I am often asked what equitation is and how it fits into competitive horse showing. After winning three Junior Jumper Classics at the Winter Equestrian Festival (one Low and two Medium – 4’3”-4’6”), I can say with authority that the Equitation division is a key component to success in the Jumper ring. It may even be the foundation for the U.S. Olympic success in Beijing.
I have been dabbling in the Jumpers for several years, but not actually getting in the ring and competing against the country’s top horses and riders until the past two months at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL where I am a working student for trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan.
I am competing on Jamison, a horse owned by Sheila Burke, a Grand Prix rider and past student of Missy Clark. I feel so lucky to be riding Jamison. He is a small chestnut gelding, senior in years but super athletic. He is a dream come true for me. Admittedly there have been times in the past when I watched from the sidelines as my barnmates moved into the High Junior Jumpers. But for me patience has paid off.
It is an unspoken rule that Missy and John do not pressure the clients on limited budgets to pursue the Jumpers. It is probably the fastest way in the world to burn through money, as evidenced by the class size at a competitive show like WEF. This week the Medium Jumpers had 48 horses and the Thursday Grand Prix had 90-plus. The odds are very low that you will place, let alone win back your nominating and entry fee. So, conservatively, depending on your individual show costs, grooming, feed, vet and maintenance, you could be out $4,000-5,000 a week. You need parents with very deep pockets to pursue the Jumpers at the highest level.
Me and Jamison, the horse I won two
Medium Junior Jumper Classics on!
The good news is that if you win at the highest level (the Junior Classic at WEF is $10,000 divided among the top 12) you may break even. In theory you can pay for the class and perhaps have a tiny bit extra. Thus the strategy of waiting for the proper moment and having a plan once you start is key. For instance, my wins here should qualify me for the Prix de States at Harrisburg, a competitive and special class that is lots of fun because it takes place during the week of the Medal Finals. It is also possible that my wins here will qualify me for the Devon Horse Show this spring, another fun, prestigious event.
Okay: specifics on exactly how equitation has helped me. I’m comfortable in the ring, I can visualize courses, I can make spontaneous decisions on course and adapt my plan should factors change while I’m on course. Having a flexible mindset is important. Also equitation, in particular the Talent Search, allows you to do a jumper style course, while emphasizing body control and smoothness. This is where the example of McLain Ward is used again and again. It is because his form is exemplary and it informs his ability to stay out of the horse’s way and he occasionally enhances the horse’s athleticism. He also knows where he can leave strides out and almost always chooses the most efficient track possible. That’s why he wins so much. Last week at WEF he earned $60,000 in prize money in 24 hours. So all you equitation riders out there, even the ones who only practice at home, when the time comes and you have an opportunity to compete in the Jumpers, your preparation will have been worth it.
Me and Catwoman, the equitation horse I am showing in Florida.
On another note, I would like to mention a special woman, Laura Hanson Virginia, a vice president at Merrill Lynch in Palm Beach Gardens. She sponsored the Equitation division at WEF for several weeks and personally set up a breakfast table for the riders, parents and trainers. She thoughtfully included apples and carrots for the horses as well. It would be nice if West Coast business representatives, who would like to affiliate themselves with the equestrian community, would follow her example.