Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Dumbing Down of the Horse Show World

I've been showing these past few weeks here in Virginia on my lovely mare Madison.  It's been fun and exhausting and we have a breather for a bit.  But the more I watch the sport that I love, the more amazed I have become how we are dumbing down the sport.

In SW Virginia we have the local circuit and the AA circuit and not much in between.  I show both circuits not wanting to venture out more than a few hours to show anymore. At our local circuit (which is in decline) we have a "pre-beginner" division and a "beginner" division - these are like 12" and 18" jumps.  It is mind boggling to me that these exist in any way at a horse show.  The horses barely even step over the jumps.  If you can't find a distance to a 2 foot jump then you should not be showing, you should be home working on getting to the 2 foot level.

The argument that "I didn't show in the junior hunters" as a child does not hold water. I didn't show in the juniors either.  So what?

Way back when, when I learned to ride, we had a 3 foot division for the ponies, then a 3'6 division for equitation.  That's it. No 2'6 divisions at all - you did 3 feet or you stayed home.  My large pony was green when I bought her at 4 and that's what we did - 3 feet. The jumps were solid - walls, coops, vertical timber fences, often no ground rails.  You jumped in and out of rings, there were lovely outside courses that you had to gallop to the jumps.  You had to know how to ride.

At the AA show the first week, the course designer set up a fun handy hunter course. There were roll-back turns, a trot jump, short distance to a long two-stride. After the trot jump you had to make a sharp 90 degree turn to an oxer and ride it off your eye.  As I was watching someone go a rider came up to me and asked "how many strides is it to the oxer?" She wanted to know how she needed to count to get the right number of strides to the jump.   I think I grunted back to her in disbelief.  She did not have the ability to ride to that second jump without counting the strides. That's really lame at this level of the sport but should not be surprising.  We don't teach people how to ride anymore - we teach them how to count (they probably didn't learn how to count in the school system, at least in my area, LOL,but not kidding).

In our instant gratification world we don't want to do what it takes to learn. We just want to win, we want the awards, the kudos, but we don't want to "pay the dues" to get there.  The hard work to get there?  Nope.  Not today. Sad world.


  1. Interesting post (wonderful photos) and I agree with you, the horses I've owned and showed the most had non-regular strides (the first horse had a small stride and the last two had ginormous ones) so I feel like I can get a good rhythm on either horse and ride a course off my feel/eye and not get the prescribed number of striding in between the fences and it would be smoother than sometimes trying to gun it for the distances or package the horse a ton.

  2. Here's another perspective. I started riding in my late 30's, and I am not a naturally brave person. I competed in two shows over the little fences you describe, and simply had a great time. I approach my lessons seriously and take excellent care of my horses. Now in my 50's I still flat, but look back at those shows fondly.

    However ... I see the problem in the more prestigious A-rated shows. How many "point and hope" riders pay big bucks to purchase or lease a made horse so they don't have to put in the work? The schooling ring is filled with trainers fluffing their clients' horses. Some of these people do well for a bit, then the horse starts to refuse or gets hurts, and they're on to the next one.

    My kids went to WEF for a number of years, and I was amazed to watch so many riders on "seasonal lease" horses. I've heard kids brag they don't know (or care to learn) how to tack a horse! That's what grooms are for, right?

    Obviously I'm biased, but I don't care how big you jump so long as you respect and care for your horse - at home and at the show.

  3. What is this world coming to? I learned to ride as an adult and when we started to LEARN to jump (no competition!) it was at 2 feet..Obviously the horses knew how to jump: as you know: this was for us to get our form in order . Then 2 1/2, up to 3 feet.. Took me a while as a beginner to get enough confidence and stop steering the horse away at the last minute, but I did it..
    We had to find the courage within ourselves to learn and get over those jumps.. It seems that is not the case any longer.. These newbies are having it all done for them...

  4. While I can understand that not every height needs to be a class at every horse show (ie maybe AA shows don't need to have a 12" class), I do think that lower fence heights are a GOOD thing for the horse show industry. They keep a lot of people employed (and horses!) and provide a way to expand the love of competing to a wider audience.

    If horse shows still started at 3', I would not be competing. A number of my friends would not be competing either. And while I certainly have a LOT to learn, I wouldn't say that I don't know how to ride. I do count strides, but I can also ride off my eye. Are some trainers and riders taking advantage of this new system? Yeah, sure. But there's a lot of us out there that are jumping small jumps that endeavor to learn and improve.


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