From trimming whiskers to painting hooves, many details go into preparing a horse for the show ring, but preparing a rider requires an equal amount of skill. Lapels must be pinned, boots and sometimes gloves must be taped and makeup must be flawless. And then there is always the challenge of the horse show bun.
Photo by Avis.Not one, but three judges stand in center ring at most of the larger shows on the Saddlebred show circuit. The competitors have worked their hardest to impress each of these judges, with no room to make adjustments without at least one pair of eyes on them. The judges turn their cards in and take a well-deserved seat as the tabulators get to work figuring out who will walk away with the blue ribbon. What is this magic that takes the opinion of three different people and creates the official placings? In today’s day and age, you may assume it is a fancy computer system that spits out the results, but this is not the case. It’s paper, pencil and the human brain.
The UPHA founding officers, Tom Moore, Chat Nichols, Don Brockman and Ben Segalla.
Like many great stories, the story of the United Professional Horsemen’s Association began at a bar.
Today, this professional organization works to improve horse show conditions, creates and funds various programs and scholarships, and provides leadership, advocacy and vision across multiple saddle seat breeds. But in 1967, it was just an idea tossed around by a group that recognized its need but never quite believed it would work … until it did.
Its motto, “Horsemen Helping Horsemen,” had a lot to do with that success. From the very beginning, the UPHA has epitomized that motto, and, while the story of its founding is one of struggle, daring and vision, it is also one of teamwork. This teamwork is the thread that binds the UPHA’s past and present, and ensures that its story is far from over, even now.
With increasing age horsemen often hear people ask, “Are you still riding?” The other question that you will hear is, “Do you still have THAT horse?”
Some people (horsemen or not) believe that you need to keep updating to a new horse, just like you regularly update to a newer model car. Personally, I have never held to that philosophy. I expect my cars and trucks to last to a minimum of 200,000 miles, and I ride my horses for as long as I am fortunate to have them in good health. Hopefully that will be well over 20 or even 30 years.
Are there any good reasons to get a new horse every few years — yes! If finances, location, or available time limit you to owning only one horse, then it may be reasonable to think about changing horses regularly.
In her 1997 memoir, equitation legend Helen Crabtree tells the story of the 1979 AHSA Medal Finals when her student Shauna Schoonmaker was asked to switch horses.EQ118.16. It is the USEF rule that every equitation rider has imagined but few have experienced – the exchange of horses test, where riders are asked to dismount from their own horse and climb aboard the mount of their competitor.
Most equitation riders go an entire career without being asked to perform this unique test, individual pattern work being the much more common course of events, and this is no surprise since the test has always been at least slightly controversial. Top show horses cost a lot of money; what happens if one pulls a shoe or injures itself with another rider on board? What about the liability? And, perhaps the biggest question of all: does it really prove what is intended?
But despite all of these concerns, the test has prevailed. Today, due to its controversy, it is used rarely and only as a tiebreaker, yet it remains a longed-for addition to equitation competition, known for prompting some of the greatest moments in the sport’s history, and providing new thrills to an industry desperate for excitement.
The exchange of horses test has been in effect for decades, with minor changes throughout the years. The current rule reads: “Exchange horses. This test is to be used only after four or more of the top riders have been tested. Only one pair of riders to exchange. Saddles can be exchanged. The attendant for each horse being exchanged must be allowed in the ring only to facilitate the change. The purpose of this test is to break a tie.”
Knollwood Farm trainer Scott Matton was chair of the UPHA Equitation Committee and a member of the United States Equestrian Federation Saddle Seat Equitation Committee when this version of the rule was put into effect in 2001.
“It needed to be revised because it had been so abused,” Scott said. “There were no guidelines. They were doing it just for the sake of doing it and watching the inequality that had happened.”