Outside Hunter Princessing

Let's take a trip back in time to the beginning of October...

The most perfect hunt pony who ever lived! 
When I first discovered the concept of a hunter trial, I was very excited. It is a discipline practically custom-made for Dino and I.

A hunter trial is in essence, a horse show for foxhunters.

While there are a lot of things I love about eventing (the dressage, the ride times, the thrill of getting it right on XC, the objectivity of the scoring and the amazing people I encounter at every HT), there is a piece of my heart that still loves the hunter ring.

I love the style inherent in hunters - beautiful horses groomed to the 9's with tight, perfect braids and gleaming coats. I love the classic, minimalist tack and attire. I love the idea of the perfect round, the perfect distance, of beauty intertwined with function and efficiency. I love the strategy of riding a great hack class. While eventing is my current challenge and the sport which I've chosen to pursue, I am still a bit of a hunter princess on the inside.

A hunter trial combines everything I love into one competition: the beauty, style, and tradition of the hunter ring taken outside the arena fence and put to the test over a course set in a big grass field. The winning horses must demonstrate the extra spark, common sense, and bravery needed when out hunting, jumping around natural obstacles out of a bold, forward pace. But with some style.

As the damn-cutest-jumping foxhunter/event pony who ever lived, Dino is exactly the type of horse that would excel in a hunter trial. So I was SUPER pumped when I figured out that we'd be able to attend the hunter trial put on by the hunt we had capped with earlier in the season, and made it a goal of mine to compete.

With a few days of rain behind us, the grass footing was sure to be much improved from its former concrete-like state, and with a decent jumping lesson under our belts from the day before, I was feeling mostly prepared for the 2'3 division.

That is, until, I rolled onto the showgrounds and discovered that my competition was not made up so much of rough-and-ready hunt horses as it was very fancy show hunters, some with professional trainers on board.

Gulp. Cue internal freakout.

I tried to steady my nerves and warmed up in the big sand arena next to the show ring. Dino was pretty lit and distracted by the atmosphere, but was moving forward quite well and taking our warm up fences in stride. Standing at the in-gate watching our competition, my old friend the butterfly started to flap around. Most of the horses in our division were seasoned show hunters, and every horse that wasn't wearing studs was having problems with the footing. While the ground itself was perfectly softened by the rain, the grass was long, very wet, and laying down flat, making the show ring a veritable slip 'n slide for horses without extra traction. I watched two horses fall down to the ground, and many many more have refusals and slide into the base of the jumps because of the slick footing.

When it finally came time for our turn, I hiked up my big girl pants and went on in there. The round would be what it was, and I just had to ride the best I could.

I followed my entrance plan to a T - trotting boldly into the ring and picking up a good hand gallop as we turned towards the center of the ring in our opening circle. Dino felt keen and ready to go, our jumping canter was right where I needed it to be, and then I felt his hind end fishtail around the turn. Every few strides on the opening circle, I felt my pony start to slip.

This was not going to be good.

I aimed Dino at the first fence, and as he gathered himself for the last stride, his hind end slipped again and we slid to a stop. I turned him around and trotted the jump, but his confidence in the footing had been totally undone, and my pony trotted wild-eyed around the turn to fence 2. We managed to get over the second jump, but then slipped all the way to fence 3 and slid to another refusal. I made the choice at that point to retire - it just wasn't worth pushing Dino around that slick course just for the sake of finishing the round. This show was supposed to be about showing off a confident hunt pony, and making Dino continue on would be unsafe and unfair. I scratched my second over fences round, and then went into the indoor to school a bit so that Dino wouldn't think he was done jumping because he stopped.

Thankfully, he jumped wonderfully in there! He picked up a good forward canter right away, and hopped around the small jumps without issue.

I decided to still ride in the hack class, since the ring was enormous and we wouldn't have to make any circles or sharp turns that might cause Dino to slip.

I'm SO glad I did!

The competition in the hack was just as intimidating as it was in the over fences classes - 13 horses, most of them very, VERY nice, and several ridden by pros.

But guys, I LOVE a good hack class.

Trotting into the arena, stretching my pony out long and low as we passed the judge's stand, I went into zen mode. Hack classes are my jam. I know exactly how to ride a good hack, and was overflowing with confidence in myself and my pony.

Dino felt FANTASTIC. He was forward, confident, and stretching out into my hand during the entire class. My pony was moving beautifully, listening well, and I expertly placed him in the crowd for maximum exposure of his best movement. Our upward transitions were beautiful, even the walk to canter. When they called the hand gallop, we were right about to pass the judge. I floated the reins, squeezed a bit with my leg, and Dino surged forward into a beautiful gallop right down the straightaway in front of the judge. We NAILED IT. It could not have been a more perfect class!

I was proud of Dino's performance, and proud of how he stood stock still in the lineup on a floppy rein, just as a good hunt horse should. I was ECSTATIC when they called our number for fourth place! In that huge group of fancy show horses, my scrappy little pony and I held our own. While the day didn't start out the way I wanted it to, it ended with me beaming in pride. Looking at the show photos afterwards and seeing that Dino looked as jaw-droppingly awesome as he felt was the icing on the cake.

My little champion! <3 nbsp="" td="">
The jumping will come along in time. I've worked hard to build a partnership with my pony, and the evidence of that is building all the time on the flat. I couldn't be prouder of my little buddy.


  1. Wow, congrats on placing in a field like that!

  2. <3 that photo !!! Also you need to come down to the hunter trials at tranquility. I think it's soon!!! They are awesome and so fun and definitely not swamped by pros lol

  3. That sounds like loads of fun! I want to do one :D

  4. You guys look so dreamy in that first pic!

  5. How gorgeous do you two look in that first picture? (100% gorgeous)

    A hunter trial is something I would love to do!

  6. hes a PERFECT little show hunter. thats an awesome niche to find yourself in. sucks about the footing, i bloody hate that. it was smart of you to scratch because honestly thats not fun to ride anyway.

  7. What a great show you had - congratulations! I'm glad that you made the decision you did about the jumping.

  8. That footing is a total bummer, but it sounds like that was less confidence issues and more just that it was not a good day for jumping on the grass. You guys look super amazing in that photo though!

  9. So frustrating about the footing! But so glad you got some satin!

  10. I think you definitely made the right call in the jumping class. You've been working so hard on your confidence (and Dino's too) that it would be silly to let it all go down the drain for the sake of finishing the course. It's just such a bummer the footing was bad! So glad it ended on a high note though! Congrats!

  11. Risking a fall due to footing is never worth it -- although having to scratch is definitely disappointing. Glad you had such a good time in the hack tho!


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