Jun 28, 2017

Let's Be Honest--Horse People Are Cray Cray

by Kim Ablon Whitney

You know how sometimes you can't remember how to spell the word "the" or you say the word "fork" out loud and feel nearly certain it's not an actual word?

That's how I feel about the sport I love sometimes. Is competing in the hunter/jumpers for real? Or did I somehow make up the shit we do for this sport.

Do we really get up at four in the morning--often on the weekends--to go to a horse show when the whole sane rest of the world is asleep? Are we really okay being so tired that we resort to napping on hard wooden boxes?

Do we really put a hundred meticulously tight tiny braids in our horses manes only to take them out that afternoon and put them in again the next morning? And we do this week after week?

Do we really spend years of our lives getting an animal that generally prefers to be dirty as clean and shiny as a new right-off-the-floor dishwasher?

Do we really compete in warm temperatures in a physical activity wearing long pants, black knee-high boots, a shirt, a dark-colored jacket, and gloves?

Do we really wait around all day to perform for sixty seconds? 

Do we really spend the rest of the day obsessing either out loud or just in our own heads about those sixty seconds and how our horse behaved?

Do we really say, "He's was such a good boy," at infinitum? Do we really love our horses as much as our children and our spouses?

If this isn't the definition of insanity, what is? I mean I know other people do crazy things for their sports. Sure, they get up early too (hockey) but not our kind of early. They dress funny (fencing) but not our kind of funny. They risk severe injury or even death (boxing) but honestly so do we. They wait around for their one or two events (swimming, track) but they don't have a horse or horses waiting around too.

Look, I'm not even going to go into the money-side of things. I'm not going to mention what we could do with all that money we're spending (like save a small, starving village somewhere). If I went into that, there'd be someone knocking at my door to take me away to a padded room somewhere.

But come on, do we really pamper our horses with massage, acupuncture, and chiropractor treatments? Do we really feed them endless supplements? 

Do we really fly to other countries to buy horses when there are so many here in our country?

For that matter do we really fly our horses all over the world to compete?

Do we really buy treadmills for our horses?

Do we really buy more clothes and equipment for our horses than a Kardashian buys for herself? Do we really store said equipment in large, heavy wooden boxes that we must transport from location to location?

The answer is a loud and affirmative hell yeah we do to all these and more. And we're not about to change.

It's no wonder we horse people are an insular group. I mean what friend in the real world would understand and tolerate our kind of crazy?


Jun 14, 2017

Why Juniors are Better than Pony Riders

by Kim Ablon Whitney

Okay, they are totes adorbs. The ponies and the kids. But the pony years also come with their drawbacks. Here's why having a junior rider is soooo much better.

1. A serious reduction in tears. Yup, waterworks still happen, particularly around finals time, but it’s not every time the pony adds a stride or misses a change.

2. At least when you pay a minor fortune for your animal it’s full sized. Have you ever tried explaining to friends that you spent a #!&@-ton of money on a animal that only comes up to your chest?

3. No more trying to get those damn gray ponies clean. Somehow a freakishly large number of ponies are a shade of gray and they just love to lie in manure.

4. Good-bye hair-bows. Good-bye hair-bow trunk. Good-bye picking the right bows. Good-bye bow superstitions. Good-bye bow everything.

5. No more explaining to your relatives that your daughter isn’t riding a baby horse. "But won't he grow up to be full size?"

6. When you sell your horse and buy another, you can still use their tack and blankets. You sell the small to move up to the mediums and are stuck with all the pony's clothes. 62" blanket, anyone?

Kim Ablon Whitney showed ponies a really long time ago. Her book Blue Ribbons is all about the pony divisions.

May 3, 2017

I Switched to a Western Saddle... And I Love It!

By Melissa Parrish Mazer

As I pull my saddle off the rack and head back to the cross-ties I reflect upon what I am carrying… a Western saddle. Yeah, I said WESTERN. 

Never in my life did I think this was a piece of tack I would own. To me, Western saddles belonged to ranch hands, trail ride businesses, and drum runners (barrel racers). 

I grew up in the world of Hunter Land. Home of the Pessoa and CWD and Crosby saddles (when we were kids). Western saddles were not even in our vocabulary. Yes, this makes me sound like a hunter princess and English riding snob. But, hear me out, please. 

I have spent the last 33 years of my life in an English saddle. In fact, I think the last time I sat in a Western saddle, I was 4 years old and on a pony ride at Silver Star Stables in New Hampshire.

I can still remember the big clunky feel of the saddle as I sat on a large paint pony while a woman led me around a circle twice. That is where the horse obsession began. After that first pony ride, I quickly moved to English seat concentration at Ascot Riding Center. 
I spent 20 years on the hunter jumper 'A' circuit and I spent 6 years doing the Wellington, Florida local circuits in the hunters and jumpers. I loved the early morning wake-ups and adrenaline highs of show days and the awesome feeling of being exhausted and falling into a comfy bed at the end of a long, successful show day on the circuit. 

Those were some of the best days of my life all the way up until April of last year. Again, never did I envision myself where I am today. 
Last June, I purchased Charlie Brown, a Paint/QH gelding that had done the hunters locally with some 4-H thrown in. Funny thing is, for a few years, I did not like this horse. There was something about him that “turned me off.” 

Ironically, the owner of the barn I was boarding at was also the owner of one said Charlie Brown. She asked me to ride him one day, and you know what, he was pretty awesome! I jumped him, showed him in dressage, and formed quite a bond with this gelding!

After purchasing Charlie last summer, we moved to Central Florida. Charlie and my large pony jumper, Pony Express, were now going to be boarded at a primarily Western barn. 
I initially went about my business. I continued to work on my dressage--I was always the only person in English tack. One day, though, I got brave and ventured outside of the box. I put--get ready for it--a Western saddle on my horse.  

And you know what? I loved it! And so did my horse! We L. O. V. E. D. it! And the funny thing is, turns out my little QH/Paint primarily English horse, knows Western and neck reins! That was quite a surprise to learn.

So fast forward over the last six months and I can honestly say I have not sat in an English saddle. I now do Western Dressage (yes, it is a discipline that is fully recognized by the organizations) and I am so happy these days with my newfound love and discipline. 

Never in a million years would I have thought I would be riding Western and passing my riding days on trails and learning new tests and ways to better myself and my equine friend and partner in crime.  

In fact, I can honestly say that switching disciplines has been one of the best things I have done riding-wise in a long time. I have learned to not be biased about disciplines and I have come to learn that the most important thing is the time spent bonding and working with my horse--not the type of saddle I ride in.  

Do I miss the hunter/jumper circuit? Do I miss showing? Yes and no. I miss the adrenaline highs of horse shows and the feeling of being successful and having my awards to show for it. What I don’t miss is the politics of horse showing and the feeling of disappointment when I work so hard and don’t achieve the goal I set for myself.

Learning something new and enjoying something “outside of the box” is so very important to continue on as a successful equestrian.  
The moral of my story? It's okay to be different. To do something that makes people say, “She’s doing WHAT these days?”

Dare to be different… you might just like it!

Melissa Parrish Mazer lives in Central Florida with her husband, daughter, and rescue dogs. She is a registered nurse.

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.