Bringing The Hunter Back

By  Tammy Chipko

Imagine watching a gorgeous horse galloping a course of fences that replicate what you would find in an open hunt field.

Imagine watching the art of good riding: jumping hunt obstacles that ask different questions of horse and rider – negotiating turns, establishing a true hunter pace, trotting a wide fence like one you might find in the country.

Imagine spectators who typically only watch the grand prix ring enthusiastically showing up at the hunter ring to cheer on their favorite hunters. And, most importantly, understanding what a hunter is all about.

Well, you don’t have to imagine it any longer. The High Performance Hunter is here and, due to those who have worked hard to get it back, is gaining recognition.

It all started with George Morris who earlier this year told me that he had “…planted the seed. It’s now up to everyone else to make it happen.” Well, as most of us know, when George Morris speaks, we listen! So, it is thanks to people like Diane Carney, a member of the High Performance Committee, who have invested valuable time to develop a program that will bring the lost art of showing the traditional hunter back to the show ring.

High Performance Riding means addressing the jump through good horsemanship. We want to build courses that address height and width with more demanding jumps. We have had tremendous support from everyone regarding this class. Riders everywhere are rising to the occasion. Lauren Hough and Beezie Madden are just a few of the jumper riders who have shown a lot of enthusiasm and are looking forward to competing in these classes in the coming year.

How it Works
There will be four classes in each region. The classes will be held at ‘AA’ shows, in grass fields or in sand arenas, and offer a minimum of $10,000.00 in prize money. Each class will be judged by four judges, two groups of two judges each. The first round is a classic hunter type of round. The second round will be a handy course rewarding those who show true handiness with a bonus of up to ten points.

I had the chance to compete in one of these classes at the Washington International Horse Show. The jumps were spectacular, the courses were fun and challenging, and the spectators were thrilled. It was a very memorable experience and I hope all of you, either as exhibitors or spectators, will get a chance to be part of this. These events will be well worth the walk over to the hunter ring.

Check for the 2008 schedule of the High Performance Hunter classes at

Special thanks to Kristi Siam for providing this classic hunter photo.

Conversations With Equestrians: George Morris

By Tammy Chipko

I was honored to speak with George Morris regarding the 2007 USEF Talent Search Finals West. Anyone who has communicated with George Morris understands his passion and love for the horse and the sport. He is a man with strong opinions, a wealth of knowledge and is well-respected on a multitude of levels.

Tammy Chipko: I asked George if he would take a few minutes and allow me to interview him regarding the USEF Finals. George has a very unique way of asking and answering his own questions, which made my job extremely easy. Here is his take on the finals.
George Morris: First off let me say that Jeffrey Welles (my co-judge) was a superb judge. He has a great feel for a rider. He looks for a rider that gets the most from their horse. I truly enjoyed judging with him and strongly recommend him for future USEF Finals. Also, I have to say that Griffith Park is a wonderful facility to hold the USEF Finals. The facility is well kept and has a beautiful presence. I hope they continue to host these Finals. To have the indoor ring, under the lights, for the first two phases is wonderful. To go out on the field for the third final allows for great diversity.

TC: How did you decide what to ask of the riders in the first phase on the flat?
GM: My main focus is horsemanship. This means the condition, care, and turn out of the horse and rider. The presentation is of the utmost importance to me. A good horseman is scrupulously clean! (Take note: Archie Cox said the same thing when EquestriSol interviewed him for the Jr. Hunter Finals!) The horse must look healthy, happy, and sound. I find it discouraging that so many riders are not meticulous. Real horsemanship is lost in this country due to too much showing and not enough attention to detail.

Due to the format we did not have much time so I looked for riders that were able to execute what was asked of them in a positive and definite manner. I believe in strong basics. Keeping it simple is a positive thing for both horse and rider. Good extensions and collection work shown as well as possible is what I was looking for.

TC: Both you and Jeffrey Welles designed the gymnastics phase. What were you hoping to see?
GM: I believe the Gymnastics phase should prepare the horse and rider for a course of fences. That is why I call this a course of gymnastics! Having this portion indoors under the lights makes it a bit more difficult so we took that into consideration. We set a course of gymnastics that were a set of problems, starting with easy problems and progressing to more difficult problems. We asked questions in this phase, whether to add strides or leave out strides. The line that was set against the rail had a short three stride, to a two stride, to an option of a four or five stride line. It was much more difficult to show a correct five strides than a forward flat four strides. Now of course if you have a large strided horse and could make the four strides work than that is the exception. This is a Jumper-type medal, and if that last fence had been a foot taller most would have had it down.

TC: The vertical liverpools in a figure eight were also challenging.
GM: I love problems! Who can solve problems? Who has done their homework? I set the first vertical liverpool off a related distance. This allowed the riders to get going. The second liverpool was set off a tight turn away from the in-gate and was backwards. This showed me who had done their homework. You must be prepared. If you were not able to collect your horse with impulsion you were sure to have the rail down. This happened a lot.

TC: What was your approach in designing the final round on the grass field in the rain?
GM: Jeffrey and I designed a subtle course. We again wanted to produce a problem solving course. The first and second fences were set as an option away from the in-gate. If your horse drifted towards the gate it made it much more difficult. I personally did not mind six or seven strides as long as it was done early.The bank presented problems for some as well as the blind turn to the Swedish oxer. I again set this so that the high side was on the left. If your horse bulged out of the turn you would hit the high side (homework, homework, homework).

Of course the open water is always problematic. Some of the riders rode too hard at it and that made the next element very difficult. These kids do not jump the water enough. This course was about solving problems, not alleviating them. We as Americans take problems away. We make everything comfortable. I believe in problems. I believe in teaching riders to solve problems. That will make great riders.

TC: The final phase came with pouring rain and mud. Did this influence your judging in any way?
GM: I loved the rain and the mud! I was happy to have it. In Europe they show in this type of weather all of the time. This raised the bar and created discomfort and problems for everyone. Those who dealt with problems, including this one, made the top cut.

TC: Next and final was the top four. What were you looking for in these rounds?
GM: This should be ridden like a jump-off round. We reversed some of the fences creating different problems. There was significant distance between a couple of the elements which made for a lot of galloping. Time faults were a result of riders not galloping. Again, do your homework!

The final four pinned themselves. Judges were not needed. The girl that won (Natalie Rae Medlock) was focused, very correct. She had a great sense of the fence and the horse. She had a relaxed energy.

TC: Any last words?
GM: Do your homework. Practice uncomfortable. Don’t avoid problems, make problems and learn to solve them. I don’t care about feeling good – I want to accomplish good!

Congratulations to everyone who competed in the 2007 USEF Talent Search Finals West, especially the top four: Natalie Rae Medlock, Tina Dilandri, Allison LaJoie and Michelle Morris.

Thank you, George, for a wonderful interview. George Morris is the USEF Chef d’Equipe.

Conversations With Equestrians: Melanie Smith, Geoff Teall, Louise Serio

The USHJA Trainers Symposium was held on September 10-11, 2007 at the Oaks Blenheim Facility in San Juan Capistrano, CA. It was a rare opportunity to participate in practical training sessions and round table discussion with three top professionals: Melanie Smith, Geoff Teall and Louise Serio.

Geoff Teall works with Lorri Bein Quiett

I was able to spend a little time with these remarkable professionals and get some solid feedback on their thoughts about this Symposium.

Tammy: What did you think of the format of the Trainers Symposium?

Melanie: This is my first time doing this and I was impressed by the format and the turnout. With 3-4 riders as demonstrators, I think the spectators were able to see different situations within a small group. I liked the openness

of the spectators–they asked a lot of good questions and their input was quite valuable.

Louise: I enjoyed doing it a great deal. I thought everything and everyone was very well prepared and well organized.

Tammy: Would you like to see anything different in future TS?

Geoff: I think the concept is great. I personally would like to see a longer session (three days). I would also like to see very specific groups of three. I think it would be a great idea to take the same groups of horses and riders and have them do a session with each professional. This would give the future trainers and coaches an opportunity to see cross training. I think nowadays we are too specialized, meaning that a trainer is either a hunter trainer, an equitation trainer, or a jumper trainer. A good trainer/coach is a good horseman who can do all.

Tammy: What do you think about TS as a pre-requisite for future trainer certification requirements?
Melanie: I think it is a great idea. Becoming better educated in the sport is imperative to the growth and success of show jumping.
Geoff: I agree. The importance of consistency and continuity that is expressed within this setting is extremely educational. The communication between the spectators, demonstrators, and clinicians was great. The information that you get from Training sessions, and Judges’ clinics works like a funnel and if you can continue
feeding good material through that funnel, we will have more educated professionals and riders.
Louise: I think everyone can attend. As a clinician or an auditor there is so much valuable information to learn.

Tammy: Was there a reason you chose the exercises you did?
Melanie: I do the same exercises at home. I believe in consistency both for horse and rider. This will always encourage confidence and trust. I spent years with George Morris and Gordon Wright who always said the same thing: “Keep it simple.”
Louise: I think I surprised people with setting bounces and gymnastic exercises for the hunter groups. All horses and riders can benefit from these types of exercises. I spend a lot of time with my hunters cantering small jumps in a circle. It helps with balance, rhythm, timing, etc. A hunter, just like any other horse, needs to do more than straight lines.

Tammy: Is there an area that you’d like to see Trainers/Coaches and riders improve on?
Geoff: I think one of our biggest downfalls is that we are teaching people to show and not necessarily ride. We show too much! It is the responsibility of the professional to have a plan and decide how much each rider and horse should show. Doing less will promote a happier and more successful horse and rider.
Melanie: I think that there is a lack of true horsemanship. We as a whole don’t realize how important every moment (not just on the horse’s back) truly is. Every little thing helps to develop a connection and a bond
with a horse. My generation grew up with horses–they were our buddies–we did everything with them. I agree with Geoff. I think we put too much emphasis on horse shows and end up missing out on the true enjoyment of the horse.
Louise: I cannot agree more, we should show less! Practice more at home and give our horses a better life.

Natalie Lund, Mickie Sage and Tasha Visokay (l-r) at the USHJA Trainers Symposium

Tammy: Is there anything specific that you think our Trainers and Coaches excel in?
Louise: I think this country has really good teachers. I’ve seen teachers take riders with a medium amount of talent and teach them to be excellent riders. I think the teaching system continues to get better with opportunities like the Trainers Symposium.

Tammy: Any recommendations for current and future Trainers/Coaches?
Melanie: I think we need to focus on producing great riders. This should be our goal. We need to work on our mental game. We need to encourage people and horses to think on their own. It all starts with the mind and if we have a mental edge we will be far more successful.

Thanks again to Melanie Smith, Geoff Teall and Louise Serio for taking the time to speak with us. Look for an article on the USHJA Trainers Symposium in the upcoming issue of In Stride.

Conversations With Equestrians: Archie Cox

By Tammy Chipko

The USEF West Coast Junior Hunter Finals took place on August 20th & 21st at Showpark. The Finals consist of a handy class, hack class, and then a classic type round. Showcasing some of our top hunters, it was a great opportunity to catch up with one of the West Coast’s top hunter trainers, Archie Cox.

Tammy Chipko: What do you think about the Finals happening at Showpark this year?
Archie Cox: Holding it in the Grand Prix field is an outstanding place for both horse and rider. It is nice to see hunters on a large grass field. It gives you the feel of the horse and rider combination in a hunt field. It’s beautiful.

TC: The Juniors had to prepare their own horses and are not allowed to have anyone else ride them prior or during the competition. How do you feel about this?
AC: I think it’s great. What everyone learns with this format is that the junior riders are very capable of preparing their own horses. It gives the kids a better understanding of their horse and how much work their horse needs or does not need. I think sometimes we as trainers do too much. I think it also gives the kids a sense of accomplishment. It’s great for their confidence when they finish and they know that they did everything from the preparation to the ride in the show ring themselves.

TC: The first round was a handy round. What do you like to see in a handy round?
AC: The best description I have ever heard of a handy round came from Frank Chapot. He said, “The handy course is to be ridden in a ground-saving manner.” This means tight turns, efficient use of the ring, forward pace. I like to see a long gallop to either the first or last jump. This depends on the course as well as the course will dictate the length of stride and pace of the horse. If the handy course is ridden well it should show a lot of expression in a forward hunting pace. Remembering the whole time it still is a hunter round.

TC: How do you like to see the course designed?
AC: The course should resemble what you would find in a hunt field. I like to see a range of solid jumps as well as airy jumps. You want to design the course so that it shows off the classic style of the horse allowing for good gallops, and jumps that really show off the expression and quality of each horse. I think if it is designed this way the horse and rider combinations are able to show in a more natural state and should be rewarded for it.

TC: Can you comment on the turnout of horse and rider?
AC: I am a very detail oriented person. The turnout of both horse and rider is extremely important and both should look their absolute best.

TC: How do you feel about the Jr. Hunter Finals?
AC: I love it! The Hunter Finals have grown significantly over the past five years. We have some of the top juniors and horses from all over competing at this event. Because this is a stand-alone competition I think it creates a great group atmosphere for the kids. They get to meet other junior riders that they might not usually see, and because it’s all about the juniors it builds a strong comradery amongst them. It’s just a great opportunity for the junior riders to really shine and know that it truly is all about them!

Conversations With Equestrians: Joie Gatlin

Joie Gatlin just returned from spending over a month in Europe competing at some of the most prestigious horse shows in the world. We were able to spend a little while talking about her travels and experiences this summer. Her excitement and passion for the time spent in Europe is definitely worth sharing.

Tammy Chipko: What made you decide to do this tour?
Joie Gatlin: I planned it at the beginning of the year, thinking the trip would be a great experience for my horses as well as for me. I knew it would raise the bar, so to speak, for me. When you are there you are warming up with and competing against the best in the world, it certainly raises your expectations of your own riding ability. The caliber of riders that I was able to watch, and listen to, also made for an incredible experience – John Whitaker, Ludger Beerbaum to name just two I rode around with.

TC: How did your tour start?
JG: We left from Calgary and flew to Luxembourg. We then stayed at a farm in Belgium for a few days where I could ride prior to driving to Italy. The first competition was a CSI 5* in San Patrignano, Italy, ranked the biggest and most difficult of all the competitions in Europe.

TC: How were you accepted there?
JG: Everyone was incredibly friendly. The camaraderie was amazing! All the riders are competing against one another and they 100% are there to win but they still will help each other out as much as possible. I felt welcomed and respected.

TC: How did you do in Italy?
JG: I was the first to go clear and the crowd was fantastic. The stands were packed and everyone was so excited. I will never forget that moment. I ended up 9th overall. It was such a thrill to be standing in the winners circle with Christian Ahlmann, Markus Ehning, Markus Beerbaum and Meredith Michaels Beerbaum. I was so proud of Suncal’s King and so happy with our results.

TC: How did the tour continue?
JG: The second horse show was in Switzerland at a place called Ascona. Like many of the European shows, Ascona had beautiful rings, VIP tents, barns, etc. The Grand Prix was really tough competition with over 50 of the best ready to win. History repeated itself – I was the first clear round, and the crowd – you wouldn’t believe it! They were incredible. It was so exciting. I ended up 9th again and was elated.

We had a week off at this point and took the opportunity to do some sightseeing which was breathtaking. We also looked at some nice sale horses in different areas.

We then went to Jon Tops Week I Horse Show called “Valkenswaard,” another great show with again some of the top riders in the world there to compete. My young horse Twindoline was 2nd and 3rd in the young horse classes, very exciting. The Europeans really put a lot of effort into the young horse classes and strongly believe in this pattern of development. It was great to finish so well. And just as exciting was my 12th place finish in the Grand Prix. This is a beautiful show that anyone who has an interest in competing in Europe should attend.

TC: Congratulations on your success! Would you recommend that others (including Juniors or Amateurs) compete in Europe?
JG: Absolutely, it is a great opportunity. When you get a chance to watch, ride and compete with the best in the world it can only make you better. Your expectations are higher, your goals are higher, and your standards are higher. If you have the opportunity to take a horse and show at a few nice shows it can only improve your riding. Europe has so many beautiful places to see and wonderful people to meet. I would absolutely recommend it to any serious show jumper.

TC: Well, you must have a lot of catching up to do at home?
JG: I am very fortunate to have my husband Morley Abey as a partner. He really took care of everything this summer so I could have this opportunity. Not only did we have great tours in both Spruce Meadows and Europe, but Morley kept everyone at home happy and showing here. Thank you, Morley!

Conversations With Equestrians: Ashlee Bond

By Tammy Chipko

Congratulations to Grand Prix rider Ashlee Bond and her mare Southern Girl for topping the field on Saturday, June 30th in the $25,000 Red, White, and Blue Grand Prix. And continued congrats to Ashlee for also placing 2nd on her horse Tommy Gun.

I had the chance to speak with Ashlee regarding her victory and her future plans.

Tammy Chipko: Please tell us a little bit about your Grand Prix horses.
Ashlee Bond: Princess, Southern Girl’s barn name, is an 11-year-old home bred mare – she was both bred and born at my house. In fact, so was Tommy who is now 9 years old. I have been with them literally since they were born and I think that gives me a leg up, at least in knowing and understanding them. I know all of their quirks, likes, and dislikes.

Princess is such a fighter, she has a heart of gold and will do anything for me! She is small but I don’t think she knows that. This was her first Grand Prix win and I am so proud of her. What a start!

Tommy has the same attitude as Princess. He has a big heart and is also really there for me. I have a tremendous bond with these horses – they trust me and I in turn trust them. When we are out there, we are truly a team. It’s a great feeling knowing we are in sync.

I couldn’t do this without a team effort – my mom and dad’s undying support and Nacho’s ability to take such fabulous care of the horses. My dad says that these are Nacho’s horses and he lets us ride them!

I am fortunate that horses are also a passion for my dad. Tommy was his horse and I am lucky to be able to ride and show him. I am hoping he will be my World Cup Horse.

TC: Speaking of the World Cup, what are your future plans?
AB: I would like to compete in the ’08 World Cup Finals. So starting this September I will compete in the World Cup qualifiers. The Olympic Trials are next year, of course I would love to go. What a great experience that would be to compete in the Olympics on a horse we bred and raised. Tommy would give me his all and knowing how talented he is, it would be great to have the chance to represent the US on him. So ultimately the Olympics and the World Cup Finals, but I am taking it one day at a time.

TC: You have returned to the sport after being away for a while, what is it like to be back at this point in your career?
AB: I took some time off due to an injury and I needed to take a break, I was burned out. Taking that break was the best thing I ever did, it made me realize how much I missed riding and how important the horses are to me. I feel refreshed, with such a newfound passion for the sport. I am 150 percent committed and I’m excited about the future.

TC: You are a professional rider now. Do you plan on making a business out of this?
AB: Actually, I am riding professionally and would like to have the opportunity to ride other horses. I would like to have a sponsor, but for now I am just looking forward to the next competition and the next and the next… So I can continue to learn and prepare for the upcoming qualifiers.

TC: Well, I am sure we will see plenty more of you and your wonderful horses. Good Luck!
AB: Thank you!

Ashlee will be at the Oaks in August and then on to Showpark for the first World Cup Qualifying Grand Prix
in September.