Riding the rail: winning tips for horse show flat classes. Part 1

No jumps. No pylons. No letter markers. Unlike classes assessing the accuracy of patterns, the quality of movements in tests, or how the competitor meets each jump on course,  flat or rail classes  appraise the picture of  you and your horse  “in profile”.

Flat classes are the most subjectively judged of horse show events. Without the numerical scoring systems of other disciplines, a judge has more latitude for his preferences. Still, there’s more to the sorting process than “The judge just didn’t like my horse”. Most judges employ a hierarchy of attributes to sort entries:

  • Correctness – Is the competitor functionally sound and conforming to the rules? Correct leads,  diagonals and gait rhythms?
  • Quality – is the entry pleasing to the eye? Self-carriage. Well turned out.
  • Degree of difficulty – An eye-catching specialness separating an entry from the pack. An element of risk or creativity.

What’s the judge is looking for?.

When I entered my first show, I didn’t know the difference between equitation and hunter under saddle. I paid the entry, followed the announcer’s instructions but failed to read the rule book.

I encourage the riders I coach to mine the rule book for more than the rules. In it you’ll find treasures:   the purpose  of each class; words and phrases describing  poor, correct and exceptional movement.

As a professional trainer, hunter under saddle became my favourite class. What I’ve learned in the show ring I pass on to my students – navigating the arena and the artistry of presenting a horse well.  I learned to uncover and accentuate a horse’s best qualities while minimizing their lesser attributes.

The big idea.  What’s the point of this class? As a judge,  I survey the group of horses moving around the ring and visualize the ideal- the entry illustrating the original intent of the class. Could that hunter under saddle effortlessly jump a course?  Would that road hack fit the hunt field?  Is that horsemanship rider not only elegant, but effective?  Is that pleasure hack truly a “pleasure” to ride? 

Part 2 next post