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 am an incredibly fortunate equestrienne. I have two very lovely horses to ride (as well as a superb retiree and a couple ponies). I get to keep these creatures at home in the lovely barn we built for them and on grassy pastures on a few acres that are incredibly close to the downtown of one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. Yet I find myself constantly “shoulding”. What do I mean by “shoulding”? I should ride more. I should show more. I should go to more clinics. I should put on more fly spray. I should body clip. I should, I should, I should, I should. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with shoulding and just don’t. At all.
Jaguar enjoying some winter sunshine. His days of my shoulding are mostly behind him, other than the occasional questioning of some kind of geriatric horse maintenance.
Having a full-time job. Taking care of dogs/horses/cats/goats/chickens/ponies/donkey. Keeping up a small acreage. Curating relationships with friends and family. It all takes resources, all of which are finite. The biggest one being time. The second biggest one being cash. And those two things drive a lot of what shoulds happen and which ones don’t. The part that I struggle with the most with my shoulding is the why.
I’ve lived far too much of my life doing things because (I thought) other people thought that I should. Buying clothes I didn’t really like because someone else said they were cute. Overextending myself socially because I didn’t want to say no and hurt someone’s feelings. Going on trips that may have not been in the best interest of our budget because I didn’t want to miss out on anything. It’s only taken about 4 decades, but my self-awareness is finally maturing.
One of my biggest “should” struggles in a photo.
My greatest should struggle right now is Coco. What should I do with Coco?! ??????? !!!!!!!!!!!! She’s nine this year. I’ve had her at home for 8.5 of those nine years. If you had asked me when Coco was four what I thought she’d be doing when she was nine, I’d have told you showing in the Adult or Amateur/Owner hunters. The reality is that she’s only been to a couple rated horse shows and I’ve still never jumped a 3′ course of jumps on any horse, much less her. There are myriad reasons why we aren’t further along, but I find myself questioning my path forward with this horse ALL THE TIME.
My greatest mistake with Coco 5 years ago was not putting her in more precarious situations sooner. I should have taken her on trail rides, gone to more local shows, and just gotten her out and about. She is the “fanciest” horse I’ve ever had so I was nervous about “ruining” her, which is dumb. I’m a good rider and I don’t ask my horses to do stupid things. I was never going to ruin her by riding her like I rode all the baby horses that came before her, all of which have gone on to wonderful careers under saddle in various jobs. I’m getting her out and about now and it’s going really well. Her first few trail rides were comical (she was NOT getting her pretty hooves WET, OMG. But she will cross water just fine now) but she’s gained a ton of confidence.
I should show her at rated shows, but I just don’t feel it yet. My two primary resource challenges make me question biting the bullet and entering a show every time I get serious about doing an entry. I want her to foxhunt and hopefully will get her out this fall with hounds to see what she thinks. But there is always a little voice in my head that tells me I’m wasting a really nice horse so I should sell her to someone who will tap that potential. My dream of all dreams would be for her to be equally good at showing AND fox hunting. Serious shoulding going on here.
This horse has pretty much found his calling in the hunt field. And he loves him a photographer to cheese for!
Simon is a much easier should. His shoulds are more about body clipping (ugh). Fly sheets. Pulling his mane. And other banal shoulds that won’t remarkably change his future, just his day-to-day existence. Sometimes I think I should show him, but it would also be dumb to show him when I SHOULD be showing Coco. This past hunt season went really well for Simon. He was fit. He stayed sound. He got better and better all season. It’s easy to forget that he’s only 7 and (hopefully) has many years ahead of him to hunt and trail ride and maybe even go to some horse shows. I don’t feel the pressure that I should be doing anything different with Simon, and that makes him more fun for me to ride. Which is dumb.
At the end of the day, all a horse wants to do is eat grass and be safe. They don’t care about their potential. They don’t care if they win or lose. They don’t care if they have a show record or not. They don’t care how big are the jumps. They don’t care about any of it, unless they are hungry or scared.
I continue to struggle with my shoulding, but am getting better at prioritising things for myself, my family and my animals. No one can make these choices for me and at the end of the day, no one other than Boot City really cares in the long run. I regularly remind myself of this when I start shoulding and it helps me make better choices.
Even before Coronapocolypse came into the picture in early 2020 I didn’t have big plans to do much horse showing. The trainer I’ve shown with the past few years had moved away from Texas and I was really focused on my new fun fox hunting friends and trips. I was hoping to go to Belle Meade’s hunt week in February, but life and responsibility got in the way. However, the planning made me stop and think that I really ought to get more experience and coaching to prepare for jumping some bigger jumps. The highest I’ve jumped at shows is 2’6″ and in schooling is 3′ and only a handful of times. Most of the jumps in hunt fields range from 2’9″ up to 4′ at the more ambitious hunts. The coops Simon jumped at Burwell in October were more like 2’9″ to 3′. To that end I started researching hunter/jumper barns in my area and decided to take a few lessons at a barn called Bay Yard Farm.
I was attracted to Bay Yard for a few reasons. I knew a few people who rode there and seemed very happy with the program. Fellow blogger Kelly of Hunky Hanoverian has ridden at Bay Yard for the past few years and had blogged about her great experiences there. Most of Bay Yard’s clients are adults or mature junior riders and after riding at a more pony/kid focused barn I was definitely looking for a barn with riders I have more in common. They go to a few A shows every year and sometimes add in a local show here and there. Lastly, they do haul in lessons and and have a focus on hunters with a dollop of jumpers which suits my 2020 goals and my foxhunting hobby.
My first few lessons were delightful! It isn’t terribly unusual to start at a new barn and feel pressure from trainers to get a new horse, go to a bunch of horse shows, or do other things that can be perceived as high pressure. I have ridden with two of the four trainers at Bay Yard and both have been nothing but supportive and complimentary of my horses and riding goals.
At the end of July trainer JB texted and asked if I would be interested in going to a schooling show nearby. With no hesitation I responded “Yes!”. I was hoping to take Coco and started making plans to be sure she and I would be prepped and ready to show in mid-August. Coco then promptly whacked her leg on something and subsequently got a “no jumping for 2 weeks” order from the vet exactly 2 weeks before the show. Horses! Her 2 weeks would expire on Friday before the show that was on Sunday. I opted to continue to ride her on the flat with hopes she would be healthy and sound to show, but knowing that I may need to take Simon if she weren’t ready.
Photo from a fabulous BYF Junior rider/photographer. Coco is not very affectionate. LOL!
Thankfully she was sound and prepared in time to horse show! We entered the 2’3″ Junior/Amateur division mostly because it was the first division to go in the morning, but partially because it didn’t seem fair to ask her to jump bigger jumps after a few weeks off jumping and a couple of minor injuries.
To say that Coco was a good girl is an egregious understatement. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous how she would act. In the past she has been either a bit hot or very agitated at horse shows. She will seem calm and accepting of the situation only to blow up and express her disdain by misbehaving. She’s never been naughty or dangerous, but I’ve never felt relaxed with her at shows. This was completely different. We had hacked around the show grounds the day before and she had been a bit fractious, but on show day she was aware of surroundings yet amenable to do what I asked of her.
Scope has never been a problem for Coco. These jumps were quite small so she didn’t have the loveliest form.
We did two hunter trips and an equitation course and she answered every question I asked perfectly. She was a bit crooked in the lines and she has a bad habit of veering to the right, but she happily jumps the jumps and mostly gets her lead changes (especially when her rider asks for them correctly).
Here is a video of our second hunter trip. Pardon the ridiculously long trot around the ring before we actually start the course. She was a bit looky after the first hunter trip so I wanted to just trot around the ring calmly before we jumped again. And I couldn’t figure out how to mute the talking from the video so inserted some ridiculous YouTube music instead. Feel free to mute your computer now. Haha!
She is calm, keeps a consistent canter, gets her distances and looks like a lovely hunter. I couldn’t be more thrilled with our progress. The regular lessons have made a world of difference and I can feel that my riding has made drastic improvements. This is the first time in my life that I’ve been getting regular lessons and it’s helping so much! We got second place in the second hunter and we won the hack to end up as Reserve Champions in our division!
Happy girl over the tiny jump.
I’m hoping we can make it to at least one or two more schooling shows this year. If a rated show works out I might go to one of them since Bay Yard goes to those shows more frequently, but it’ll depend on my fox hunting trips. I’m going to start getting Simon fit for Burwell so will be taking him to more of my lessons and (hopefully) getting some practice over bigger fences. Learning and getting better is so much fun!
A very exciting thing happened this week. Sterling went out on lease with the world’s most delightful teenager! I’ve known for at least a year that I 1. need to start showing Coco 2. don’t have the funds or the time to show two horses 3. would prefer to find Sterling a job with someone else at least until I know where things stand with Coco’s future as a hunter. My trainer and I have been talking about it for a year and she finally found the PERFECT situation for my favorite unicorn with one of her clients.
His new rider is a teenager who has been showing hunters since she could barely walk, so is clearly a more skilled rider over fences than me. I think she will be WONDERFUL for Sterling. He has taken me so far with my learning and been an absolute saint to put up with all my mistakes without ever give me the middle finger. His new kid will hopefully be able to take him even further and over bigger jumps because she’s less likely to cram him up to the jumps and make him look like a frog, which I’m really good at doing.
Here is a clip from her lesson (and first time riding him) yesterday. They are an adorable pair!
I’ll keep everyone posted on their progress and will shamelessly post pics and videos when they start showing!
February in Texas means time for the Winter Series horse shows in Katy at the Great Southwest Equestrian Center. It is a series of four weeks in a row of hunter/jumper horse shows and for some reason is one of my favorite shows of the year. Possibly because it reminds me of showing at the NILE when I was a kid and probably because I tend to enjoy the precarious weather that February brings to Texas.
The series started the first week of February and had four separate shows going until the last weekend of February. In the interest of not abandoning Boot City for multiple weekends in a row we opted to go to the first and last weekends. I drove down and hauled horses with my horsey bestie the first weekend and she picked us up to go down the last weekend. It is way funner to get to go with your best friend on a four hour drive through a really boring part of Texas.
My name is Sterling and I hate baths. Why a horse who was born to turn white has to dislike baths so much is beyond me. He’s gotten better, but he still thinks you are torturing him.
I have been taking lessons at a local jumper barn and was REALLY feeling READY for this horse show. I’ve gotten much better at seeing distances to the jumps and feeling like I’m actually riding rather than passengering. Well, the first weekend of showing didn’t really prove to be my best riding. We are still showing over 2’6″ fences so my mistakes aren’t hugely cumbersome to Sterling, but man they are frustrating for me. The first weekend of the show was smaller so there were only 10-12 in my division and we placed in all our classes so I’m happy about that aspect of the first weekend of showing. I am still not doing a very good job of controlling the consistency of Sterling’s canter around the course which caused a few chips (getting really close to the jump which is then HARD for the horse to get over safely) and a couple of very L O N G spots.
I went home and watched a bunch of videos from trainers teaching how to practice to find distances and set up some small cross rail and cavalletti jumps to practice. The weather wasn’t very cooperative towards the end of the month so we didn’t get as much practice as I would have liked, but thankfully I have two other horses I can ride to do the exercises multiple times in one day. Plus Simon and Coco benefit a lot from going over cavalletti. I went into Week IV feeling a bit better about my skillz. Now if I could just keep my brain tuned to the right channel while showing I would be in good shape!
We got to the show a day earlier for Week IV than we had for Week I because horsey bestie was showing on Friday. It was nice to be there and get to settle in before showing. Sterling gets a bit nervous so I felt like the extra day allowed him to settle in more. Plus it was WAY warmer in Katy than in Azle during the two day iceapolooza storm we had. Sorry Boot City for leaving you to blanket-unblanket-blanket-repeat three horses while I basked in the 75 degree temps with my one horse.
Our first schooling ride over fences was fabulous. He was relaxed. I (mostly) made good decisions. We got to school in our show ring without a ton of other horses to distract us. I finally felt good about showing. Hopefully I could keep it together for another 48’ish hours.
Nap time for the Unicorn. He doesn’t lay down often, but I think it is so cute when he does. I imagine this is how parents of real children must feel times 100.
The second weekend of showing definitely went better than the first weekend. It wasn’t perfect, but it was much better. Not once did we come out of the ring and trainer ask if I was trying to kill my horse! We had one bad chip the whole weekend. A few close spots and a couple long spots and for some reason I still let him zoom around the ends of the ring. There were nearly 20 in our division and we placed in 3 of 4 trips over fences so I was very happy with those results! We were in very good company (read, competing against horses WAY fancier) and didn’t make fools of ourselves. Plus I had SO much fun. Like SSSOOOO much fun! I love my barn family, my horsey bestie and pretty much everyone I get to hang out with at horse shows. And, of course, I adore my horse. Never would anyone have thought that the ugly steel grey yearling would turn into such a wonderful show pony!
Maybe one of my most favorite horse show pics to date. He just looks SO cute!
This past weekend my grey unicorn and I were back in the show ring and it was a GOOD weekend! The Winter Frost Fire show was held at The Great Southwest Equestrian Center in Katy, Texas. This was the first year to hold a show at this venue on this particular weekend. I loved that it was so close to Christmas, but since it was the first year for the show and amidst the holidays it was not a huge show. I don’t love crowds and have yet to attend one of the really big Texas shows so this suited me just fine.
Sterling is still dutifully toting me around as I try to figure out how to properly ride him around a course of 2’6″ jumps and by golly this weekend I made it happen more often than not for the first time ever! I intend for this blog to be interesting to read for my friends and family who don’t ride so I’m not going to go into great detail, but rather give a fun overview of the weekend.
Sterling in his festive braids waiting for his turn in the ring.
Since it was a small show I also took this weekend as an opportunity to practice my mane braiding skills. Most ‘A’ show riders hire professional braiders to braid their horse’s mane so that it looks perfect. When I showed Quarter Horses as a kid this wasn’t an option so I always banded my own horse’s mane (this is done for western stock horse events) and when I got the chance I would braid my English horses. I am a self taught braider so my technique was rather rough and inconsistent. My horsey bestie is a fabulous braider and we have practiced together a few times and she gave me pointers so I was able to braid Sterling myself for this show and it wasn’t embarrassing! She put the pom pom in his forelock and a snowflake charm on one of his mane braids, but I did the rest.
My perfect unicorn!
I showed in the Modified Adult Division at this show over fences that are 2’6″. My goal going into the weekend was to keep a consistent canter around the entire course and NOT try to find any distances myself, just leave it to Sterling. I’m so proud to say that I stuck to it about 90% of the time around all 6 jumping courses. There were a few times when I had a brain freeze and threw him away right at an oxer or thought I saw a distance and made him get close to a fence, but they were few and far between. We came home with TWO blue ribbons over fences! I’m riding much more consistently and I think I’m starting to actually be able to feel the proper ride. This has been the hardest part of learning to jump for me is learning the feel. Everything else has come to me so naturally when I ride, it can be maddening that I think I’m doing something right when in reality I’m doing something very wrong.
Sterling has been a saint through my learning process. Not many green horses would put up with the mistakes that I have made over the years as Sterling and I have learned this whole jumping gig together. Thankfully he LOVES his job and while he can be a goofball on the ground, he is nearly always the same horse under saddle. He LOVES to jump and he LOVES to horse show. I am by no means a proficient rider over fences, but I do think I’ve reached a turning point and can finally start working on more of the polished nuances of riding a course rather than just trying to get around without embarrassing myself, my horse and my trainer.
Posing in front of the award winning Christmas stall decorations of JNL Stables.
I even kept it together and had as good of a second day showing as I did first day. I made a mistake in the walk to canter transition in the flat class that probably cost us the blue ribbon, but even that was better than the last show. All in all we won two blue ribbons over fences, three second place ribbons and one third place ribbon in addition to our second place in the flat class. I’m SO happy with this show being our conclusion to the 2017 show year! Hopefully we will be able to move up to the Adult Amateur division in 2018.
The final night of the horse show was a $10,000 1.35 jumper class with a leadline division between the first jumper round and the jump-off. What in the world could be cuter than a little girl on her gray pony with all kinds of Christmas bling AND Santa?
After Sterling’s abominable behaviour on the recent trail ride attempt, I had to make it up to him and brag on him a bit. Just a few short days after the trail riding debacle we made our way to Waco, Texas for the Blue Ribbon Summer Festival I. I was a bit concerned that I had fried his brain by attempting to go on a trail ride, but Sterling proved pretty quickly that horse show horse he truly wants to be and is where he has the most success.
I’m not going to dissect each trip, mostly because it has been a few weeks since the show and they have all run together in my head, but I did want to mention the highlights. I don’t have a photo of Sterling with his ribbon, but I’m absolutely delighted to share that we won our first ever blue ribbon over fences at a rated USEF show! We won the Modified Child/Adult over fences trip on Thursday with a very respectable 16 entries! We also got third in our Limit over fences class and third in the Limit under saddle class, both with about 16 or 17 entries. I’m finally learning to stay out of Sterling’s face going up to jumps and not getting ahead of his momentum with my body by leaning forward. By riding more correctly we are getting much better spots to the fences so his form is more elegant and true to the hunter type. We (I) still have a lot of progress to make in keeping a consistent canter rhythm, but progress is pretty exciting, especially when rewarded with blue ribbons!
Our photo op from my sister-in-law on our blue ribbon day at the Summer Festival I in Waco
The second day my rounds in the Limit division over fences trips left a bit to be desired. A consistently inconsistent canter stride separated the men from the boys in the placings. I got a seventh in one group and no placing in the other. We made up for it, though, in the 2’6″ Hunter Classic. The course is a tiny bit longer in a Classic than in a regular round over fences and there are potentially two trips. Everyone goes around once and the top 12 scores are invited back for another round and the combined overall high score wins. Our first trip was arguably the absolute best trip we have ever had over fences and was rewarded with a very respectable score of 78 out of a possible 100. We were in the lead until the very last rider went and scored an 81, but we still had the second round to go. Our second round had a few bobbles and I never did hear our score, but we ended up 4th overall out of 20 or so entries! And we won money! I’m SO proud of Sterling and I can’t brag on him enough. The ring at Waco is known to be rather spooky and he went around nearly like he was at home.
Fourth place in the 2’6″ Hunter Classic!
The icing on the cake for this horse show was that we had a pretty significant cheering section, which we have never had before! Many of Boot City’s family live in or near Waco and some even drove up from Austin to watch. It was extra fun to have them at the show and for us to do well with an audience.