The Transition From Ponies To Horses And The Leap From 3′ to 3’6″

By Zazou Hoffman

The pony hunter ring allows the rider to get a real sense of what the judge is looking for in a hunter. Because the classes are smaller, broken into small, medium, and large pony divisions, the rider and the parents can watch every round; i.e. the whole division from beginning to end. So you can see what the judge rewards in the way of conformation and form over fences as well as in the under saddle classes. From watching and studying the same ponies over a two or three day period, you will learn various judges tastes (each day the judges rotate rings) and can begin to understand what wins. Often it seems that only the “name” ponies, which tend to be the most expensive ponies, are rewarded, but there are exceptions. And here’s the thing–there is camaraderie at the pony ring that gets lost in Children’s Hunters where the divisions have a ginormous number of entries. Your brain would turn to mush if you sat and watched every round, sometimes over a hundred. You never really get to see what the judge wants. Watch and learn at the pony ring as much as you can.

Don’t be too quick to move out of the pony ring, but if you are getting frustrated with competing against the top ponies, try some pony equitation classes and pony medals. Use the pony ring as a place to learn. Take notes on which ponies win consistently, try to watch videos of the best pony rounds from the indoor shows. On the East Coast many of the best pony riders are in their late teens. The Green Pony division is beginning to emerge on the West Coast and there is a real need for competent riders to help train the ponies that show exceptional talent.

Having the chance to show large pony hunters is an advantage in the transition to horses. Large pony hunters actually jump the same height, 3′, as Children’s Hunters (horses). It is more challenging for a pony than it is for a horse to jump that height, and also to cover the longer distances between fences. So pony riders who successfully pilot a large pony around generally feel comfortable with the height and make the transition to horses more readily. After jumping a 3′ course on a pony, you are ready for the next leap onto a horse.

When I rode ponies, I had a couple of difficult ones. They taught me to be a tenacious rider, which got me noticed by other trainers. I was lucky to be asked to catch-ride many wonderful and nationally known ponies. At the same time my mother had a green hunter horse, Andy Warhol, who was ready to move into the Children’s Hunters. We learned together. He was Small Junior Hunter size, so as I advanced, so did he. This is where we learned about another great transition division, the Modified Hunters. At 3’3″ it is an obvious transition height into the Small Juniors, which are 3’6″. One consideration is that there is no prize money because it is an unrated division and there are a ton of competitors. It’s a great practice division, but it’s meant as a transition to the 3’6″. When I moved into the Junior Hunters I can’t say it was seamless, but I did it. The Modified Division helped.

Once again the Junior Hunter Divisions are smaller, as in the ponies, and I took advantage of this by watching and getting a real feel for what the judge was looking for. Here in California, especially at Thermal, we have some of the finest hunters in the country competing. It is amazing to see such great athletes, with flawless conformation and movement, beautifully presented. They are like the most amazing Breyer horse models, but you can go up and touch them and ask the rider questions about their personality and what it’s like to ride them.

If you are already competing on a horse, Children’s, Modified or Junior, take the time to watch the 3’6″ hunters. Watching has taught me a lot over the years, not only about what the judge is looking for but also about the ride.

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.

Setting Attainable Goals For the Show Ring

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 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 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.

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.