Apr 5, 2017

Gronk the Horse Lives Up To His Namesake

By Kim Ablon Whitney

When Deirdre Catani was thinking of what to name her new horse, she wanted something that started with a G. "His passport name started with a G so I wanted to stick with that," she explains.

Emil Spadone had imported the four year-old gelding from Europe and Catani's father, Carl, bought half of the horse from Spadone with the plan of Deirdre competing him. 

Given that she is a huge Patriots fan, Deirdre decided to name him after one of her favorite players, Rob Gronkowski. She went with Gronkowski's nickname, Gronk, and added the number 87 on the end, which is the real Gronk's jersey number.

Gronk poses with the Patriots Super Bowl banner.

Gronk 87 has turned out to be as solid an athlete as his namesake, picking up lots of top prizes for Deirdre. They excelled in the pre-greens last year and now are finding success in the green conformation and the 3'3" derbies.

Gronk showing off his style. Photo by Shawn McMillen

"He's super athletic and just a really good horse like Rob is a really good player," she says.

The other thing Rob Gronkowski is known for is his super-sized personality. The more she's gotten to know the horse, Gronk, Deirdre feels the name fits him. "He's kind of a goofball. He has a fun personality like Gronk," she says.

Both Gronks like to goof around!

Not everyone at the horse shows is a football fan and it's mostly the dads that Deirdre says approach her to discuss his name. When they aren't Patriots' fans, she's libel to catch some grief. God forbid she encounters a Falcons' fan!

Deirdre has yet to figure out a way to let the real Gronkowski know he has a horse named after him but she thinks he might appreciate it. One of Deirdre's Instagram photos of Gronk the horse was reposted by the Patriots, however, so maybe the real Gronk does know about his namesake.

For her next horse, Deirdre already has another Patriots-themed name picked out. This one involves Tom Brady but might have some interesting symbols in it that maybe only football fans will understand!

Mar 27, 2017

10 Things You Recognize if You Showed In the 80s & 90s

by Kim Ablon Whitney

1. Boot Pulls & Boot Jacks

2. Fringe Chaps

3. Needlepoint belts

4. Monogrammed Collars

5. New Zealand Rugs

6. Bright colored Polos

7. Flat Saddles

8. Barbor Jackets

9. Mud Tails

10. Silver Trophies

Kim Ablon Whitney is the author of The Show Circuit Series

Mar 1, 2017

Judges Are Human Too

By Kim Ablon Whitney

We try so hard to get it right. You don't even know how hard we try.  And most of the time we do. But every now and then, even judges, make mistakes.

What kind, you ask? Here are the top ten.

1. We get a number wrong. After class upon class, sometimes 379 morphs in our mind into 397. Or we pick up a number from another ring over the walky-talky or P.A.

2. We make up a stupid test. Somehow it looked good on paper but when it came time for the kids in the medal to ride it, that turn was just a little too tight.

3. We miss the horse's opening circle. We were making sure our card was in order and didn't see one coming in the gate. All we can do is assume nothing major went wrong.

4. We miss someone going off course. When you're holding four cards with four different courses, sometimes it's hard to remember which course is which. Thank goodness the in-gate person has your back and points out that the girl on course jumped the second pre-green course instead of the first low.

5. We score a round on the wrong card. See above re: holding four cards.

6. We nod off. Just for a split second. On a hot day. After lunch.  In the middle of a class of 80 going twice. Then we promptly snap to and caffeine up.

7.  We miss something. Inevitably when we look down at our card, the horse stumbles or steps off its lead.

8. We spill coffee or food on our cards. No lunch break. No coffee break. Endless writing. You do the math.

9. We score too high or too low. Try having a nano-second to throw a number before the next horse comes into the ring. The good news is that all that matters is that the other horses are scored in relation to that less-than-perfect score.

10. We care too much. We're rooting for the good round, the winning trip. We want to throw a high score and have a clear winner. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes it doesn't. It's the hardest on the judge when it doesn't.

Kim Ablon Whitney is a 'R' judge in hunters, equitation, and jumpers and the author of the Show Circuit Series.

Feb 8, 2017

Changing a Culture of the Sedated Hunter Look

By Kim Ablon Whitney

Recently there's been a lot of discussion about the need to clean up the hunters--to find ways to penalize people who drug their horses to get them quiet. In these pleas for equity, judges are often called upon to do their part by changing the parameters of what we are looking for in a winning round.

If you watch a video of a winning hunter round from the 80s or even the 90s, you'll see that they almost look like the video is playing on fast forward. The horses practically race around the course. This is only in juxtaposition to what we've gotten used to in today's hunters where the horses crawl around the courses looking, well, sedated.

People are calling for us judges to stop rewarding the sedated look. It's usually in the form of Mary Babick's recent commentary in the COTH, asking judges not to penalize the "horse that jumps a beautiful jump, lands and shows expression on the other side."

Well, as a judge, let me say, I have no problem not penalizing the horse that jumps beautifully and shows expression after a jump. That's something I do already and can continue to do, no problem. 

But I don't think that's really the root of the problem. 

As I see it, the root of the problem is that if we really want to fix this issue, those slo-mo horses have to be penalized. We have to dedicate ourselves to deciding that hunters should carry pace--that they should look alive. And that means not just that showing expression after a jump is okay, but that horses that show no expression and look half-dead (but still jump amazing!) is not okay.

But here's the catch. As the judge, it's hard to be among the first to judge this way. If we judge this way, the slo-mo horses who have been winning week after week (and who, by the way, jump and move amazing), are going to lose classes to horses who look alive yet probably have smaller faults that happen more frequently when your horse isn't drugged or LTD (lunged till dead) like spooking, peeking, swapping off etc.

In order to turn the hunter industry on its head, judges need to buck the trends, and by doing so upset a lot of trainers and riders who are used to winning. 

Will I volunteer to start this trend? 

While I'd like to, I probably won't.

I think I'm a very good judge. I think I'm objective and honest and knowledgeable. But I'm not one of the big-time judges who judges week after week and has serious clout. Those are the judges who would need to lead this trend.

If I start pinning the classes differently, it won't make a huge difference because I don't judge all the time and on top of that, on a personal level, it would mean I'll probably never work at an A show again.

So we can talk all we want about "expression" after a jump, not dinging that horse for the head shake, but it's so much larger than that. It's about changing a culture of slo-mo winners.

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

Jan 25, 2017

Four Horse Shows We Wish Were Still Running

by Kim Ablon Whitney

An all-jumper show set in the stunning White Mountains of New Hampshire. Grass footing, great classes, amazing atmosphere. The best of the best showed here and then could be found eating at the down-home Spaghetti Shed or other local restaurants after the show.

Children's Services
Held at the Farmington Polo Grounds for 41 years, Children's Services was the big kick-off show of the spring and summer season in New England. The grand prix was big for its time and also served as a qualifyier for the Olympics and Pan Am Games. For the equitation there was the coveted Governor's Cup. In 1992, Children's Services ended up becoming one of the Old Salem spring shows.

Uncertain Sign Wayne Carroll were Working Hunter champions of
the 1972 Children's Services Show in Farmington

The International Jumping Derby
Held from 1976-1988 at Mason Phelps' gorgeous ocean-side family estate near Newport, RI, this was THE best jumper show of its time--perhaps of all time. It had it all: spectacular setting, rugged European-style course over natural jumps, huge crowd, and fabulous parties. It was the place to see and be seen!

Katie Prudent and Special Envoy at the International Jumping Derby

Stonleigh Burnham Horse Show
A beautiful, bucolic setting on the all girls school campus, this show held in August was a must for the end of summer schedule. Brave riders sometimes jumped a few of the natural obstacles from the cross country course to warm up for the ring. Pony riders could be found having horseless horse-shows with lawn chairs as jumps.

Know of other shows that you wish were still running? Send them to belowthecutoff@gmail.com

Dec 29, 2016

Making a Difference One Stride at a Time

By Maggie Junkin
When Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” I feel he was promoting a life of human goodness. As 2016 comes to a close and we embark on the new year, there's no better time to take stock of what you are doing for others.
As an equestrian I have had the fortunate ability to travel this country showing. This sport has allowed me to see this country in ways I never imagined. I have met fascinating people and have toured interesting places, but I have also had my eyes opened to see those struggling across our nation.  
As junior riders we are very busy. We're balancing riding and school and spend many days away from home. But that doesn't mean we can't help others.

There are many ways to incorporate service into your life as a junior equestrian. Here are a few I've done:

1. Collect toiletries for hotel stays. For years now I have collected toiletries from our hotel stays while on the road. I pack my own supplies and collect the small bottles and soap bars the hotel provides. I accumulate large bags over the year. 

Every February my school, Ancillae-Assumpta Academy, hosts a Martin Luther King Service Day. I share my toiletries and we put together individual bags for the homeless. It’s the things we take for granted that can mean a lot to some. Imagine how many toiletries you could collect if your trainer and barn friends did the same thing!
2. Organize an at-the-show food drive and team up with a local organization. Last winter I spent February and March in Gulfport, Mississippi for the Gulf Coast Winter Classic. Staying there for several weeks we befriended one of the security guards of the condo we rented. I learned how the people of Gulfport were still to this day struggling with the effects of Hurricane Katrina. She told me how she has friends who live in tent communities under highway bypasses because they could not afford to rebuild. Upon hearing this, my mom and I collected food for her to share with her friends. I look forward to organizing a bigger food drive when I return this year. I have also reached out to a private girls Catholic high school in the Gulfport area to learn of service programs I can help with while I am there.

3. Get involved with a horse charity. I am also very excited to have joined the EQUUS Foundation Best Performance Competition by a Junior 12-14. The Equus Foundation is dedicated to equine welfare. #RidewithPurpose!  www.equusfoundation.org/bestperformance.  It’s not too late to join. For a small fee you can join the program and begin to earn cumulative points at member shows throughout the year and potentially win Best Performance of the Year in your division. Winners may select an equine charity in the Equine Welfare Network to receive a grant in their name. And the membership dues go to finding new homes and second careers for unwanted horses.

4. Enlist equestrian companies to join in! My favorite charity to promote is Danny and Ron’s Rescue. This summer they made a trip to Baton Rouge after the floods to help area dog shelters and took much needed food and supplies to help the horses. While showing in Gulfport I met people who lived in Baton Rouge. Thankfully they were okay after the flooding, but the area was devastated. Danny and Ron’s Rescue pulled many dogs from the shelter in Baton Rouge. Many were positive for heartworm and were in need of costly heartworm treatment. Additionally Danny and Ron’s South Carolina facility had damage this year in a storm. Although this put financial pressure on the rescue, they still went out of their way to help the Baton Rouge dogs.  

Knowing they could use additional help this year I reached out to the owner of Ruespari Belts and asked if they would donate proceeds of a belt to help Danny and Ron’s Rescue. I am excited that Ruespari has made a Danny and Ron belt available for the month of December. Please check out Ruespari and see why celebrity jumper rider Kaley Cuoco and top junior rider Emma Kurtz wear their belts. Be flexible, be Ruespari.  www.ruespari.com   

The Danny & Ron belt.

Also, take a moment to visit the Danny and Ron’s Rescue website to see what great things this rescue does all year long and learn how you can donate to a great cause. www.dannyandronsrescue.com
I invite my fellow junior equestrians to think of ways they can help serve their own communities or favorite charities. Think outside the box. Small efforts add up. One stride at a time!
Wishing you all the best for the New Year!

Maggie Junkin competes on the circuit with her horse, Tommy Bahama. She lives with her family, 5 dogs, and 3 cats in Jenkintown, Pa.

Dec 24, 2016

'Twas the Week Before Christmas

by Maggie Junkin

'Twas the week before Christmas
And all through the farm
Not a creature was stirring
Without an alarm

The red barn
Was adorned in boughs of holly
Looking so festive
And oh so jolly

All the horses and ponies were
Tucked in their stalls
While their riders were busy
 Shopping the malls

Ponies were munching
Quietly on hay
Seemingly enjoying
The holiday

Show horses were blanketed
All toasty and warm
With dreams of winter circuit
To arrive before the snow storm

Back in the feed room
Stockings were hung
The barn mice were gathering
As carols were sung

The barn cat was snuggled
In the tack room with care
Waiting for Santa
To soon be there

'Tis the night before Christmas
And I wish everyone
The merriest of Christmas’s

And much Holiday fun

Maggie Junkin with Tommy Bahama