Thursday, Apr. 18, 2024

Enjoying Opportunities On The Winter Circuits

For thousands of winter circuit regulars, the year begins not on Jan. 1, but the day you walk onto the show grounds in California, Florida, Arizona or Mississippi. That’s the day that first year green hunters actually become second years and so many pony riders graduate to larger mounts.
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For thousands of winter circuit regulars, the year begins not on Jan. 1, but the day you walk onto the show grounds in California, Florida, Arizona or Mississippi. That’s the day that first year green hunters actually become second years and so many pony riders graduate to larger mounts.

Like New Year’s Day, the start of the winter circuit is a chance to start over. Everyone begins the season on equal footing with a clean slate. With a little luck, last year’s hang-ups have disappeared after you’ve spent a few months regrouping and your horse has spent some time standing out in a field. And if the first week doesn’t go as planned, you have five, eight, or even 12 weeks of competition to try again without getting on a truck. 

This is what really makes the winter circuit different from the shows during the rest of the year: the chance to get it right. Young horses have weeks to get over that spooky tent, and new partnerships have the time to figure each other out in the same show ring.

After poring over this year’s beefed-up prize lists, I looked back on the dozen or so winters I spent at winter circuit horse shows and realized how rarely I took advantage of another opportunity—to watch world-class competition on the other side of the show grounds. 

At most shows it’s downright impossible to drop everything and mosey over to the grand prix field.  At most horse shows I found myself overwhelmed with work on Sundays—dismantling the tackroom, packing trunks and loading trailers, on top of schooling, showing, braiding and unbraiding. 

But during winter circuit, Sundays are usually a little easier without the added hassle of packing up the barn. And even if Sunday afternoons are always busy, these same international-level competitors are camped out a few barns away and do compete throughout the week. Surely, I could have found a few quieter afternoons over the course of two months to watch top-notch riders and horses. After all, most of us are still working to get to that top level, and what better way to supplement our training than to study the competitors who have figured it out?

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Show jumping fans have a unique opportunity this year at the CN Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) to watch the Olympic selection trials, Feb. 28-March 9, the first stage in the selection process for the U.S. show jumpers vying for a ticket to Hong Kong.

And exhibitors in Gulfport (Miss.), Thermal (Calif.) and Ocala (Fla.) all have the opportunity to watch as the best hunters show off their brilliance during the debut season of the USHJA International Hunter Derby Series.

As you’ll read in the article “Big Changes Await Winter Circuit Competitors” (p. 8) show managers invested more money than ever this year in show grounds and hefty purses in order to attract the best riders and horses.

My resolution for this year is to take a break from my busy corner of the show grounds, sit on the rail or in the stands, and soak in the educational opportunities that abound. It’s a bright new year, and there’s no better way to begin than through gaining fresh knowledge and inspiration that can be employed through the year. Oh, and escaping the blizzards of the north certainly doesn’t hurt either!

Mollie Bailey

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