8 Things I Learned About the Hunter/Jumper A-Circuit

In Opinion

I recently completed the transition from oblivious non-horseperson to full-fledged horse show boyfriend by accompanying my girlfriend to numerous hunter/jumper shows up and down the east coast as she documented them for her blog. My snarky observations about what I saw had no place on her blog, so I started my own twitter account, @horseshowbf. This eventually spawned my book attempting to explain it all, also called Horse Show Boyfriend. Here are just a few things I learned on my crazy year on the hunter/jumper A-circuit.

1. Every horse is for sale

If there is one fact that an ordinary person can glean from show jumping, it is the high cost of competing. I devoted an entire chapter to breaking down the never ending nickel and diming (or more like $100 and $500-ing). One thing I began to realize is that while some horses are actively advertised as on the market, seemingly any horse can be had for the right price. The one caveat: its owner isn’t obscenely wealthy and has no reason to make money off selling horses. So when you ask “is this horse for sale,” it is usually the scenario of “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

2. Stay away from the red ribbon

At shows, some horses have red ribbons tied to the top of their tails. This is not a whimsical decoration but a dire warning, stating: do not approach my horse from behind unless you want to potentially suffer extreme bodily injury. When I first learned this, I thought it was a nifty signal until I wondered why all horses didn’t have them. Are all non-red-ribboned horses okay to stand behind? For me they sure aren’t.

3. Miniature horses are not ponies

A cousin of the more obvious “ponies are not baby horses,” I had the pleasure of interacting with a number of rescued miniature horses due to my friendship with the founders of The Peeps Foundation. Even knowledgeable riders would approach them and call them ponies, which feels about as correct as calling an Arabian a mustang. Minis are smaller than ponies and have more “horse-like” dimensions in compact bodies. I know pony is fun to say, but mini is just as enjoyable.

4. Scheduled ring times are fluid

If you are at a show with a detailed schedule for classes, don’t put too much faith in it. Time has a way of crawling by when you are watching someone show, and suddenly a wait for a class to be over with 3 left has turned in to an hour. Just use it as a guideline and try not to seethe too much at the people that take forever in the schooling ring. We aren’t at Spruce Meadows with its down-to-the-minute ring times, as much as we’d all like to be.

5. Orders of go matter

This mostly pertains to the jumper discipline because it was the only one I could really competitively follow without faking it. In bigger classes, like classics and Grand Prix events, the order of go not only determines when you go in the first round, but also inexplicably when you come back to compete in the jump off if you have a clear round. If you are later in the order, you have the added benefit of both seeing the course being ridden and knowing what you need to do to win in the jump off. If there is a two or three person jump off, this becomes an immense advantage, especially if none of the other riders have gone clear or posted a competitive round. The drawing of the order of go is very mysterious for how big a role it can play. I have no idea why they don’t just have the jump off order be determined by your time in the first round.

6. You need to know entry numbers for equitation and hunters

This is especially true if you are spectating someone. For reasons again inexplicable to me, very frequently when announcing winners of classes in the hunter or equitation divisions they only announce the entry number. So, if you don’t know your rider’s entry number (or your own), you will have no way to discern how they did. They could just announce the rider and horse with the entry numbers, but that would make way too much sense to take place in a hunter ring.

7. Equitation is king for juniors, and you need a BNT to win big

Again for reasons somewhat unclear to me, the main competition goals as a junior are in the equitation ring, instead of the jumper ring where the professionals compete. I would surmise it is due to the prestige of the four equitation finals and absence of something similar in other disciplines. Unfortunately, in order to beat the extremely long odds and win one of these events, you will almost certainly need a BNT in your corner—a Big Name Trainer. Specifically, the barns of Beacon Hill, Heritage, North Run and Don Stewart have won 50 of the last 52 equitation finals in the last 13 years. And, as you may have guessed, training with them is not cheap.

8. Everyone knows someone who rides horses

I was faced with this to a degree while traveling, but after writing the book almost every interaction I have with someone outside the horse world eventually turns to them telling me about someone in their life who rides horses. I would imagine this is like someone who wrote a book about soccer or rugby constantly told about an acquaintance who played football in high school. Which is to say, the chances of their friend riding on the A-circuit are infinitesimal. But, with the book I can now encourage that friend to learn more about this world, just as I am going to do to you right now. If you want to hear about many, many more things I discovered about show jumping in my travels, pick up a copy of my book, Horse Show Boyfriend. It’s on Amazon and I promise you will laugh just as much as you learn.

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