Thursday, May. 23, 2024

How Many Classes Does It Take To Win Big Eq? The Ring Time Stats May Surprise You

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This year, my equitation-obsessed, 14-year-old-daughter, Quinn, embarked on her journey in the “Big Eq.” Instead of spending hours caught up in my own mental class warfare of “how much more can your parents provide for you,” I discovered an astounding concept: Stats for the classes shown in—the actual number of times kids get to hone their skills with an audience watching.

The ring time stats are mind-blowing. They completely changed my perspective on the top end of this discipline.

Equitation is subjective, but unlike the hunter and jumper rings, each kid gets one shot, on one horse. As a mom, sitting endless hours in the Mommy Box—a physical place or state of being where the mother’s opinions are not heard (#heavenforbid)—I find equitation can be captivating to watch because the “one shot, one horse” rule attempts to level the playing field. Of course, what happens leading up to that one shot is an entirely different matter. Regardless of talent or budget, the more you do anything, the better you get. The odds are in the favor of the kids who have the most repetitive practice, and the most opportunities to practice under show-ring pressure. But how much does it matter? How much additional ring time does my daughter need to win?

04/01/2023 ; Wellington FL ; Winter Equestrian Festival - Premiere

Quinn Hunter, shown here aboard Rosemont Farm’s Roscoe in January 2023, showed in 188 classes last year, putting her the group of equitation finals competitors with the least annual ring time. Sportfot Photo

Last year, with the exception of January, Quinn showed every month, and the additional ring time definitely changed her for the better. She began to relax more. Her depth of understanding, her confidence and her self-awareness grew substantially. She qualified and participated in the THIS National Children’s Medal Finals (Maryland), the EMO Insurance/USHJA 3’3” Jumping Seat Medal Finals (Maryland), and then ended up the year on the very high note of finishing ninth overall out of 162 entries in the Hamel Foundation NHS 3’3” Equitation Championship (Kentucky). To say her father and I were extremely proud is an understatement.

But I did not fully grasp the depth of her achievements until I read Chad Oldfather’s book, “A Man Walks into a Barn: Navigating Fatherhood in the Flawed and Fascinating World of Horses.” (Buy it. It’s a fantastic read.) After figuring out the statistics for the junior riders who made it to the top 24 of ASPCA Maclay Finals in 2019, Chad realized that his daughter’s Big Eq dreams were not remotely close to their financial ring time reality. The top 24 junior riders who made it to the second round of Maclay Finals that year averaged 333 classes for that year and 31 shows. Chad’s daughter had shown in 34 classes at four shows. His daughter didn’t lack desire, natural talent, or an outstanding work ethic, but the ring-time reality was that she didn’t stand a chance.

I shared this intel with Quinn and she immediately went to USEF and started doing the math. ( If you look up junior riders last year during the qualifying period, USEF rider results list 25 classes per page, and you can multiply for yourself.) We categorized the annual “classes shown in” for the riders who made it to the second rounds of both the Dover Saddler/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Finals and Maclay Finals in 2022 and put them into four groups.

This past year all of the riders who made it to the second rounds showed in over 100 classes, with the highest being 1,306 and 1,225 classes. We put the junior riders who showed the most— more than 700 classes—in what we called Group 4. They were all trainers’ kids. Group 3 showed in 501 to 700 classes, and included more trainers’ kids and junior riders with very large budgets. Group 2 showed in 301 to 500 classes and was comprised of kids who usually showed more than one horse at a show. Group 1 had an annual class count of 100 to 300.

The math means the number of classes a Group 4 rider enters in a single year is roughly three to 13 years of classes for Group 1 riders. Group 2 gets almost double the ring time of most of the riders in Group 1. Multiply those numbers by the years a junior rider has been showing at the top level, and wow, those are some long odds.

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It’s not even remotely close to a level playing field.

And yet, here’s the most amazing realization: The kids in Group 1 are winning, and winning big. It’s beyond remarkable. These kids are beating astonishingly disproportionate odds. These kids may have resources not reflected in their ring-time stats, but for them to win, they are creating excellence from the inside out. They are figuring out how to become exceptional, how to overcome their own obstacles and create excellence for themselves. No matter what these kids end up doing with their lives, they are learning life skills that are both empowering and inspiring.

Back in 2005, Brianne Goutal-Marteau—the only person to date who has won all four Big Eq finals—was in Group 1. This past year, Luke Jensen, who won the Medal Final and finished second in the Maclay, was in Group 1. So was Isabella David, who finished fourth in the Medal Finals and fifth in the Maclay. The inner character, the confidence level it takes to create and accomplish what these kids did in their junior years? Amazing. Campbell Hudkins, at only 14, was 10th at Medal Finals, and was also among the riders in Group 1, as was Ellie Aronson, who was sixth in Maclay Finals.

Last year I felt like we were showing all the time. But it turns out Quinn was also in Group 1 with 188 classes. Discovering this math made her ninth place at Hamel Finals, and all the growth that she went through, feel deeper, sweeter and way more valuable. The stats also helped me to realize the once seemingly impossible equitation goals that Quinn has set for herself are not only attainable, but the odds are overwhelmingly high that she will become a much better version of herself while reaching for them.

In this subjective world, we should all be aware of the ring-time stats. Maybe the number of classes a competitor has shown in that year could be included in their bios at finals. They change perspectives. Chad Oldfather may not have been able to get his own daughter to finals, but by doing the research and sharing his lessons learned, he just may end up helping countless others. Yes, ring time matters, but after 100 classes the quantity is relative. More doesn’t always mean better, and our limitations just may turn out to be our biggest blessings.


Rielle Hunter is presently a Big Eq horse show mom. She is also a New York Times best-selling author, a videographer/director/producer, and is currently developing a documentary series.  

 

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