Now, this post is going to be full of old photos because, when I was a young teenager, I went on A LOT of hunter paces. I took barely broke youngsters on easier paces with manicured, rolling fields and jumps larger than 2’6″ marked with cute little cones. (Just in case my future-weenie self didn’t know a jump was “big”) I took school horses that needed a bit of schooling over the tough landscapes set by my local fox hunting clubs.
It was seriously my favorite thing to do on horseback. However, I changed barns (a couple of times) and then ended up in KY, where manicured eventing fields greatly outnumbered rough and tumble trails that highlighted the hunter pacing of my teenage years.
During my first lesson with her, NT asked me if I would like to hunter pace May. “Yes. Absolutely.” the words were out of my mouth without a second consideration. May had never been on a hunter pace, but she had always been reliable over fences and strong but manageable traveling in a group. Then, I promptly forgot about it.
The Monday before the hunter pace, I asked NT for a lesson, and she mentioned that we could do Thursday or Friday… but that Friday was probably too close to the hunter pace. It took a solid minute for the phrase to make sense in my brain. “Am I going to that?”
“I thought you wanted to…”
“Yes… Yes! I do!” A quick, but excited, text was sent to the husband to update him on my weekend plans, the entry form was filled out, and we were in business! I did not wear a helmet cover, a t shirt, or suede half-chaps. I pulled out my white sun-shirt, polished up my boots, cleaned my tack, and then stared at my bridle.
The D-ring Myler with the hooks is a great bit for May for eventing. It gives us a lot of help getting balance, but it doesn’t have a lot of “whoa” to it. (It doesn’t need to. I do enough unnecessary “whoa-ing” in stadium all by myself.) Would I even need more whoa on May? We were going about 5 miles in a group of 7 horses including at least 4 thoroughbreds. May is not a thoroughbred, but she likes to play one on TV.
I reached into my bit box and pulled out this bit. A 3 ring, Copper elevator bit with copper. (Thanks old horse for having the same mouth size as May.)
I threw two reins on, one on the snaffle ring, and one on the milder gag ring. I figured that, if she’s good and easy, I can just ride off the snaffle, but if she is strong, I have the gag bit. Then, I did something another trainer had taught me. I vet-wrapped the buckles of the reins together. (The ends farthest from the horse… not sure why this is so hard to explain… The buckles that are included in the bight of your reins… I hope you get the idea). The idea here is I could hold just the snaffle bit without risking losing the curb rein or creating too much of a loop. If I dropped my reins, it would be MUCH easier to get them back, and I minimize the likelihood of a rein going over May’s head. Quick, Easy, Safe.
So on to the actual pace. I didn’t charge/pack my cambox because there had been a chance of rain. Of course, my luck, it was sunny and warm all day. Oh well. Next year! (Tried to find someone else’s video on youtube, but couldn’t find a single one!)
We tacked up the horses, and May was her usual calm, happy self, munching on grass while I tacked up. I hopped on, and she even stood like a statue at the mounting block… I almost threw myself off the other side. I figured out my 2 reins (luckily a smooth curb rein feels a LOT different from my pebbled, rubber reins). We even snapped a quick pic before heading to the start box.
My biggest concern going out was May’s fitness. I had been on hunter paces that had stretched to over 2 hours and covered roads, rivers, etc. I was assured that this hunter pace was 5 miles and optimum time was likely right around 55 minutes. Great. We could do that. Headed to the start box. Started off… and May’s shoe came FLYING off. She must have loosened it during the trailer ride over.
Now, NT is VERY familiar with the farm, and she had already ridden the course once that morning on another horse. I trotted May off. She was TOTALLY sound. I was assured the footing was super forgiving, so we decided to continue. I would just avoid jumping anything of any real size. (i.e. anything larger than 2′ LOL). How did May feel? Like a screaming ball of fire. She kept up with the thoroughbreds on every gallop, big hill, little jump, etc that we found.
Then, we came up on an ITTY BITTY stream at the bottom of a TEENY TINY hill. I brought her back to a walk, so that she could walk over it. I grabbed my neck strap with one hand, kept my body back, and waited for her to figure it out. And she LEAPED over it, snapping her head up.
Luckily, her head doesn’t come that far up, but it did bring my right hand up at an alarming rate of speed… It also brought the butt of my crop, in my right hand, up to my face at an alarming rate of speed. I ended up smashing the butt of my crop into my chin/lower set of teeth. My teeth took off the skin on the inside of my lip, and I immediately tasted blood.
A quick “tongue check” of my teeth found them all still in my head and undamaged. So I kicked on. I ended up sporting a sweet face bruise/fat lip for a few days after.
Near the end of the pace, May was definitely tired. Still sound, but tired, and she politely trotted/loped the last couple of jumps. There was a LARGE stack of barrels I really wanted to try, but it will have to wait for a time when we have our shoes on (or are really acclimated to going barefoot.) After crossing the finish line, I spent some time trying to find her shoe near the start, but I had no luck. Oh well. It was hot, and I wanted to untack, hose May, get her (and me) in the shade a bit. As for my bit choice? Considering that I am sporting at least 4 different blisters, I am glad I upgraded this once.
We ended up coming close enough to the optimum time to come in second! Second apparently included a whole bunch of swag including: gift certificates to the local tack shop, t shirts, bags, medals, and a pair of slippers. Our barn brought 14 riders and 4 teams, and three teams ended up in the “medals”. Super fun day with the barn family.
As for aftercare, May got her hooves packed with magic cushion and was rubbed down before being turned out for the night. I am a big believer that turnout is the most important thing you can do for recovery. Even after being fully cooled out and spending time standing on the trailer, all of May’s legs were tight and cool.
Her foot looked a bit broken up, but it was mostly from losing the shoe. The magic cushion was probably more for me then her since the ride was 80% grass, 15% mud/dirt, and 5% minimal gravel (where we walked), but hey, it couldn’t hurt. May got her shoe put back on Monday, and I rode her on Tuesday. She came out fresh, happy, and totally sound.
Now I remember why I love hunterpaces. Both horses and riders tend to really enjoy them. Looking forward to our horse trial this weekend!