Wednesday, May. 22, 2024

Amateurs And Juniors: A World Of Difference

The author explores the not-so-subtle distinctions between these riders.

I overheard a spectator at a horse show patiently explaining the nuances of different classes to a non-horsey person. She did a great job with “green” hunters, equitation, “flat” classes and why some horses got to wear leather things on their legs while others did not.

She was accurate and pithy in all her explanations until he hit her with, “What’s the difference between a junior and an amateur?”

She smiled and said, “An amateur is just a grown-up junior.”

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The author explores the not-so-subtle distinctions between these riders.

I overheard a spectator at a horse show patiently explaining the nuances of different classes to a non-horsey person. She did a great job with “green” hunters, equitation, “flat” classes and why some horses got to wear leather things on their legs while others did not.

She was accurate and pithy in all her explanations until he hit her with, “What’s the difference between a junior and an amateur?”

She smiled and said, “An amateur is just a grown-up junior.”

I stifled a giggle. I mean, truthfully, we all know the differences are greater than just being able to vote, drive a car, and sob bitterly in a bathing suit dressing room. Amateurs are a unique breed, as different from juniors as, well, ponies are from horses.

As amateurs, we develop unique ways of coping with the horse show world. Stroll around a show ring, a schooling session, or a tack shop, and you’ll begin to see examples of what I mean.

Shopping For Breeches

Juniors breeze into the tack shop in packs of three or four and head directly toward the designer rack. Being astute buyers they quickly hone in on the vital features: low waisted, fashionably right logo. Trying them on is no big deal—I mean a 24 tall is a 24 tall. The major challenge comes in convincing Mom that they will die if they can’t have this $285 pair of breeches.

Amateurs, on the other hand, slink into the tack shop on their lunch hour, either alone or with a friend who will lie like a rug when asked about the flattering cut of a pair of breeches.

We tug on each pair in the store, searching for cellulite-smoothing heft (and something in the $59 range would be nice). When the clerk asks our size we mumble something like, “It depends.” (on what? the brand? day of the month?)

After creating our “too short waisted,” “too skimpy in the thighs,” “I wouldn’t pay this much for my wedding dress” pile, we at last find the perfect fit, only to discover it’s a discontinued style. We are, it appears, wearing the last remaining pair on earth. As resigned amateurs, we are neither amused nor surprised.

Attitude Toward The Schooling Ring

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Juniors, foolish innocents, honestly believe the schooling ring is a place to warm up in a constructive manner. They blithely weave in and out of milling horses, trot a few crossrails and wait patiently for their trainers to set up a vertical or two to hop over. They see nothing sinister in other trainers “inadvertently” hiking an oxer up to 3’6″ when they’re a stride away.

Amateurs are far too savvy to believe all is on the up-and-up. We recognize the schooling ring for what it is: a battleground at its primitive worst.

We know our competitors are trying to psyche us out when they continually circle in front of our approach to a fence. And where else—besides the show ring—can we so thoroughly humiliate ourselves by missing the spot to a trot fence seven times running (which, by the way, we do on purpose just to make our peers think they have nothing to worry about!)

Ford Motor Company is considering using schooling rings as testing grounds for gathering collision data. For this reason, amateurs tend to be a wee bit skeptical when their trainers say that no one has actually died in there. They have kiddie pools at resorts; can’t someone develop an amateur holding tank with padded rails and an ample supply of crying towels?

Counting Strides

What trainers fail to realize is that amateurs are tremendous liars. When we say, “Well, yes, of course I planned to add a stride in there,” what we really mean is, “I got six? It sure felt like five to me!”

Sure, a junior can count to three in a five-stride line, see the need to move up the last two strides and actually do it. An amateur, floating over the first fence into a 72-foot line, will dutifully count 1-2-3-4-5, find herself eight feet away from the second fence and launch her body onto her horse’s neck in a futile attempt at a “long” spot.

Counting strides is easy! We can all do that! But asking us to actually make adjustments to those strides is asking a little much. Many amateurs, rallying to our defense, claim we ride better “off our eye.” This, of course, causes our trainers to roll theirs.

Finding Distances

Many amateurs have become physically ill when they hear juniors tell their trainers, “I turned the corner, saw my distance, moved up 17 strides from the fence and held my pace…just like you told me to do.” Sure, kid, sure!

Any amateur with a vestige of self-respect can do better than that: “Well, I came around the corner and realized I didn’t remember the course, so I just aimed him for the nearest fence. So it was a backwards oxer, my distance was pretty good wasn’t it?”

Perhaps our corneas stretch as we get older. Perhaps, as one particularly paranoid amateur suspects, the fences really do run to meet you. Most of us, although not ready to ride blind-folded, resort to coping methods, such as counting one-two, one-two as we approach a fence, in a futile attempt to at least jump out of rhythm.

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Some of us feel the only way to find those nonexistent distances is to dash madly at imposing oxers and then assume the fetal position half a stride out. The smart and well-heeled among us cope by buying a horse that says, “Shut up and sit back. I’m doing the driving here!”

Judges’ Attitudes

Amateurs make judges nervous. Collectively, we tend to do more stupid things than all of the juniors put together.

We jump courses backwards. We go off course in alarmingly creative ways. We fall off and lie there indefinitely, praying the San Andreas fault will stretch our way. We panic in crowded flat classes and take it personally when we’re cut off in a hack class.

A judge may ask junior equitation riders to display a flying change to a counter-canter. This same judge, in adult equitation, may be daring and ask for a turn on the forehand. Face it, we are dangerous, and judges would like to coast through their day with as little drama as possible. They don’t really want to see how well we can ride; they just don’t want us to get hurt!

Financial Backers

Juniors rely on Mom and Dad to buy their horses (sometimes two or three are, like, totally necessary), replace their $99 shirts as they fade and argue with the show secretary about post-entering classes after they, whoops, left the entry form under their bed. Amateurs have to fend for themselves when they leave their entry form under their coffee cup at work.

Most juniors have little idea how costly this sport truly is. Amateurs know to the penny how much it costs to humiliate themselves. Amateurs willingly pay $20 to canter in and refuse the first Astroturf rolltop three times.

We amateurs gleefully pay our trainers’ fees to hear how absolutely incompetent we are on horseback. We buy custom boots so our legs look particularly stunning as we walk out of the ring after being pitched unceremoniously into a brush box. We buy at least two hunt coats in preparation for the muddy day we take a face dive after seeing a different spot than did our horse.

We fork over thousands of dollars to replace Ol’ Dobbin after he gets wise to our inadequacies and begins taking advantage of them. And finally—and this is the damnedest thing—even being old enough to know better, we come back, year after year, a little wiser, a whole lot poorer, still questing after those perfect eight fences!

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If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing to The Chronicle Of The Horse. “Amateurs And Juniors: A World Of Difference” ran in the Nov. 13 issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

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