmares that produced horses I rode as a kid.
Mom showing her homebred gelding, Casey a few years ago.
A few of my aunts and cousins are also still pretty involved in rodeo. One was Miss Rodeo North Dakota before I was born. One broke multiple arena records in barrel racing a couple years ago. One won the Goat Tying at the College National Finals while on a rodeo scholarship at Montana State University. Both sets of my grandparents raised horses in some form or fashion. My great grandfather was one of the founders of the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma. My Dad was on the Montana Board of Horse Racing in the 90’s.
Dad cutting in Idaho on Athena Beau. Probably in the late 80’s or early 90’s.
My first few horses were more rodeo types. They ran the barrel pattern and did pole bending, albeit pretty slowly. We went to lots and lots of nearby playdays and rodeos. I also participated in 4-H, which was when I got exposed to showing Quarter Horses and was hooked from age about 10 to well past college. I also showed a reiner the last few years of my Youth career in AQHA and NRHA events. Quite a lot when I was 16-18 (it was the only thing I was into that my Dad actually liked, so he was more on board with letting me show more, LOL!) Fast forward to adulting and I’ve been showing hunters in local, regional and A rated shows in Texas since about 2013 as well as foxhunting since 2010.
Coco and me at a local show during the summer of 2020
I say all this because I think I have a pretty unique perspective in that I or my family have participated in a LOT of various equestrian organizations and events. And I think defining divisions based on amateur versus professional status is a huge waste of time and resources for all organizations that do.
Jaguar and me reining in Montana in the late 90’s
A person’s ability to ride well has absolutely nothing to do with how they earn an income. It has to do with natural ability, time spent in the saddle, good instruction and getting out there and doing the thing. If we want our sport to be attainable for the “average” person to participate we have to make it more affordable. And one of the best ways to make it affordable is for participants to find ways to cut costs. That may be exercising horses for their trainer, repping brands that give them tack/apparel/feed/etc, giving riding lessons, and other similar activities that would currently prohibit them from being an “amateur” in USHJA/USEF competition.
How do you “fix” this? While I don’t have a slam dunk answer, the basic idea to start from would be to separate divisions by Rider achievement OR Rider age OR Horse achievement OR Horse age OR any combination those things. I’m not going to spell out a rulebook in a blog post but the premise would be similar to what eventing does now, but with more separation. The AQHA has a Leveling program that is also a good starting point (but they also separate amateurs and pros, so throw that part out).
For Rider Achievement separation, riders would be required to win a certain number of blue ribbons or points or something to participate in classes with fences higher than 2’9″ and on up for fence height (I don’t do jumpers so I don’t recall the fence heights, but something like the .9m). Require those ribbons/points to move to the next fence height. If someone doesn’t show in their achieved division, say 3′, for 3 years, they have to “requalify” to jump that height again, but you could let them do it within the show season and then move up as soon as they get it. There would also be different Levels at each rated jump height. This would separate the rider showing 3′ at 4 or 5 shows a year from the rider showing 3′ 25 weekends a year. Depending how the levels were differentiated (points would make this easier than ribbons), it could also keep the Rider who only shows at a few of the big shows (Devon, Indoors, WEF etc.) but wins those big classes from being eligible to compete against the infrequent weekend warrior.
There could also be age separated classes at each height division if Riders generally felt like that was needed. I know in some of the stock breed associations there is a whole division for riders over 50. I don’t know that that would work and/or be necessary with divisions separated by achievement, though. However, if all the governing body had to do was keep track of show results to separate divisions, it would make the separation of divisions a whole lot more objective, which to me would be a lot more fair.
Photo by Jerry Mohme. Showing my first thoroughbred in the hunters.
The Horse Achievement division could really remain similar to what is in existence with the Green and age divisions. It would be great if horses imported from Europe with show records could come with their record and not “get” to start over in divisions for which they are overqualified, but I don’t really have a dog in that fight so I’d leave that to the US based breeders to influence because they are the ones who really get the shaft there.
At the end of the day, the hypothetical advantage that professionals have is that they show often and on many horses. If divisions are separated by achievement, riders who don’t show much won’t compete against those pros or amateurs who show a lot. And it might even encourage trainers who have clients with limited resources to take them to a rated show here and there because they would actually have a shot at a ribbon when competing against those who show as infrequently as they do. And that trainer could even show and not have to go up against a Liza Boyd or a Nick Haness just because they give beginner riding lessons.
Hit me in the comments. I’m sure this will be fruitful for discussion.
I got the news yesterday that Casey has officially moved to his new home in Montana! It was bittersweet for him to return to Montana, but I’m SO EXCITED for him and his new family.
Horsey Glamour Shots – with the saddle
My goal with every horse I “have” (technically Casey belonged to my Mom, but he was “mine” for a year) is for them to be a better horse that what I started with and therefore have value as a good riding horse. To my mind this is the best prevention from a bad situation. A kind, talented, well trained and rideable horse is far less likely to end up in an abusive home, at a kill-pen or just not cared for.
Horsey Glamour Shots – passenger side view
When Casey arrived in Texas he was very nicely trained, but still young and didn’t have a lot of hours outside an arena. He would inherently get more time outside from fox hunting, but I also wanted him to be a nice trail riding horse. He has an AMAZING brain. He’s generally unflappable and has that fabulous Quarter Horse smarts, so I had a great animal from the start. Mom also wanted me to work with his flying lead changes in case she wanted to try more reining or even western riding with him later. I am pleased to have accomplished all of these goals. We went on quite a few trail rides, which he took to very well. His lead changes aren’t quite automatic, but they are definitely there and just need some polish. I haven’t shown a finished western riding horse, so I don’t know if he has the talent for that event, but I do think he would make a nice reining horse with more training. He stops nicely, turns nicely and doesn’t have trouble doing lead changes. He looks at cattle so might even be able to do working cow horse!
Horsey Glamour Shots – driver side
About three quarters of the way through hunt season Mom made the decision that she wanted to sell Casey. We agreed that he had a better chance of going to a nice show home if he stayed in Texas so I marketed him here. Only by word of mouth until early August, then I posted a Dreamhorse ad. It is somewhat ironic that he sold to a family in Montana, but the best part is that he now belongs to a family I’ve known most of my life. Casey will get to do some ranch work, he will continue to do some showing and he will be loved by a little girl. There is a quote/meme you often see on social media about how every horse deserves to be loved by a little girl at least once in it’s life.
I completely agree and am THRILLED for Casey and his little girl!
I grew up riding western. I had a brief foray into rodeo events. I won my first belt buckle when I was 9 in pole bending at the Bill Pauley Memorial Rodeo. I won All Around for my age division at the same rodeo. I had a few nice, but safe, rodeo event horses before I was 12. Casey ran some barrels (not to be confused with the current Casey!). Chant Town was an OTTB or OTQH and he was a master of pole bending. Both horses were VERY old when I had them and went on to teach other kids the ropes in rodeo events.
My Dad was a cutter most of my life. I know he did some team roping and snaffle bit futurities, but all I remember him doing was cutting and helping friends and family move cattle whenever needed.
Dad cutting in Idaho on Athena Beau. Probably in the late 80’s or early 90’s.
As I got older my interest in rodeo waned and I got into showing Quarter Horses. I did mostly all around events including showmanship at halter, hunter under saddle, hunt seat equitation, western horsemanship, western pleasure and trail with a couple horses my parents had raised. When Jaguar was born he was first my 4-H project, but when we took him to a couple Quarter Horse shows when he was 2 some trainers made comments to my parents that he had the looks of a reiner. Dad was always ambivalent about the “horse show” events and more or less thought they were a waste of time. ESPECIALLY the English events. Therefore he was never particularly supportive of horse showing. Until I got bitten by the reining bug. Reining is an event that is derived from working cattle. You ride in figure eights going slow and fast, do sliding stops, and spins. Basically you are showing off how “broke” your horse is to do the maneuvers necessary to work cattle. The next step is working cow horse then cutting.
Jaguar becomes a reiner!
Jaguar was an awesome reining horse. He is extremely athletic and would stop SO hard. He could be frustrating in that he would stop hardest in bad ground (ground not good for sliding) and then not make much effort in really good ground. He could easily do 20 foot long slides. I showed him in reining from the time I was 15 until I was about 20. He developed a large bump on one of his knees that made spins in that direction uncomfortable. I also was finishing college so didn’t really have time to show. Dad let me go all over the western U.S. to show in reining events. I had a BLAST! The culmination was showing the AQHYA World Championship show. We didn’t do all that well, but it was really fun.
After college and into adulthood living in Texas all I really wanted to do was jump. I got Jaguar back when he was 13 and I was in my late 20’s. In my head he was ready to retire so he hung out in the pasture until I met the fox hunt and he entered his third career (his second was doing all around stuff with my Mom in Montana). All the horses I’ve bought myself have been English horses for jumping and/or fox hunting.
Last fall my Mom let me borrow her horse, Casey (again) to use for fox hunting since Jaguar is no longer sound for riding. He was the perfect fit for a fill in. He was a great sport and did everything I asked of him, but he just is not an English horse. I much prefer riding him western. Mom wants to sell him now so I am legging him up to make some western videos and market him to the western crowd. He is a super easy and fun ride.
My parents got me a custom made reining saddle made by Earl Twist when I was 17 and it is the most beautiful and comfortable saddle on the planet. Riding Casey brings back fantastic memories and then I find myself thinking I should get back into reining….. just what I need is another horse hobby! Especially after all the time, effort, energy and MONEY I’ve invested over the past 10 years to get into the hunter/jumper game. I’m sure Boot City would be ecstatic. Nonetheless, I’m definitely going to enjoy the time I have left with Casey and getting to dip my toes back into the western world for a little while.
Lovely day on Casey the QH.
My plan is to get back into reining later on in life when perhaps jumping isn’t safe or if I get burned out or I have the resources to do both. I didn’t keep a lot of my western tack other than my reining saddle and a handful of bridles. My parents had also gotten me a fancy show saddle made by Broken Horn in California that my Mom now uses to show her mare Foxy. It kind of entertains me because that saddle has a silver horn cap with my initials on it.
He looks so cute in his western duds! He still hasn’t fully shed out and it is HOT here so I keep his mane braided and off his neck.
I’m blessed to have and have had some really lovely horses!
Last Sunday was an eventful day for me, one with a LOT of happiness. I rode Coco for the first time and she was a dream! I also rode Sterling that morning, after a failed attempt at a trail ride the day before, and I rode Jaguar that evening. Since Sterling was now 100% a failed trail rider I would need to get Jaguar legged up for the remaining trail rides with my hunt friends for the summer. Riding an old horse cold turkey on long trail rides is not nice. They need many more rides to be fit enough to work on an ongoing basis. When I rode Jaguar something was off. He wasn’t lame, but there was a hitch in his gitalong that didn’t feel right. We only walked and trotted and I took him over a few low cavallettis, but I could feel something weird with his hind end movement. The right side had a bigger jerk to the movement and the left side was much softer. Had I been a betting person I would have guessed he was off on his right leg.
Fast forward to Tuesday. Sterling needed a shot so I thought I would have my vet look over Jaguar while he was there. I made an appointment for Tuesday afternoon when I was returning from a work trip. My thought was that Jaguar was going to start needing some kind of joint injections, a pain management regimen for arthritis, or something similar to one of those options. He’s no spring chicken being 23 years young. He definitely is showing his age more than he had a year or two ago, but he had a fantastic hunt season and I love riding him on trail rides because he’ll do most anything I ask of him. My vet called early in the afternoon that he was already near my house so I told him to just go ahead and stop over even though I wouldn’t be home. He’d call me when he was finishing up.
This phone call has affected me far more than I would have dreamed it would. There isn’t really a name for what is wrong with Jaguar’s left hind leg, but there is something decidedly wrong with it. My vet thought for sure I would be able to tell him of a very specific event in which Jaguar had injured his left hind gaskin a few years ago and it was just now showing the full symptoms of what age and injuries combined will do to an animal’s mobility. The thing is, Jaguar has never ever been lame. Ever. Never had a hoof abcess. Never a pulled shoe that caused an issue. And never an acute injury requiring him to come out of work at all. Until now. My vet has diagnosed Jaguar with an injury to his left hind gaskin where it meets his hamstring and his stifle that will most likely not respond to any type of treatment and will require him to be in full retirement. No more riding Jaguar.
Jaguar and I at the Summer Slide in Denver in July of 1998. Just before we showed at the AQHYA World Championships in Reining
We are going to try a bute regimen for a few days to see if that might cut the pain a little bit. It will be promising if it does, but my vet sounded pretty skeptical of it working. The reality of it is that I will probably never be able to ride Jaguar again. He will now get his 100% deserved retirement.
Showing in reining at the MetraPark in Billings, Montana sometime between 1996 and 1998
I always thought that I’d know when I had my last ride on Jaguar. There would be some episode. Some illness. Some tangible reason when I would know that this was it. Not some vague nondescript injury that really isn’t that bad, but bad enough that it can’t be fixed and he can’t be ridden. I’m grateful that he’s otherwise healthy and I still have him, but I’m absolutely heartbroken that our partnership under saddle is done. No more fox hunts. No more trail rides. No more torturing him while I post without irons. As much of a mess as I am about this news I can’t even imagine how bad I’ll be when he dies. Until then, I’m going to enjoy every second we have together. He’s going to embark on his retirement with a weight loss program and focus on being the best damn pasture ornament there ever was.
Riding at a family reunion with my youngest cousin (who is in college now, this photo makes me feel really old).