Aug 15, 2017

All Praise the Blue/Red Classes

by Kim Ablon Whitney

You know what the best thing ever is at horse shows? The blue/red classes.

If you haven't heard of these (and they're not a new phenomenon), here's the scoop:

You ride your course and the judge decides if your round is good enough for a blue ribbon or a red ribbon. If it isn't good enough for either, you get no ribbon.

What's in it for you? A happy judge.

You see, if you don't have a blue/red class, you typically have a low or schooling hunter class where the same 30 horses go twice and the judge has to compare them all against each other and decide how to place them. 

This takes much more concentration and brain power--brain power that should be kept in reserve for the rated classes that also appear in your 10 hour jam-packed-no-lunch-break-no-coffee-breaks-limited-bathroom-breaks work day. 

The judge can evaluate each ride for what it is and not bother about how it stacks up against the others. It's pretty easy to decide if one round is worthy of a blue or a red ribbon, and which ones aren't worthy of either.

The hard part of judging is comparing the rounds and deciding which round is better. It's the splitting of the hairs.

With blue/red classes, there's no need to vividly recall the horse that went first in the order and then three hours later compare it to the horse that went sixty-first. (Or eight hours later in the case of a class that is held open all day.) Again, brain power saved.

Added bonus: this way many more horses can win. You also don't have to wait around to find out how you did.

Sure, maybe it feels like the ribbon means a tiny bit less. You can't brag that you were fifth out of 30 in the lows, most of whom were professional riders, at whatever A show. 

But you got your horse in the ring, you got your practice ride, and you still have a judge that feels fresh and ready to split those hairs!

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

Aug 2, 2017

A One-Eyed Pony at Pony Finals? You Bet!

By Maggie Junkin

Not much surprises me in the pony hunter division anymore, but I have to say meeting Good2Go, aka “Levi,” and his owner/rider Nicole Farr certainly did. I was showing in the large ponies at the Charleston Summer Classic when I first saw Levi and Nicole. They were showing in the large pony division along with me.

Levi looked like many large pony hunters I have seen over the years--a beautiful bay pony, great mover, and cute jumper. But something else about Levi caught my attention. He was different than any other ponies I have seen competing in the division.

Levi was missing his left eye. 

When I first noticed this, Levi was going around the schooling ring like a pro, bending left and taking on all the jumps without a problem. I did a double take. I had to seek out Nicole to learn more about this remarkable pony and hear his story.

Nicole was kind enough to meet up with me for an interview.
Nicole is 17 years old and is from Orlando, Fla. She trains with Peggy Stevens of Brookmore Farms. Levi is 11 years old. Nicole and Levi have been a team for two years.

According to Nicole, Levi had a successful career in the children’s hunter pony division prior to his injury and went to Marshall & Sterling with his previous owner.

It was in 2014, before Nicole owned Levi, that he lost his eye in a pasture accident. Every attempt was made to save his eye, but it was not possible. Levi had his surgery at the University of Florida Large Animal Hospital.  

After his surgery, Levi had some time off. His personality had changed and he had become very ornery. Nicole decided to lease Levi for a year. In their first year together, Levi began to bond with Nicole and learned to trust her. He developed a sweet puppy dog personality. 

Nicole credits Levi for changing her riding personality as well. Levi is very sensitive to Nicole’s non-verbal communication. He reacts to her nerves and is very in tuned to her fears. Nicole had to learn to trust in Levi’s ability. 

Once she gained confidence at home, she had to learn to control her show nerves. “He has taught me to relax and realize showing isn’t that scary," she explains.

Nicole now owns Levi. They started doing the green pony division in 2017 and qualified for Pony Finals their first time out. 

This is Nicole’s first time doing the division and Nicole is very excited to go to Pony Finals. The Charleston Classic Horse Show was Levi’s debut in the regular large ponies, where he earned good ribbons and a first place in the hack.

I asked Nicole if she had any challenges doing the division. Nicole stated, “bending to the left is harder, but he is really good at the handy.”

I was also curious if Nicole has noticed any discrimination from judges. She stated that judges have been mostly supportive and a few have approached Nicole with kind words after her classes.

What is next for Nicole and Levi? Nicole will age out of the ponies this year. She plans to keep Levi and take him with her to college. She also hopes to move into the jumper ring next year.

Meeting Nicole and Levi was a real pleasure. Levi is an inspiration and Nicole’s love for this special pony is obvious. Their relationship shows that a trusted bond between rider and horse can go a long way towards success. I truly wish this team much fun in their future endeavors.

Good luck at Pony Finals, Nicole!  I think you and your one-eyed wonder pony are “Good2Go” and I am definitely rooting for you!

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

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.