So an eventer, a dressage rider, and a hunter walk into a bar…
Just kidding. It was only me, and I did walk into a bar, only the bar was my home and the bartender was my boyfriend. Too broke to afford a real drink or a designer beer because the money had been drained from my account and into the pockets of Hunterland.
And as I grabbed the Bud Lite from his hand I sank into the couch–exhausted and covered in dust and quiksilver, wearing a ball cap with perfect hand prints on my brand new Tailored Sportsmans. I turned to the bartender and tried to explain my day.
I had just completed my first recognized hunter show, Country Heir I at the Kentucky Horse Park. In true Carleigh fashion I decided to go big. Who needed the local schooling shows to be my entryway into Hunterland? Not me. Let’s do a AA show right out of the gate.
“It will go well! It will be stress-free!” my eventing brain reasoned. “It’s only a few ‘stadium’ rounds and a ‘miniature’ dressage test!” This was my rationale as I entered a 3′ division on my training level eventer.
But it wasn’t any of those things. It was not stress-free. It was not just some stadium rounds. And it wouldn’t have been plausible to survive if I not for a handful of amazing friends who calmed my nerves, polished my boots and answered my questions. So I feel as though I should pay it forward to the thousands of (ok, the three) eventers who want to journey off into Hunterland, and provide the answers I received.
1. What should I wear?
Well young one, you can wear whatever you like. We are so accommodating to unique styles and fun colors. Oh wait, no, that’s barrel racing. But us hunters are also “hip” and “cool”—trust us!
You can wear any jacket, just as long as it’s either black, or a dark enough navy that looks black. Your breeches can be one of 30 shades of tan Tailored Sportsmans, and please, please, please, make sure your custom made black hunt boots come exactly 0.4 up your knee cap.
Your shirt must be white and a wrap around and your helmet must be Samshield. You could possibly wear your Charles Owen Ayr8, but don’t you dare have any of that fancy schamcy piping.
Do you have pearls? No? Does your grandmother have pearls? GREAT. Wear those. Both in your ears AND around your neck.
Put on your clothes early in the day so you can walk around with a floppy hat and look cool, but make sure your groom is the only one who touches your horse. Stand at least 12 feet away from all equus caballus until 30 seconds before you get on. Put your hands into latex gloves so as not to touch your clothes. Smudges are not cool.
2. What should my horse wear?
Ahhhh, great question. Your horse should be adorned with just enough tack that it looks as though you are ridiculously wealthy while at the same time not standing out from other horses on the grounds. Here is what you should have:
A CWD/Devoucoux/Antares saddle of a specific hyde (preferably buffalo skin) and shade of brown, with a pristine white cut out pad. If said pad has a tint of off-white, throw away immediately. Don’t even think about using your monoflap. I repeat, don’t even think about it. You’re still thinking about it. Stop.
A finely stitched bridle with plain noseband. The bridle should be adorned by a D-ring, but if your horse could possibly top 7.6 mph, add a pelham. Regardless of bit, always have a standing martingale attached.
Regardless of horse, bit, or speed, draw reins should be attached at all times up until the moment in which you enter the arena. Speaking of draw reins, make sure that they are on while you jump, because nothing tells your horse to jump well more than having his eyes directed downwards towards the jump while going over it.
Moving onto braids…
The horse should appear with at least 727 braids. They should be perfectly spaced and sewn in with so much strength that a gorilla could not rip them out.
Use an entire bottle of either hairspray or quikbraid to ensure that they will not move in even gale force winds.
Stare at your braider’s (best friend’s) hands and marvel at how said braids go in so evenly and tight. Take two Advil after your eyes cross.
Convince yourself that your braider (best friend) is actually an alien. Or a Stepford Wife. No one else could create such perfection, unless they suffer from OCD.
Speaking of gorilla’s—find one. You will need him to get the braids out at the end of the show.
3. When should I get ready to go the ring for my class?
The answer is never. But always.
Always be near enough to the ring to know exactly when you need to get tacked up. Never actually tack up.
Check with the ring steward. Get a growl and a glare.
Don’t tack up.
Text your friends that you won’t ride for at least a few hours.
Check with the ring steward again. Get a deeper growl.
Play on Facebook. Play on Instagram. Watch Ellen on Youtube.
Then—TACK UP. OH MY GOD. NOW. GO GO GO GO.
4. So, how should I warm up?
Well, dear friend, this is where the fun really starts.
First off, find a friend. Or, if you don’t have any friends who are willing to show their face in Hunterland handy, pay a homeless person to stand next to a jump because you are not allowed to jump anything until someone or something that shares a closeness to you has claimed a jump. It’s kinda like a dog peeing on a fire hydrant—your space must be claimed. Mark that territory.
Pick up a canter. Jump a crossrail. Jump it again. When you are bored with jumping off of your left lead get confused because your homeless person chose the jump closest to the right side of the arena and you are unsure how to jump said fence off your right lead.
Stand in the middle of the ring looking perplexed, then finally voice your confusion. Let a nice trainer tell you that you can just change directions and jump the crossrail in the other direction. Stare at the standards to check for red and white flags. See none. Jump the crossrail quickly and while glancing off towards the in gate waiting to be eliminated for jumping it backwards. Relax once you see there is no such thing as a ring steward. It’s literally a free for all.
Since you don’t actually have a trainer you’ll be forced to scream at your friend (or homeless person) to raise the jumps as you go.
Get stared at for speaking. Riders should never speak. We are supposed to be robots. Trainers and homeless people speak. Remember this.
5. OK, I’m ready. Can I show now?
You had your homeless person put you down in the order of go, right? Oh, they didn’t? Then no. You don’t get to show. You get to sit under a tree and drink a bottle of water.
You tell the ring steward to add you to the order of go. She says you’re 11th. Great. You can handle that, 2 minutes a ride. That’s like 20 minutes. Sure.
You count 11 rides and start walking to the in gate. The ring steward growls again. What’s wrong? Oh. Wait. You’re 11th in order of go, not actual rounds. People get to do both rounds back to back? Oh, Ok. Sorry.
Back to the tree. Let the tree become your friend. Name it Fred. Fred is nice. Fred gives you shade and a friendly face.
6. Oh wait, 837 is my number? I just heard it called! Now! Now I ride?!
Yes! That is correct, you hunter you! Now is the time to strut your stuff. So you know how to jump a hunter round, right? You learned your course. It’s sooo easy. Outside line, diagonal line, outside line diagonal line. Jump all the jumps—WHOOOOOO! LET’S DO THIS!
Wait. One. Second. You want me to do what? You want me to get how many strides in that line? FIVE? HAHA! What?! It walked in like 5.5! Oh, you not only want me to get a five in a practically six stride line, you also want my horse to still appear to go slow? And his head can’t come up at all?
Oh, that’s not all? I also need to go in and immediately do a walk canter transition? Right there? No no, not 2 ft. after the second fence, 3 ft. after the second fence. Calm now, calm down. WHOA Mak! No, not a 13′ stride, a 13.6′ stride!
GOODNESS. Don’t you know what you’re doing? I thought I had trained you!
Push! Leg! Whoa! Not THAT much leg. Calm down. Goddamnit, this is harder than stadium.
Pace. 1, 2, 3, 4…1, 2, 3, 4…1, 2, SHIT, 4. Whoops.
Get in your corners…deeper. DEEPER. Oh crap, no Mak, don’t jump the arena. We’re not heading for cross country. He’s going to jump out! The brush is there for decoration, not a ground line!
No. I didn’t want you to angle that fence. Just go straight. STRAIGHT. Why don’t you know what straight is?!
Ok, only one more line. There’s the first fence. Great, perfect distance, and 1, 2, 3, 4…Huh?. Was that 5? Did I count the first stride? Or was it 4? Humph. Whatever, he left the rail up.
Oh yay, are we done? Thank god. Walk Mak, we good. Get me out of here before I mess up.
Oh. Wait. We were supposed to circle at the end. Damnit. We messed up.
I left the arena on a loose rein and hopped off. My homeless person came up and gave me a massive hug and fist bump. We had done it. This ranch worker turned eventer and sometimes prancing dressage queen, but mostly bumbling idiot, had completed a AA hunter show.
We didn’t even place but you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I had begged, borrowed or stolen every ounce of clothing and equipment on my horse. I paid for the world’s best braider (Kaitlin) with a hug and a cup of coffee. I had found the best homeless person/trainer (Alexa) to set fences and polish my boots. I had the best videographers (Jeff and Courtney) who stood there with smiles, calming my nerves. My vet even showed up and offered me calming acupuncture…again. And, at the end of the day, I accomplished my goal—I fit in.
All joking aside, it was a great experience. The show was amazingly run with friendly office staff who answered a million questions, amazing ring crews who worked efficiently and with a smile and the course was beautiful. I met numerous trainers and competitors who offered a helping hand, a golf cart and their own warm up fence, and I forced the grumpy ones to smile.
At the end of the day I conquered another item on the bucket list—“Play hunter princess on a thoroughbred you brought along yourself.” Check.
And let’s be honest, that’s all that really matters. My pony was phenomenal. My posture didn’t suck. And my pearls…well, my pearls are placed safely back in my jewelry box, polished and glistening, ready to play another day.
Until then, Hunterland, until then…
WATCH | How to Ride Like a %#@# in the Warm-up Ring
About the Author
Carleigh Fedorka is a Ph.D. student at the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center. A Pennsylvania native, she moved to Kentucky after graduating from St. Lawrence University and has worked closely in all aspects of the thoroughbred industry. She spends her free time eventing as well as training, selling and rehoming OTTBs. Read more about her horse life at her blog, A Yankee in Paris.