For the next several months this column will be almost exclusively devoted to covering equestrian competitions.
There are many such types of events, and they all welcome spectators -- usually at little or no charge. Here is a brief guide to horse competitions for those ofyou thinking of attending some of these events.
Besides racing on the flat -- such as horses do at Laurel or Pimlico -- horses also race over fences at point-to-point or steeplechasemeets. In the United States, point-to-point is the term given to amateur races over fences. Point-to-point meets are usually sponsored bya fox hunting club.
The Elkridge-Harford races and the Marlborough Hunt races, both held this past weekend, are examples of Maryland point- to-points.
Steeplechasing in this country refers to racing-over-fences meets sanctioned by the sport's governing body, The National Steeplechase and Hunt Association. The Fair Hill Races and the Maryland Hunt Cup are both steeplechase meets.
Outside of racing, themost exciting and easy-to-understand
horse sport for spectators is show jumping, especially at the Grand Prix (highest) level. In thisendeavor the horses and riders are judged solely on the objective criteria of penalty points and time.
Unlike Hunter Classes (see below), form does not count, the price of the horse does not count, and your familiarity with the judge does not count.
In most types of jumper classes all the horses jump a course of fences in the first round. Time does not count in this round, unless a horse exceeds the timeallowed.
A horse receives penalty points for refusing to jump a fence, for lowering the height of a fence, or for putting a foot in the water jump. In most classes a fall of horse or rider signals a disqualification.
Those horses and riders who incur no penalty points in the first round return to jump a shortened course with a shorter time allowed. Now it gets interesting, because in this round the fastest horse with the fewest penalties wins.
The Columbia Classic Grand Prix is one of the biggest jumper shows held in Maryland.
Horseswho compete at Hunter Shows also jump fences, but at these shows thejudging is subjective based on the way the horse moves, his manners,whether or not he maintains a steady pace, how he meets his fences, and other esoteric criteria -- some of which are known only to the individual judge and some of which may, unfortunately, have no actual bearing on a horse's talents.
One of the best introductions for spectators to the world of horse shows is very often a show that is for a specific breed of horse.
Breed shows usually offer a wide variety of classes and include both Western and English riding. Many breed shows also offer classes in carriage driving and dressage as well.
Shows for Arabian horses can usually be counted on to have a native costume class. The Appaloosas also have a costume class where you will see riders decked out like Indian chiefs or maidens.
Quarter Horse shows offer barrel racing and pole bending which show off the breed's speed and agility.
In addition to racing and horse shows thereis a wide variety of other horse activities. Combined training events in the form of horse trials or in the form of one-day, two-day or three-day events are drawing an increasing number of spectators.
Incombined training, the horse must perform a dressage test, negotiatea cross-country course, and then jump a stadium course. This will really give you an appreciation of the equine athlete!
Carriage-driving competitions are increasing in popularity among horsemen. So are endurance riding competitions, ride-and-tie competitions (where joggers and horses compete together) dressage competitions, cutting competitions and reining competitions -- the Western horse and rider's version of dressage.