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Embracing Hunterland

My first horse show of the season is 11 days away… which elicits numerous emotions, chief among them excitement and nervous unease. I’m ecstatic to return to the show ring, and am thrilled finally, finally summer is upon us. However, after all that has transpired over the last six months, I’m also nervous about how events will unfold, and nervous about how unprepared I feel. While it’s easy to fall into the trap of negative self-doubt, I am consciously making an effort to battle away my fears with one principal tactic: embrace Hunterland.

Team Brookside

For all that there is a lot about Hunters to complain about (politics, drugging, cheating), there is also a lot to be said in favor of the sport… particularly for timid adult amateurs like myself. Those who compete in Eventing and Dressage undoubtedly shake their heads at all the assistance us hunter princesses are permitted, but I find confidence and assurance in these practices. My plan for the first horse show includes two to three sessions of lunging, one or two training schools and a few training rounds over the course of the weekend. In fact, I have a pretty concrete idea of how things will unfold:

Thursday evening or Friday morning

Miles arrives at the show grounds, he settles into his stall and then I take him out for a hand walk. After that, we lunge for probably 20-30 minutes. After a water break, the working student will hop on and school Miles over all the jumps in both rings we may potentially show in. Depending on how things go, I will get on and do the same.

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Another lunge session Saturday morning, hopefully shorter, followed by the working student showing Miles in the Special Hunter division (2’3″-2’6″). If that goes well, I will plan to show Miles in the afternoon in the 2’6″ Thoroughbred Hunters. If things don’t go well, working student will probably continue to show Miles. If things continue to go well, and we both have enough energy, I’ll also show in the 2’6″ Intermediate Adult Hunters.


We may or may not lunge Sunday morning, depending on how much Miles did yesterday, and how much energy he finished with. We’ll plan to show again in the 2’6″ Thoroughbred Hunter and possibly the 2’6″ Intermediate Adult Hunters. If working student showed Miles all day Saturday, she’ll show him again on Sunday. I won’t show if Miles isn’t calm, cool and collected. And I’m okay with that.

Miles Canter Flat at Equivents 2015

Do I feel bad about lunging my horse, when I know it’s not good for his joints? Yes, I do. Do I feel guilty for having him jump around and show in so many divisions? A little bit, but I’ve worked hard to keep his fitness up so that he his physically prepared to do so. Do I secretly wish that I could confidently ride my own horse, all the time? Yeah, yeah I do. But above all else, I have two responsibilities: 1) to my horse’s physical and mental well-being and 2) to my own physical and mental well-being. Those are the two people I have to answer to at the end of every day: my horse and myself… and no one else.

Happy Horse, Happy Rider

So I’m going to happily take advantage of the ample schooling opportunities that Hunterland provides. I’m going to embrace the practice of having someone more qualified than myself school and show my horse. And I’ll enthusiastically listen to my trainer as she gives me small bits of advice from rail as I approach a jump in the show ring. Because for all that it might mean I’m not quite as capable on my own, I do know that it will give both me and my horse a better experience and we will return home on Sunday with smiles on our faces.


Fly On Over is an equestrian lifestyle blog devoted to connecting horse lovers around the world. By providing equestrians with practical tips and tricks related to horse ownership, discussing training techniques for horse and rider, as well as covering industry news.

21 thoughts on “Embracing Hunterland

  1. Good luck at the show!! No judging here- you aren’t lunging him down to make him quieter so you will win, you are just trying to get quiet rides out of him to rebuild both of your confidences and I don’t see anything wrong with that! No shame in dropping down in jump height either, until you are confident again. I know jumps look much higher to me this time around than they did with my first horse!

  2. I pretty much always plan to lunge each day of an overnight show for at least 15 minutes, just because my horse lives out 24/7, and it seems unkind to put him in a stall for several days and not give him a chance to work out any stiffness and get out his sillies. If he’s really tired the last day we’ll just hand walk for 20-30 minutes, but a short lunge each day IMO does more good than harm.

    But you’re right! You need to do what you know is right by you and your horse, and I am all for having a show that leaves you feeling confident, rather than one that leaves you more scared than you were before arriving.

  3. Listen, I don’t think lunging is that terrible for them. **GASP** I know… Yes, if you’re lunging on a tiny circle over bad footing, that’s not good. If you’re horse is running full tilt on a circle, yes,that’s bad. If your horse is moving forward and maybe throwing a few bucks on the lunge circle, you’re not hurting him. 20 minutes or so is not going to damage your horse. 3 hours? Yes, that’s bad.
    This all sounds like a solid plan! I hope Mr Miles is ready to be a solid citizen this year and remind you how fun horse shows are. Yes, he may show in a lot of classes, but you’re not jumping huge fences and pounding on him. Cantering around at 2’6″ isn’t much more to him than cantering ground poles (to us, AHHH JUMPS, but to him, it’s really not a physical strain to jump that height.) Your outlook is spot on. At the end of the day, do what’s best for you and for Miles.

  4. Get yourself a lavender sachet and keep it on you through the day. Night before the show, sleep with it right by your face (drink some chamomile, too, just to be sure). Your nerves will be out the door, and you’ll sleep like a rock. It worked wonders for me.

  5. Good luck at the show. I’m not opposed to the help that hunters get. I think that’s great for the riders who need it. The drugging and the politics are what drive me crazy about hunters. And the hurry up and wait. I think if hunters had ride times I’d be much more interested in participating.

  6. Sounds like you have a detailed plan in place to help quell your anxieties and I hope that it provides you with the safeguards and comfort you need so you are able to show your horse and have fun!

  7. Such a strange, mystical land you show in. ; ) Really though, I can see how hunterland is the best for someone with confidence issues. SO many opportunities to school or have someone school for you. Maybe one day my brain will be able to cope with that.

  8. Good luck at the show! There is nothing wrong with good preparation. I have nothing against lunging, but I find that my horses respond better to an early morning hack than an early morning lunge. It seems to take the edge off better than lunging. At our barn, the hunters always hack in the rings early in the mornings (which is really fun at WEF because we are stabled off grounds and have to hack to the show). I always hack my AO jumper gelding in the mornings. My mare only needs to hack maybe the first day, but my gelding needs a hack every morning to get him loose and focused.

  9. Personally I do not enjoy hunters but there is an advantage to all the practice and help allowed. I have thought (BRIEFLY) about doing some just to help my confidence and B’s.

    Good luck this weekend!!

  10. That is something I miss about hunterland. Dressage is a good challenge but its a little nerve wracking entering a ring you haven’t been able to school in before. And anxiously awaiting what your trainer will say when you exit the arena

  11. I hope your not concerned about people judging you for making your horse kind of work work for one weekend to get back into the show rhythm! Enjoy your show weekend with you horse, either as a proud mama from the rail or as an awesome rider in the stirrups!

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