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March 27, 2014

Hunting For Excitement

"Watching our tortured expressions while we try not to get stepped on or bitten by angry horses pulled away from their dinner to participate in this foolishness makes the jog a spectator favorite." Cartoon by Jody Lynne Werner

A movement to inject more excitement into the hunters is currently underway. The intent is to bring back the thrill of the original sport, where bold Thoroughbreds galloped across open fields and displayed bravery and brilliance over natural obstacles. Let’s make the fences bigger. Make the courses more complex. Set a time limit.

I hope you’re kidding. 

I’m an amateur. An old one. My comfort zone is the size of my tack trunk. The last thing I want is more excitement in the show ring.

And who exactly is claiming the hunters aren’t exciting? Perhaps all the pretty fences and shiny horses and riders in elegant shadbellies have distracted spectators from what’s really going on. Kindly allow me to redirect your attention to what you’ve been missing.

The Warm-up

You want thrills? Come watch us in the warm-up. It’s demolition derby on horseback. Even the most prestigious jumping competitions don’t offer the nail-biting excitement of two riders oblivious to each other coming at the same vertical from opposite directions.

There’s nothing quite like that OMG moment of realization when one or both of them peel off and spook all the horses on the rail. Watching the trainers on the ground run for their lives might just be the best part. Horses will be bolting out the gate in all directions, so best not to be standing there. 

The Diagram

The course diagram is a collection of lines and arrows and symbols and numbers with measurements in feet and inches that we must translate into strides. Most days, we have just enough brain cells to memorize the order of the fences. Who thought that making us divide by 12 in our heads first thing in the morning was going to end well? It’s like the math problems in those books that gave me an ulcer back in the third grade.

Oh, and those fences that are on the diagram but not actually in the course? Thanks for that. Every last one of us is going to go into the ring and do something totally different. That ‘all hunter rounds look the same’ theory? Debunked. You’re welcome.

The Course

While the course diagram is a loose representation of what you will see in the ring, it never includes what you will see that is NOT in the ring.

It does not mention the flapping canopy on the coffee tent outside the far end. We’ll be lucky if we can get our horses down the diagonal in fewer than 17 strides. And you may as well just write "halt and gawk in corner" on the course diagram, because that’s what going to happen when the horses get an eyeful of those butterfly-shaped standards stacked outside the arena.

The man juggling the flaming batons in the VIP tent next to the outside line during our class was a great call, too. What better way to display our horsemanship than to canter sideways down the six-stride? It’s also a great opportunity to make direct eye contact with the spectators. They love that.

Ring Conflicts

Inevitably, our equitation flat class is happening in a ring on the other side of the showgrounds at the exact time we’re expected to do our hunter round. Come watch us excuse ourselves from the line-up, plow the gate person over, gallop down vendor row and arrive at the hunter in-gate with just enough time to read the wrong diagram and go off course.

Alternately, we may do the correct course and lay down the trip of our lives before discovering our horse still had his eq boots on and was eliminated the second he stepped into the ring. The emotional ups and downs you’ll witness rival anything you’ll see on Masterpiece Theater.

Insta-slam

Once upon a time, we could choose to conceal the fact that we took down the standards in the two-stride or got lost on the way down the diagonal. These days, we know photos and videos of us getting dumped at the in-and-out are going to be posted online before we’re even out of the ring.

If having the Instagram of our flyer at the brush box circle the globe three times before we’ve finished the course isn’t exciting, I don’t know what is.

Fence Heights

Making the fences bigger isn’t going to make the hunters more exciting. If we go in to the ring and our "fence radar" goes off, we’re going to finish our courtesy circle and go straight back out the gate.

But when the fences are smaller, we get braver. When we get braver, we believe we are better riders than we actually are. When we believe we are better riders than we actually are, we make really bad decisions. When we make really bad decisions, the entertainment factor increases exponentially.

Unexpected Events

The jumper arena isn’t the only place to witness a spectacular mishap. It doesn’t take a botched approach to a 5' triple combination to put us in the dirt—that kid running up and down the rail waving the lunge whip will do just fine. You may even get to watch show medics assist us out of the ring. The good news is, if that happens we won’t have to come back for the jog.

The Jog

Look, if we were capable of jogging, we’d be out jogging. God knows it’s a less humiliating way to spend a Saturday afternoon than to serve ourselves up for public ridicule at the horse show.

Our knees barely withstand the flat equitation classes. They’re still shaking from the near-death experience that was the giant single oxer on the diagonal. Watching our tortured expressions while we try not to get stepped on or bitten by angry horses pulled away from their dinner to participate in this foolishness makes the jog a spectator favorite. 

So next time somebody opines “the hunters are boring!”, send them a link to this article. Consider it an educational tool. We may not have the colorful fences, impressive heights and blazing speed of the jumpers. But there is plenty of excitement in the hunter ring. You just have to know what to look for. 

After years of trying to fit in with corporate America, Jody Lynne Werner decided to pursue her true passion as a career rather than a hobby. So now, she's an artist, graphic designer, illustrator, cartoonist, web designer, writer and humorist. You can find her work on her Misfit Designs Cafepress site. Jody is one of the winners of the Chronicle's first writing competition. Her work also appears in the Dec. 2 Amateur Issue print edition of The Chronicle of the Horse

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