California Riding Magazine • July, 2008

On Course with Zazou
It’s time to reveal the secrets to my success
as a catch-rider and the
contents of my mysterious backpack.

by Zazou Hoffman

What is a catch-rider and why would a catch-rider have secrets?

A catch-rider is someone who is asked to step in when a rider is needed to compete on a horse. Most often, a catch-rider is needed in the Hunter divisions when a horse needs year-end points in order to qualify for the Indoor Fall Finals or a prestigious show such as the Devon Horse Show in Pennsylvania in late spring.

Most often a catch-rider is requested through the trainer, but on occasion the request comes through the owner of the horse or horses. It is a privilege to be asked and it is a great way to learn to ride different types of horses.

A catch-rider must be prepared for every possible situation. I carry an assortment of spurs and whips in my backpack. I try to arrange to get on the horse early if it is a horse that I have never ridden before. I ask the trainer for as much information about the horse as possible. It is also helpful if I have seen the horse go around at a previous show, which is why I try to watch as much of the show as possible. It is a good reason to concentrate on the round and not get too caught up in goofing around with my friends. It’s also a legitimate reason for not doing my homework at the show and an incentive for trying to get as much of it done as possible at night, preferably before the show starts.

Stating the Obvious

Here are the obvious things to do to prepare for catch-riding. It never hurts to review them:

1) Put the trainer’s name and number in your mobile phone—a plausible reason to ask your parents for a cell phone if you don’t have one.

2) Arrange for a time and place to meet the trainer at the show.

3) Give, mail or fax a copy of your USEF, USHJA, PCHA and/or LAHSA cards to the trainer.

4) Ask the trainer for the barn name and stall location at the show. Be prepared to go on the show’s website and review the layout of the show and the stall chart.

5) Look online the night before for projected class times and schedule changes.

6) If possible, arrive early, go to the ring where you will be showing and look at the course diagram. Memorize your course. Really memorize it. Then memorize it again and visualize it. Reliability, professionalism and preparedness are essential in a successful catch-rider. Do not go off course!

7) If for any reason you get stuck in traffic, call the trainer and tell them. At least they might be able to salvage the situation and find another rider.

8) Have your saddle clean and arrange to bring it to the barn or to the ring. If you are a tiny pony rider or petite horse rider, bring your own clean white show pad. Many barns do not have small pads and your saddle will look ridiculous and sloppy if the pad sticks out for miles around your saddle. Leave your stirrup leathers long. Do not lop them off and instead get used to tucking them under the flap. That way if a trainer needs to get on, they can. Often there is not a trainer size saddle at the ring and if the horse is being difficult, time is of the essence. Also, if you’re on a budget, please do not get hung up on having an expensive new name-brand saddle. It can easily add up to an entire year’s show budget. You will be much better off with a good quality flat saddle, like a Crosby. They are not very popular and can be found used at a small price. Equisport or a good tack repair can stitch in CWD knee blocks and you will ride like a pro. I won plenty of classes in my Jimmy’s 21st Century saddle that I bought new at Dominion for $300 with my Gold Coast Horse show prize winnings. Nobody wanted a flat saddle! Now I am fortunate to have a fabulous CWD saddle because they sponsor Missy Clark.

9) Make sure that your boots are shined and clean, helmet clean, hunt coat clean, collar on, and hair tidy and in a hairnet. Have your backpack at the ring in case you need to change spurs or someone needs to borrow a stick.

10) Remember to hand back your horse show number or tie it around the horse’s neck.

11) If you know that you have to be at another ring after your round, have a bike with you or make sure you have asked ahead of time for someone with a golf cart to give you and your saddle a ride. If you are expected at another ring by another trainer, be considerate and check in with them by phone. That way they can tell you where you are in the order of go.

Team Player

To sum up: preparation and organization are the keys. Be alert, have all of your equipment, give yourself plenty of time. Do not be late. If you are getting a ride from the parent of another rider make sure that they know that it is essential that you arrive early. If you are worried about the driver being unreliable or prone to car trouble, try to get to the show the night before and arrange to stay with another rider. Anything to avoid missing the class or arriving flustered.

Communicate how appreciative you are of the opportunity to catch-ride. If possible write a thank-you note to the trainer and owner of the horse. Kiss your horse, pat your horse. Thank the groom and offer to help with whatever he or she may need help with. If they seem short-handed offer to tack, untack, wash or unbraid the horse. If not, just try to stay out of the way. If the groom is dealing with multiple horses offer to hold the horse and help do tack swaps. Just try your best to imagine what each worker’s needs are and try to be sympathetic and helpful.

Working as a team is key. In the world of horses, no one individual is better than another. Things can change in a flash. You may win class after class and then suddenly have a dry spell. The most successful riders, even the Olympians, still remain humble.

Letting the Cat Out of the Backpack!

OK, here’s what I carry in my mysterious backpack:

  1. Assortment of different length spurs and black whips, crops, sticks (If you have a pair of the fancy custom embossed spurs, carefully examine the inside weld where initials may be engraved and ask your shoer or the show farrier how to file down the edge. It can make a spur rub on your horse as I found out the hard way at an important medal final. Better to take preventative action now.)
  2. Small shoe shine kit with black paste polish and shoeshine rag in plastic ziplock baggie
  3. Mud towel
  4. Chapstick/sunscreen/zinc oxide for serious dry, windy (think desert) conditions
  5. Copies of USEF and USHJA cards
  6. Copy of my insurance card
  7. Emergency information and letter authorizing adult or trainer to give consent for medical treatment in case of emergency if no parent is present
  8. Water, power bar, tic-tacs for me; horse cookie or peppermints for the horse and Emergen-C in case you start to feel wiped out
  9. Band-aids
  10. Kleenex
  11. Aspirin
  12. Extra hairnet and ponytail elastics, small hair brush
  13. Extra white collar
  14. Typed list of trainer contact numbers in case my phone gets lost, dies or runs out of battery
  15. Cashmere scarf and cap (thank you Tracy and Olivia Esse) in the winter
  16. Sun hat or visor in spring and summer
  17. Good quality Patagonia down jacket that squishes up small but can go over hunt coat