By Payton Hardinge
“So, when do you guys add the brush?” I asked one of the show ring bystanders on the first day at a Northern California rated hunter/jumper show.
“Do you mean when do we sweep the dirt off?” she replied.
“Uhh. No, when do you add the filler? The trees? The greenery?”
As a life-long East Coast resident, learning the ropes of the West Coast hunter/jumper world has been an interesting transition from my riding roots. I grew up riding hunters in Virginia, a state rich with recognizable hunter shows - Upperville, Middleburg, Keswick, Deep Run, and located only a few hours from national-level finals competitions and indoors. As part of a region that boasts excellent riding schools and turns out some of the equitation and hunter greats, Virginia was a great place for a horse-crazy girl to grow up, but is quite a contrast to the dry landscape of Northern California.
In 2019, I moved my life to Sacramento, California and brought my 5-year-old, homebred Oldenburg mare along for the ride. We were lucky to find an amazing trainer and barn family – and a farm with irrigated turnout (CA peeps, you know this was a WIN!) As we began attending shows, I was struck by a few major differences between the East and West hunter/jumper shows. I’ve outlined the most striking below:
Okay, I get that you guys don’t have an abundance of bushy cedars growing in your backyards, but this was quite a shock for me. East Coasters love filler! The wider and bushier the better. We bring in whole truckloads of the stuff for the horse shows. I found the West Coast show ring jumps to be a little less exciting and a lot less intimidating than those on the East Coast.
In a confession that is going to make my East Coast friends cringe, I have *slightly* gotten onboard the West Coast hunter attire band wagon. I’m talking about bling, people! I am the proud owner of a beautiful brown Equiline coat that has rhinestone buttons and a subtle collar detail that would cause the Hunter/Eq puritans to shake their heads. It’s quite a departure from the strict attire of plain navy coats you see on the majority of the East Coast circuits. Now, I will admit that I haven’t seen many hunter riders attempting the controversial burgundy coats out here, but the hunter ring is rich with decorative collars, buttons, and bling on the sleeves and trim. Perhaps a bit of a tribute to their western roots? I’m here for it and I hope the East Coast is ready to embrace this trend!
This is a big one – and one I hope is a growing trend on the East Coast. The NorCal and PCHA shows have done an excellent job of offering hunter derbies, equitation medals, and classics with some real prize money for the hunters. I’m talking $10,000 - $20,000 derbies that have a 3’ section and $1,000 AA classics offered at most of the horse shows. It is thrilling to be able to recoup some of my show expenses and to be able to affordably introduce my horse to the hunter derby format without it being too costly or intimidating. This is something I think the hunter world is desperately in need of, and I think the East Coast shows could learn a lot from their western hunter counterparts.
About the Author: Payton is an amateur rider who splits her time working and riding between California and Virginia.