Sep 15, 2016

Before "Then"

By Maggie Dana

Night before show. Remind Mum about snacks. Tell Dad not to worry like he always does. Obsess over whether bits and stirrups are shiny enough after using all of Mum’s metal polish. Get knickers in a knot when you discover you’ve run out of saddle soap and have to use Neatsfoot oil on your saddle. Will stain your jods, for sure, but nothing to be done. No stores open after 5 o’clock and it’s now 9 p.m. Not that any of the local shops would carry saddle soap, anyway.

Lay out show clothes: cleanest shirt you can find, stain-free tie, buff jodhpurs with baggy thighs, brown paddock boots with buckles and straps (zippers are so much cooler). Sigh over tweed jacket and wish, yet again, you had a black or navy one like the rich kids did. Steam brown velvet hunt cap with kettle one more time. Set alarm for five o’clock.

Next morning: Surprise sleepy pony with grain and hay before dawn. Brush him like mad. Attempt checkerboard patterns on his rump that all fancy show ponies have. Give up. Pick out his feet, brush them with gucky stuff that gets all over your hands. Plait (braid) his mane and wish they didn’t look like the sausages you’d have eaten for breakfast if your stomach wasn’t already in a massive twist.

Check leather school satchel (1950s version of a knapsack). Load up with snacks (thanks, Mum), brushes (mine and his), show schedule, lead rope, and flashlight. It’s still dark. Race back into house, swap grubby togs for show clothes. Bang on parents’ door. “I’m off.”

Tack up more-or-less clean pony. Remember to put halter on top of bridle. Set off—alone. It’s a seven-mile hack to the show, but at least it’s not raining. Not too much traffic, thank goodness. Negotiate center of town. Bus drivers toot their horns and wave. Risk a brief canter on the A-40’s median strip with cars zooming past on both sides.

Eight-thirty. Show grounds ahead. Find secretary’s tent, get number, and meet up with best friend. She’s hacked in from the other direction. Compare snacks, then swap. Her pony eats my orange. Glare at riders with horse trailers, grooms, and spindly-legged ponies that look like miniature Thoroughbreds.

First class: Best Rider. We lose. Then comes Best Show Pony. Lose that one as well. Trot into ring for Best Turned Out Rider and Tack . . . and win it! Good grief. That Neatsfoot oil is amazing. Happily ignore stony looks of show pony riders and their grooms. Parents show up with lunch. Watch jumping, then mount up for gymkhana events (had no idea at this point that I’d end up in the States where gymkhana isn’t part of all horse shows).

Best friend places second in (pole) bending; we manage third in apple bobbing race. Not a bad haul. Red (first in England) and yellow ribbons. Pack up and head home. Another seven-mile trek. Dad worries, of course.

Ten o’clock that night. Light wavers in the distance. Dad is out there, worrying, in the middle of the road. Assure Dad you are okay. Untack pony and brush him off; feed hay and grain. Kiss wonderful pony, then stagger into house and remember you’ve forgotten to do your homework.

* * *

Maggie Dana was a British teenage Pony Clubber, circa mid-1950s. She's the author of the Timber Ridge Riders series for young readers who love horses.

Aug 31, 2016

Reasons We're Not Ready for Finals

by Kim Ablon Whitney

Yes, she has enough points!  She's all qualified and the horse is going well.  Summer's over and it's Finals time.  We're all so excited!

Wait, we are?

There are a few reasons for both riders and parents to dread Finals...

 1. The pressure.  It all comes down to this.  A year of training and showing, of developing as a rider, and all that matters is a few scant minutes in the ring.  It's not just yourself that you're riding for--there's all the time and effort your trainer and parents have invested in you.

2. The disappointment.  If it doesn't go the way you wanted, all that hard work feels like it's for nothing.  Only 10 people get ribbons.  And even some of those ribbon-winners will feel they fell short of their expectations.

3. The stress.  Break out the Tums and Pepcid AC.  Get ready for a few months of nail-biting, stomach-churning anxiety.  Try to act composed and relaxed when your insides are dying.

4.  The inflated prices.  If you thought your bills were high the rest of the year, buckle your seatbelt for September through November.  Extra lessons, extra pro rides, extra injections, extra everything.

5. The exhaustion. Endless travel, long car rides, late flights, early mornings, lack of sleep, missed school and work days, make-up assignments. Need we go on?

6. Going back to zero.  Ready to do it all over again?  Ready to count points and figure out just how you can get to that last level 2 Talent Search class without pounding your horse into the ground?  Those few weeks of "all qualified" were pretty nice.

7. It's the last time.  For those in their last junior year, it's over.  Yes, those junior years were intense, emotionally and financially draining, and downright crazy but they were also the most wonderful years of your life and you'll never do anything quite like it again.  For parents, you'll never again spend so much quality time with your child doing something she loves.

Kim Ablon Whitney's latest novel in the Show Circuit Series is Hunter Derby. Sign up for her mailing list to stay up to date on the series.

Aug 24, 2016

Top Things To Love About The Charleston Summer Classic!

By Maggie Junkin

The Charleston Summer Classic Horse Show runs over a two-week period in July. It’s held on Johns Island, South Carolina and is managed by Bob Bell of the Classic Company.  In typical Classic Company fashion it is a well run, exhibitor friendly horse show. 

It’s one of my all time favorites, but what makes this horse show different than others? It’s the horse show my entire family doesn’t want to miss. Here are the top reasons my family loves that The Charleston Summer Classic is on my summer show schedule.

 1. It’s a Showcation!
Management coined the term “Showcation” and for good reason. They run the show efficiently. The rings start promptly first thing in the morning and they keep things moving quickly. As competitors, we're able to horse show and move on by midday.
Pastel Adirondack chairs welcome spectators to the VIP tent.

2. Charleston
Just named the #1 city in the world by the readers of Travel and Leisure. Explore all that this southern city has to offer: fine dining, upscale shopping, rich cultural history, and pastel beauty.

 3. Beach House Rentals and First class Hotels
Most families rent homes or villas on nearby Kiawah or Seabrook Island. Both Islands offer plenty of quality rental properties close to beaches and pools. Kiawah offers several boutique hotels as well. Seabrook is our family’s favorite, but Kiawah certainly has its fan base as it was just voted the #2 Island in the Continental U.S. by the readers of Travel and Leisure.

Villas on Seabrook Island offer relaxation and down time.

4. Restaurants
Charleston and Johns Island offer some the finest dining experiences in the country. You could spend a month here and not hit them all.

Slightly North of Broad~ Nothing snobby about SNOB. Southern hospitality and great food!

 5. Fort Sumter
Take the ferry on a scenic cruise across the Charleston Harbor for a visit to the Fort Sumter National Monument. Tour the Fort and museum to learn more about that day--April 12th, 1861 when the Confederates fired the first shots of the Civil War.

6. Mullet Hall Equestrian Center
Offers an exhibitor friendly and spacious venue. There is plenty of parking. The stabling areas are well constructed and comfortable for our horses. There are camping hook-ups and 40 acres of grass fields. 

My favorite part of the show grounds is the trail system.  After an early morning schooling session I love to cool out my horse on a trail ride. Miles of trails are available to explore by horseback or on foot. Pass under the Live Oak trees draped in Spanish moss and enjoy the special beauty of the South.

7. Beachy Barn Setups

Tustin Farm setup

8. Charleston City Market
Spend some time scoping out the vendor stalls in the Charleston City Market.  From regional trinkets, to jewelry, to pottery, you can find a souvenir to take home.  Make sure to look for the sweetgrass baskets made by local artists. This is a unique craft passed down by generations.

9. King Street and Touring the College of Charleston
Cruise King Street by foot if fashion is your thing. Meander the boutiques and shop your favorite designers. While on King Street don’t miss a quick tour of the College of Charleston campus. With its beautiful city gardens, fountains and pastel colored buildings it’s not to be missed.

10. Bohicket Marina
A great place to go for a sunset dinner, the marina offers several restaurants to choose from.

11. The South Carolina Aquarium
This aquarium is a must do if you have younger equestrians. It’s easy to do in an hour or two.

Maggie Junkin with brother, Daniel, and family friend, Harrison.

12. The Angel Oak Park
The Angel Oak Tree is thought to be the oldest living tree in the U.S. The Angel Oak Park is free to visit and is located on Johns Island a short drive from the horse show grounds.

Photo by Maggie Junkin.

13. Fresh Fields Village
Shop, grab a bite to eat, or relax in this outdoor village located between Kiawah and Seabrook Island.

 Maggie getting ready to browse the Tommy Bahama store in honor of her horse “Tommy Bahama.”
14. Beaches
Enjoy private beaches if you are staying on Kiawah or Seabrook Islands.  Folly Beach and Isle of Palms offer public beaches, parking, shops and restaurants.

Seabrook Island beach 

15. The Hunter Derby Night
Spend a fun night with friends and family in the VIP tent watching the Derby.

16. Charleston Carriage Rides
Tour the historical city of Charleston by carriage ride.

17. Recreation
Both Kiawah and Seabrook offer tennis, golf, biking, kayaking, fishing and sailing. The Seabrook Equestrian Center even offers horseback riding on the beach. This is on my  “must do” list next summer! 

Maggie Junkin is a 13 year-old hunter rider.  After showing in the ponies, she has moved on to horses recently and is showing in the Children’s Hunter Horse Division on her horse, Tommy Bahama. She is committed to animal rescue. Her favorite rescue to support is Danny and Ron’s Rescue. Maggie trains with John Mastriano of Tustin Farm in NJ. She lives with her family, 5 dogs, and 3 cats in Jenkintown, Pa.

Maggie with Tommy Bahama. Photo by Alison Hartwell.

Aug 4, 2016

Legendary Show Names Need To Be Retired

By Kim Ablon Whitney

Walk into any sports stadium and you'll see them.  Retired numbers, hung up in the rafters or on the fences.  Retiring those numbers honors the greats of that particular sport.  No player on the Chicago Bulls will ever wear the number 23.  No player for the 49ers will ever wear number 16.  No player for the Boston Red Sox will ever wear number 9.

Michael Jordan's number hangs in the rafters in Chicago.

In our sport we have the same legendary riders and horses.  Of course riders don't have numbers that they keep from show to show, nor do horses.

But horses do have show names.

Some show names are unusual and unlikely to be reused.  Take Rox Dene or Isgilde for example.

But others are more common, and pop up in current day, their owners likely unaware they've christened their mount with such a meaningful moniker.  I'll be judging the children's and in walks a horse that's announced as Master Dan or Cap and Gown.  I've gulped when listening to the announcer say, "Now on course, Touch of Class."

Touch of Class, photo courtesy of Phelps Sports.

That's where the USEF could step in and retire certain names.  Only the best of the best--the horses inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame or the Show Hunter Hall of Fame.

At the very least there could be a web page with a list of the most famous horses and ponies for people to refer to so they don't make the same mistake.

Certain shows could even have names "retired" on their walls--shows where that horse won year after year.  The Idle Dice Open Stake at Devon has this idea in mind.

Why should we not truly honor the greats of our sport?

Kim Ablon Whitney's is an 'R' judge in hunters, equitation, and jumpers.  Her latest novel is Hunter Derby.

Jul 25, 2016

Emptying Out the Mind of a Judge

By Kim Ablon Whitney

It's mid-summer with many shows already in the rear view mirror.  Here are some random thoughts from my judging adventures.

1. Too many horses look sour, going with their ears back.  I keep finding myself writing "ears" on my card.  When pinning several hack classes recently the best mover's ears were solidly pinned back... but so were the horses I had in second and third, leaving me without much choice.  Too many horses are rubbing (sometimes clonking) the jumps too.

2. Speaking of hacks, a little frame is a good thing, but this is not dressage or an equitation class, people!  I want to see your horse carry himself on his own with a nice light rein.

3. Coming into the ring, picking up the wrong lead, and coming back to the trot to change leads counts in the hunters (and equitation).  Everything you do from the moment you enter the ring to the moment you leave the ring counts.  The in-gate is the timers of the hunter ring.  

Why do people seem to think everything you do on your opening and closing circle doesn't really count?  Breaking stride to change leads before the first jump or after the last jump is the same as doing it in the middle of a course and shall be treated as such, at least when I'm judging, with the exception of baby green or beginner classes.

4. The most important person at every show might just be the in-gate person.  He/she is much more important than the judge!  The success of an exhibitor's and judge's day is due in major part to the in-gate crew.  They should be treated like royalty.

5. If a study was done I think a direct correlation would be found between going within the first ten trips in a class and getting a top ribbon.  This is because the barns that are organized and regimented in getting to the ring are also the barns that are regimented and organized in their training, no matter how big their barn is.

6. When you fall off, if you're not hurt, do you:

a) Roll up your stirrups, take the reins over your horse's head, and lead your horse out of the ring?


b) Leave your stirrups dangling, leave the reins over your horse's head, and wait for your groom to come help you walk him out of the ring?

Sadly, I see a lot of b.

7. Some horses have amazing, floating trots but then they canter and it's not pretty.  The canter is what gets you to the jumps and one drawback of warmbloods is that their canters can be very different from their trots.  You might be winning the hack at the trot, only to plummet to third or fourth after the canter.

8. Moving kids down in the conformation is perhaps harder on the judge than the kid.  When I do it, I feel like I'm committing a crime.

9. I know you have to wait for your trainer to school you, but can you learn the course yourself?  That might speed things up a little!

Well, that's it for now!  Hope everyone has a great rest of the summer season!

Kim Ablon Whitney is a 'R' judge in hunters, equitation, and jumpers.

Jun 27, 2016

A Day in the Life of a Judge: The One-Day

5:45am -- Alarm goes off.  Not too bad for a show day.  Try not to wake the kids as I get dressed, make a cup of tea in a to-go mug, and throw my big duffel bag with everything in it from sunscreen to hand warmers to galoshes into the car, along with four different jackets.   You never know what to expect.  Rule #1 of Judging: Be prepared for any kind of weather.

7:20am -- Stop at Starbucks.  Buy breakfast and a smattering of snacks for the day.  Rule #2 of Judging: Always bring food!

7:40am -- Arrive at show.  Check in at show office.  Say hi to USEF steward and catch up with other judges.  Get clipboard and walkie-talkie.  Judging the jumper and eq ring.  Drive car out to the ring--going to judge from my car because of cold and predicted rain.  Note location of nearest porta-potti.  Rule #3 of Judging: Always know where your bathroom is.

7:50am -- Set up card, learn course for first class, get stop watch ready.  Make sure walkie-talkie is working and I'm on the right channel.  Course designer comes to say hello and check in.  Also say hi to in-gate crew.

8:00am -- First horse on course.  Love it when a show starts on time!

9:00am -- Quick bathroom break between puddle and training jumpers.

10:10am -- Ring on hold.  Read People Magazine while waiting for last of children's jumpers.  Rule #4 of Judging: Always bring reading material!

10:30am -- Ring drag and course change before eq starts.  Go to the bathroom even though I don't have to go.  Rule #5 of Judging: Always take an opportunity to go to the bathroom.

12:10pm -- Rain starts in earnest.  Very glad I'm not riding!  Opening MHJ and MHC Medals to speed up the day.  MHC Mini Medal is going at the same time in the other ring so make sure not to grab those numbers by mistake when announced over the radio.

Glad I'm in here and not out there!

12:30pm -- Lunch arrives.  Yum!  It cracks me up when my non-horse friends ask if I get a lunch break when I judge.  No, I just eat fast!

1:10pm-- USHJA Jumping Seat Medal, M&S Jr/Am horsemanship and M&S Junior Medals don't fill.  On to the Washington.  Need to pee but now going to wait till after the Washington.

1:22pm -- Really have to pee now.  Ring empty but if I make a run for it the horse schooling will undoubtably rush up to the in-gate.  Make up my test for the Medal.

2:10pm -- Somehow the Medal started right away and I didn't get a chance to go to the bathroom.  Now it's really urgent.  Hold it and judge.

3:05pm -- Pin the Medal and rush to the bathroom.  Relief!  Settle in for the Maclay.

4:20pm -- Show's over.  Early day!  Empty car of discarded wrappers and napkins.  Bring clipboard and last remaining cards up to the office.  Climb in the car to head home!

Kim Ablon Whitney is an 'R' judge in hunters, equitation, and jumpers.