When you hear the words “hunter pace”, what do you think of? Do you imagine fox hunting? Rolling fields with crisp Autumn breezes, galloping with the fellow hunters, dressed up in tan breeches, tall boots, jackets and tweed coats? The bay of the hounds and the smell of fallen leaves and bubbling brooks? Ohmigosh now I want to go fox hunting again!!! Anyway, back on track…soooo hunter paces are not the same thing as fox hunting, but their origin is based there!
Wikipedia’s definition of a hunter pace is fairly accurate, it lists that a hunter pace is “a form of competition involving horses and riders. In a hunter pace a trail is marked for horse and rider to follow. On the day of the competition, early in the morning, the hosts of the event send an experienced horse and rider to ride the trail as fast as it is safely possible to do so. This morning ride is called “the dead body run”, and it establishes two things:
1. that the trail is clear and safe for the competitors
2. the “pace time”
The pace time is the ideal time to safely but quickly ride the set trail. When the competitors arrive they send out teams of three or four to ride the trail. Checkpoints set along the ride ensure that the riders are staying on course and are not overworking their horses. Each group of riders is timed. Riders are penalized for either riding too fast and beating the pace time, or too slow and taking longer than the pace time. The group to come closest to the pace time wins the competition, whether over or under the “pace” time.”
Now in my local area, our hunter pace teams consist of 2 or 3, and while there are the occasional jump judges, there are no checkpoints but other than those two items, it’s pretty close to what the above lists!
To me, hunter paces are simply a BLAST, and a great way to condition your horse and school cross country. That being said, you should NOT attempt to go flying through your first hunter pace on a horse who isn’t properly conditioned for such a thing. Your horse (and yourself for that matter!) should be able to maintain a forward trot/canter pace for a minimum of 30-40 minutes (which is how long most paces take to ride at a good clip). Now if your horse isn’t quite ready for that, some paces offer a “trail riding” division which is at a much more leisurely pace so that everyone can get out and enjoy the countryside!
So now that you have an idea of what a hunter pace is like, let me just say that for this Eventer-Turned-Hunter-Turned-Back-Eventer, hunter paces have got to be my personal favorite events to compete in!
As some of you know, my mare Sandie and I dabbled in the world of Hunters this summer. We learned a lot from it too…our canter is much better, more rhythmic and steady, and we can find our spots more often because of the extreme focus Hunters need to have on striding. My form over fences has improved tenfold…don’t get me wrong, I still have work to do, don’t we all! But at least now after being told “Put your butt back!” several times a week, I can keep my crotch behind the pommel instead of halfway up my mare’s neck!
There’s nothing quite like watching a well-executed beautifully maneuvered Hunter round. And while we had a couple nice rounds this summer, something was missing for me. But I pushed on, feeling like I needed to give this the whole summer to give it a fair chance…until my mare went ring sour on me.
The whole reason I was trying out Hunters was because I felt that dressage was stressing my on-the-forehand-built-downhill girl. What I neglected to realize, and have since discovered, is that most of our issues stemmed from her being so on the forehand and me letting her be that way and just MANHANDLING her into a false frame. Of COURSE that was stressing her out, and I feel bad now just thinking about that. But we all make mistakes, and learn from them. And I don’t regret it too much, since I learned some of the great things I listed above from Hunters after all!
But Sandie and I were both starting to long for open fields again, and couple that with the fact that my mare is about as flat-kneed as a jackhammer and you don’t have a great Hunter Under Saddle anyhow! So we decided to go back to the basics with working on getting her forehand issues under control and go back to the wild world of Eventing again! (I knew I couldn’t stay away long!)
So enter the hunter paces…the first one we went on after the summer was over, Sandie and I were BOTH full of it on course, FLYING up and over solid fences that were set at heights we hadn’t done since the year before! It was exhilarating, and it was just where we both belonged again. I felt like we fell back into the niche again easily and because of the work we’d done all summer as Hunters, we came back better and more secure cross country than ever!
Last weekend, my friend Barb (a long time hunter pace partner of mine!) and I trailered out to a lovely place called Stone Gate Farm in Hanoverton, Ohio. They host Horse Trials there and have a wonderful facility for cross country jumping! There were 32 jumps on course for their hunter pace, and Barb with her trusty dark bay draft cross mare dubbed “Princess” and my little buckskin beauty “Sandie” and I went out full force! The air was cool and the horses were FULL of themselves and we couldn’t stop laughing the whole time. We only left 2 jumps out of the course, and that was only because we were overtaking some teams near them and didn’t want to jump next to them and spook their horses (remember your manners at these folks – safety first!) We were SO proud of our little mares I don’t think anything could have spoiled our mood that day!
When it was all over, we discovered that we had ridden the course in 35 minutes and 30 seconds, just a minute and a half faster than the optimum time…which put us in FIRST PLACE! Now, everyone automatically envisions the bright blue ribbon when you think of first, but Stone Gate always comes up with the neatest prizes to go with the ribbon each year. Rather than receiving another cooler, or saddle pad, or coffee travel mug with the barn name on it, they were giving out bright orange mums and PUMPKINS to go with the fall season! What a unique idea for a prize!
Needless to say, we love that farm and Sandie and I will be back there this weekend, competing in a new phenomenon that’s hit my area recently, JUMPER DERBY. I’ll blog on that separately, but all I can say is Stadium jumping + cross country jumps = FUN FUN FUN!!!
Sandie has worn many hats for me (Eventer, Jumper, Hunter, Fox Hunter, Trail Rider, Therapist!) and I continue to love and appreciate how willing she is to go along on these journeys with me. After rescuing her 4 years ago, it’s plain to see that as much as I rescued her, she rescued me too and I am thankful for my little 14.3 hand mare every single day.