Variety Can Be The Spice Of Life

Sep 16, 2011 - 5:00 AM

From USPC Championships to EAP to World Cup qualifiers, our columnist sees an opportunity for riders at every level to learn more.

Recently my travels have taken me around the continent to a variety of different events. They’ve been a good reminder of the wide array of activities offered by our sport. The fun and fresh perspective that can come with adding a little variety to what we do is sometimes overlooked when we fill our schedules with horse show after horse show.

Following designing at a nice show in Blainville, Que., that included a World Cup qualifier, I traveled straight to the Kentucky Horse Park for the U.S. Pony Clubs Championships. Coming from all over the country, the 130 show jumpers rode five separate rounds, including one where equitation was factored into their total score and another round held as a “take your own line.” I saw ponies and horses of varying levels of talent, but every rider knew how to take care of her horse and displayed a stick-to-it attitude that will stand her in good stead as she goes forward in the sport or in life.

The five-round format for this championship is especially good. Winners are declared after the final round on cumulative performance, while every rider to finish fault free is awarded a special prize. As I’ve said before in these columns, I also love the family spirit with parents and siblings ready to pitch in and help whenever the call went out for ring crew or back-up timers. It was true commitment this year with record heat throughout the week in Kentucky!

Pony Club instruction varies considerably depending on the club, and it’s particularly difficult for the jumping riders to get good help in many areas since good instructors who show extensively seldom are interested in doing clinics for this group of kids. The Festival hosted by USPC (held immediately following the championships) offered clinics in all disciplines. They always bring the best talent to work with the kids who make it there. This year Bernie Traurig was one of the clinicians, and you don’t get better than that. The extensive list of excellent videos Bernie makes available on his website can be put to good use by any rider interested in improving, no matter what his level.

Getting To The “Why”

From Kentucky I flew to Oklahoma City as a clinician for a Level II clinic for the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association’s Emerging Athletes Program. Riders traveled from far and wide to attend and crammed lots of work, fun and new experiences into the two days.

This program is a real favorite of mine since it opens young minds to the sort of horsemanship that the average busy horse show trainer just doesn’t have spare time for these days, including Mindy Bower’s unique work with horses from the ground and with riders mounted. Attendees get to experience first-hand the correlation between a horse’s mind, body, balance, and their performance over fences.

The sort of “horsemastership” that Melanie Taylor wants riders to seek out goes far beyond setting a good standing wrap or taking a temperature. Going into the horse’s mind to get the “why” behind the behavior is all too often neglected in our rushed world of collecting points and qualifying for medals. Identi-fying and helping those special young riders with the interest and knack for training horses, and, later, training future generations of horsemen, is a long-term view of our sport that might become its salvation in this country. Melanie is a consummate horseman with a burning desire to pass on to the next generation her own quest to never stop learning. It’s gratifying to see these youngsters so eager to absorb all that they can from her unique program.

Benefiting From A Team Event

My most recent trip was back to Kentucky for the USEF Pony Jumper Finals. Always a highlight of my year, serving as coach for the USPC’s pony jumper team gives me the chance to interact with the kids, their ponies and their families.

It’s always amazing how kids who show extensively throughout the year are often overwhelmed by the different atmosphere and the importance of actually being at something for which they’ve worked all year to qualify. Nerves take over, and sometimes it’s a struggle to cope. Our first timer found it tough the first couple of days, but this only made it all the more gratifying for her—as well as her coaches, family and the pony—when she put it all together to place in the farewell competition on the final day.

Richard Lamb, the team’s chef d’equipe, and I took special pride in Nicole Kehrli’s win in the first night’s speed class. She rode with control and classic style around a tightly executed track to top the field, without a hint of the frantic running that can too often seem an inevitable part of pony jumping.

Linda Allen said she took special pride in seeing one of her Pony Club riders, Nicole Kehrli on Northwind’s Opus, do well at the USEF National Pony Jumper Finals. Photo by Meghan Blackburn

Unlike most anything else the kids participate in during the year, Pony Jumper Finals and the USPC Championships allow riders to participate as part of a team. For the less experienced they have teammates to rely on for advice and even an understanding shoulder to cry on should the need arise. For the more experienced riders the added pressure of performing for the team as well as for themselves is a great lesson. Sadly, opportunities to ride on a team are few and far between. The North American Junior and Young Riders Championships, a Spruce Meadows tournament in the summer, and the USEF National Junior Jumper Championships at the Pennsylvania National are the main ones for any rider outside the small, elite group who take part in Nations Cups.

USPC Championships, the EAP and Pony Finals—each offers the chance to stray from the rather cookie-cutter format of most horse shows. Getting out of one’s comfort zone expands skills and shows what you’re capable of. For many it’s a trade off since attending a special event might mean missing a customary show or some easier points toward a year-end award. But so often it is the path toward learning, and the variety of experiences can certainly enrich your enjoyment of the sport.

As I’ve accomplished an ever-expanding variety of things within the sport I love, I find I appreciate all of it more. My greatest love is within the international end of the sport, but as the years go by I realize more and more how important it is to look at the sport from bottom to top.

Creating a love of learning in our young people is key to ensuring that our country continues to produce the sort of brilliant horsemen who have led us to where we now are in jumping, hunters and equitation. Ensuring that a new generation of horsemen has the knowledge to develop the horses being bred in our country must go hand in hand with the breeders’ work to produce young stock. Only in this way will we be producing competition horses on a par with the rest of the world. This is all far more difficult in the age we live in than it was in decades past. Fewer people live on farms and ranches, the costs of keeping horses continue to rise, all while the “quick and dirty” route to success beckons when ribbons too often seem to be all that matter.

Sometimes stepping out of your normal routine to experience something new can be a good way to get a fresh perspective. Whether it’s traveling to another country, learning about another discipline, going on a foxhunt, setting your sights on the NAJYRC, or just showing at a few shows in a different area, our sport offers a nearly endless assortment of new experiences. You might find that, indeed, variety is the spice of life.

Noted international course designer Linda Allen created the show jumping courses for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and the 1992 FEI World Cup Finals. She’s a licensed judge, technical delegate and a former international show jumper. She lives in Fillmore, Calif., and San Juan Cosalá, Jalisco, Mexico, and founded the International Jumper Futurity and the Young Jumper Championships. Allen began writing Between Rounds columns in 2001.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. The original version of “Variety Can Be The Spice Of Life” ran in the Sept. 19, 2011, issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

If you’re a Chronicle subscriber, you can log into and read all of the Between Rounds columns that were printed from 2010 to present.


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