I'm doing a winter circuit for the first time this year and after watching a few videos, the "handy" classes down there are quite different from the ones around here (where I'm at, "handy" means doing a roll back or maybe starting on a line). I've talked to a few friends in the know, and there seems to be a bit of a debate around handiness.
The general consensus that I got was the person who can be the most brilliant with the most pace, daring angles and rollbacks while still looking like they could have a cup of tea up there wins. However, the problems arise when people try to be too handy and end up looking like they're riding a jump off with jerking, pace changes, and moves that are just too bold. One friend who is a small "r" judge said that a popular handy move is to come to a walk directly after the last jump and just saunter out the gate, but people often make a mess of that and just don't have enough control to get it done neatly. She said she would rather see someone just do a neat circle and exit rather than try and fake it and look like they're trying too hard to get that walk done.
My question is, what's better or worse? Is someone who went around and wide everywhere but put in a smooth trip above someone who took some risks but ended up having a few not-so-smooth moments (nothing disastrous or gasp worthy, just not always super fluid)? The person who goes wide isn't really being handy at all, which defeats the purpose, but the person who tries to be handy ends up not presenting as nice and as fluid of a round.
Because it's my first real attempt in a big AA level handy class, I know it's not going to be great, but am I better off to stay safe and go around, or should I risk it a bit and give it a try? I just don't want to look like the loser from hickville that doesn't belong with the big crowd...lol. For reference, I show in the A/Os, which I know can get quite competitive.
For your first attempt at the big rated level? Honestly, I'd be conservative and do what you know you can do. Nobody will think less of you and you can build on that as you get more classes under your belt. Watch as many go as you can as well. Plan a track and try to ride it but have a plan B in mind of it's not looking like you hoped as you land one and roll back or whatever. Each class you ride, you want to try to be better then the previous one. That's why circuits can be so helpful to train and learn, lots of chances to try again and again.
And it is STILL a Hunter class judged on pace, quality and a good jump. Not so smooth, jerky moments and bobbles are not going to entice the judge to mark you well when others did stay smooth. Listen to your friend, the judge, there. Watch, learn and keep striving to get better. And never ask for anything you are not 100% sure you can get or your attempt to best the rest of the class will make you look...well...not like the best.
When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.
Stay in your comfort zone and do what you feel confident doing. Findeight had great advice - you'll get better and better the more you do them. I was in your shoes last year - it was the first time I had really done a proper handy class in a hunter division with real competition and people who could really lay it down. By now, I've gotten much more confident and actually have fun thinking up new turns and slices for my handy courses!
Who knows, maybe I still look awful a year later, but it feels waaay more solid. I still made some ammy mistakes, like missing my lead in the bending line to the trot jump and still went a bit wide in some places, but it's becoming a fun challenge! I promise you won't look like a loser if you don't have the brilliance of Scott Stewart - most judges would rather see you be a bit more conservative but smooth, rather than go for broke and end up making a mess of it. In one of my handys last year I tried to do some insane turn inside an island, ended up letting my horse drift out my outside leg waaay too hard, distance disappeared and I ended up pop-chipping at a 4' gate and looking like an absolute disaster...hahaha. I'm sure the judge would have much appreciated a nice slick roll back arouuund the island.
(I haven't shown in the handies all that long, so take this FWIW.)
You can probably do some handier elements without taking a huge risk. For example, canter straight to the first jump without a courtesy circle. Make sure your trot jump is solid. And when it calls for a hand-gallop, actually hand-gallop!
Not sure which circuit you're doing, but with the larger circuits, it's tough to be in the ribbons if you're trading off handiness for smoothness, or vice versa. I showed in the low AOs in Ocala last year and there were plenty of trips that were both handy and smooth so the judge didn't have to choose between the two.
So, I'd vote for smooth as top priority, adding some elements of handiness which you can successfully execute.
Have fun! I love the handies! And my horse loves them too. His little (well, ok, BIG) ears perk up and he's much more interested in the course.
~ Citizens for a Kinder, Gentler COTH...our mantra: Be nice. ~
Are you doing a derby or just a handy round as part of the hunter division? If your horse is tentative or will back off new fences, I'd be more conservative in turns to any new jumps or any jumps that he/she isn't comfortable with. Make sure to practice at home riding out of the turns with pace and an engine. If you have a tendency to get timid and back off or pick, I'd go more for the wider turns so you don't get yourself in too much trouble coming out of those shorter turns. Have both the big move and conservative plans in your bag and decide it when you see the course and how your horse handles things. The course may not require that many super tight turns but could have a nice hand gallop fence or trot fence where you can show off if those are good for your horse.
What Findeight and the others have said!! Just remember it is a "handy foxhunter look-a-like"....not a Gambler's Choice "look"!! Back 40 years ago my show and foxhunter was never beaten in a Handy Hunter class. He was smooth, obedient, classy and had a fabulous "hunter" jump. I'm sure things have changed over the years, but I would think those qualities will still be rewarded! Good Luck.