By Zazou Hoffman
The start of the New Year is a good time to formulate a game plan for your riding. Take a realistic look at your riding skills, the ability of your horse and the amount of time and money you can devote to the sport. Come up with a list of goals. Then go to your finance person for a consultation – this is most likely your parents, although you may be able to make a contribution yourself if you have an after-school job or other money saved up. Once you know how much you have to spend, you can sit down with your trainer and review your options.
If you are interested in doing equitation, start by learning about the different types of medal classes available on a local, state, and national level. The bigeq.com website is a great resource. Make sure that you join ALL the organizations as quickly as possible and take copies of your cards to every show. Nothing is more heartbreaking than winning a Medal class only to find that your points are invalid because your membership is not current.
Learn how to access the websites and track your points. Here’s a firsthand example of how important this is. When I was chosen for the George Morris Horsemastership Sessions in Wellington, Florida, it was based upon the Bates Equitation Rankings. The rider’s Big Eq placings are supposed to be reported by each horse show directly to Ryegate, the clearinghouse for Bates Equitation points. As recently as last year many of the horse show managers in the western states were not familiar with the program. I tracked down several hundred missing points that were ultimately crucial to my ranking on the Bates list which in turn qualified me for the George Morris Sessions. Although the reporting of points has been streamlined with better computer software, the onus is still on YOU, the rider, to report any missing points and follow up on the corrections.
If you are going to try to qualify for the Indoor Medal Finals in the fall, write the dates on your calendar now and make your hotel reservations early. The more modestly priced rooms get booked up. One I’ve used is equestriantravel.com. They block-book rooms at a discounted rate and you can place your request with them.
If you don’t have an equitation horse, but have a hunter, look into the World Champion Hunter Rider Program. I know the name is waaaay over the top, but it’s a great program. I stumbled on this award program when my homebred children’s hunter, Andy Warhol, had quite a bit of success at the local shows and I wanted to get some experience against more competitive horses. I used this program’s show dates as my template for the entire year. It takes the four highest scores out of designated WCHR shows throughout the year. The year-end Awards for the Southwest are presented at an elegant dinner at the Menlo Park Charity Show. The prizes are beautiful leather halters, embroidered saddle pads and splendid tack trunks. In my case it gave me a goal for the year and gave me experience at the most competitive shows without having to spin my wheels with frustration knowing that I could never acquire the year end points that riders aiming for Devon, Washington, or Harrisburg were going for.
I want to mention two other programs, the FEI Children’s International Jumping Final and The Ronnie Mutch Scholarship.
The first one is hard to find on the USEF website so here’s the link, but you may still have to call. It’s a wonderful competition on borrowed horses with riders from foreign countries. Much of the cost is picked up by USEF and the FEI. The qualifier for our region is at the Oaks in San Juan Capistrano in the fall. The one show–that’s it.
The Ronnie Mutch scholarship information can be found here. It provides for one rider and one working student to get an inside look at the prestigious Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida for two weeks and includes instruction from top trainers, accommodations, and a horse show stall. The applicant must be 15 years or under, jumping 3 foot courses or higher, and submit a video of their riding. The deadline is early January. Winning the Working Student Scholarship is the reason that I was able to meet Missy Clark and move into the 3’6” Medals and the USET Talent Search. It afforded me the opportunity to qualify for the Indoor Finals and opened my eyes to a world that I would never have otherwise experienced.
To sum up, it’s important to set attainable goals so that you don’t become discouraged. Riding should be fun. At the same time it’s important to dream big dreams and set your sights high. Challenge yourself. That said, you could be limited by your horse. It’s difficult to take a cold hard look at your horse’s strengths and weaknesses but you have to do it. The alternative is to waste a lot of horse show fees and your travel budget on an unattainable goal. You can also challenge yourself in other ways. Here in Southern California, there is the unique Foxfield Jumping Derby over a course of stadium and cross country (natural) jumps, the Santa Barbara Amateur Horse Show, which offers great beginner jumper classes, some for optimum time and with children’s classes broken down by specific age, and the Flintridge Children’s Horse Show Hunt Team class which awards the best three person tandem horse and rider team for their precision in riding a course of jumps, keeping equal distance between riders, their three abreast jump, and the most creative theme and costume. All three of these are at beautiful venues where you can bring your family and friends. Maybe one of them will fit as a goal for you and your horse. Happy New Year and let’s all dream big equestrian dreams!
Zazou Hoffman is a 16-year-old from Santa Monica, CA. As a 13-year-old, having only shown locally, she decided to apply for the Ronnie Mutch Working Student Scholarship. She won, which led to working with respected East Coast trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan. Through hard work and commitment, by Jan. ‘07 Zazou was one of seven elite riders chosen to work with Olympic Chef d’Equipe George Morris in Wellington, FL. She has competed in the Medal Finals for the past three years. She counts her win at the Maclay Regional, her 4th in “the Medal” at Harrisburg, her 5th in the USET Talent Search East at Gladstone, and her 3rd in the WCE amongst her notable accomplishments.