A Love of Horse Shows

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Jennifer with her horse Sookie (left) with fellow competitors Bergj Mathew and Marina O'Toole at the Buck County Horse Park

By Jennifer Bateman

Horse shows have always been a passion for me. They rank pretty high on my list of “important things,” only slightly less important than chocolate and caffeine. I love every aspect of shows, which is why when I was given the opportunity to run shows, I jumped at it. I have managed just about every kind of horse-related event you can imagine: dressage, jumpers, hunters, horse trials, combined tests, western, hunter paces, paper chases, the list goes on and on. At one point my schedule averaged 7.5 shows a month, or 1.8 shows a week. I could not begin to guess how many horses I have seen enter the ring. Never has my enthusiasm for shows waivered, either as competitor or management. However, I rarely spend much time genuinely watching the rides, with one major exception: Sport Horse Breed Shows!

Showing Sookie in-hand

Sport Horse Breed Shows, or as I like to call them, “kinder parades”, are always the highlight of my weekend. I am often in awe of the poise and intelligence of these young animals. For those of you unfamiliar with breed shows, the horses are presented to the judge individually, by a handler. The handler can be the owner or competitor, or a hired professional. The handler positions the horse in what is called an “open” stance so the Judge can see all four legs; the conformation is evaluated at this time. Once the conformation evaluation is finished, the handler is asked to show the walk. The walk is shown on a triangle that is fifteen meters on each side. After the walk triangle, it’s show time! The handler asks for the biggest trot the horse can get around a vast 30 meter triangle. It may not seem like a very large triangle, but when trying to keep up with an exuberant youngster, it can be one long sprint. The objective here is to evaluate the potential of each horse as a future dressage mount or breeding prospect, depending on the class. The classes are based on age and gender, with the goal being to earn a qualifying score.

After the in-hand classes, the Materiale classes are held. Materiale classes are split by gender and age. The horses are shown under saddle, as a group. The horses in Materiale are usually three to five years old and, depending on their age, will be required to show different movements.

Sport Horse Breed Shows are often qualifiers for the USDF Breeders Championship Series. The main focus of the series is to assist breeders in showcasing and promoting their young stock. The qualifiers are often held in conjunction with dressage competitions, which makes it more convenient if one has long distances to travel or scheduling constraints.

Jennifer showing her horse Mia

I consider myself privileged to be a part of management on several different qualifiers for the USDF Breeders Championship Series. Regardless of how many youngsters I see, I never get tired of studying their conformation, attitudes, and trends in breeding. However, I am quite disappointed to see that in-hand and young horse under saddle classes are often poorly attended at most shows. I certainly understand the constraints on breeders to get their young stock off the farm. However, I see an underutilized opportunity for all owners of young horses, because this series is not limited to breeders.

While any young horse with a USDF Breeders Championship Series title will certainly put a breeder’s program in the spotlight, I see it as a more valuable opportunity than just marketing and promoting next year’s sale horses. I see it as the perfect opportunity to positively expose horses to the show environment, long before they are under saddle. I tend to purchase horses directly from breeders as coming two-year-olds. All my young horses started their careers by showing in-hand, and when old enough, Materiale. I cannot emphasize enough how showing in-hand positively prepares my horses for showing. My youngest horse, now seven, has twice competed in a USDF Breeders Championship Series Final competition. She loved every minute of it and performed brilliantly in Materiale, as a five-year-old. She was probably the least experienced horse in the Materiale. She lacked in her trot lengthening, but she did her very best and that is all that matters. Last year, because of my schedule, we were unable to attend any qualifiers, and just did the IBC (Individual Breed Class) at the USDF Breeders Championship Series competition. It was still a fabulous learning experience for us both. I got some great tips from professional handlers, taught a few people how to get a tail properly white, and the mare learned that while construction cranes may look and sound like dragons, she should not be afraid of them.

Jennifer and Sookie

I encourage every young horse owner to consider the USDF Breeders Championship Series. It is a unique opportunity to show in a far less stressful environment than the traditional competition arena. Also, if you have a nervous or spooky horse, showing them from the ground is far less stressful to you both, in my opinion. I think the experience they get from showing in hand, and in the small groups of Materiale, helps the horse to develop a healthy and enthusiastic attitude towards showing. I truly believe it is a valuable tool all young horse owners should incorporate into their training program.

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