Saturday, August 13, 2011

Western Pleasure, The "Easiest" Class

Let me remind you that I am not the End-All-Be-All of knowledge, but that this is based on my experience as both a shower and judge, and also my experience with real horses.

While you’d think from its simplicity that western pleasure would be an easy place to start performance showing, pleasure is both one of the simplest and also one of the most challenging classes you’ll face. My best guess on the main reason for this is that a lot of people probably have the same idea and thus the classes are fuller, requiring the judge to get more and more nit-picky to make their placings. When I show pleasure at big shows, I think of it as a gamble. There are SO many phenomenal entries out there, sometimes it really does come down to which set up the judge finds prettier and presents the best package.

What you’ll need:                        Optional Additional Items:
  ~Western Saddle                      ~Breastcollar
  ~Pad                                         ~Doll
  ~Bridle                                      ~Arena Fence/Footing *depending upon show rules

Western Pleasure is a “flat” class, meaning no obstacles are used, judging the style, manner, movement, and obedience of a horse at each of the different gaits. Generally these gaits include a walk, jog, lope, halt, and back. Gaited breeds may omit or add additional gaits. The gaits should be slow moving and comfortable, appearing a “pleasure” to ride. Any breed can generally be used, though those that excel most are general riding types, particularly stock and light breeds.

Each breed type has different desirable characteristics for movement and headset. Stock breeds tend to be slower with a level headset (poll even with withers), and the nose close to or slightly in front of the vertical (meaning face is straight up and down). Many of you may have heard the term “peanut roller” and it comes from the trend of pleasure horses dropping their noses so low, it was joked that they could roll peanuts on the ground. Though I hear in the real horse world there are still arguments over its popularity and correctness, in the model horse world we’ve unofficially made it a major fault. The poll should never be lower than the withers. Light breeds have a higher headset with the poll above the withers, and the nose on the vertical. Their movement generally has much more flair and animation than the stock breeds.
A crappy photo, but a prime example of a peanut roller... don't do this - bad juju!

Excellent Examples of a stock breed and light breed pleasure horse:

Tails are always loose, and manes are either pulled and banded (preferred for stock breeds) or left loose (absolute for light breeds). When dealing with OF models, molded on braids may be tolerable, though it will depend upon the judge if they are marked down for them.
Some great OF models for western pleasure are Zippo Pine Bar, the CL QH Mare, Bluegrass Bandit, TR Mule, and John Henry. I have also seen the Stone western performance horse used well, but be VERY careful about matching the action on your description card to his movement. Though I have seen them shown in massive quantities, I personally HATE the use of the Stone ISH as a pleasure horse. There are tons of molds that can be used, these are just a few of the better possibilities.
In model horse showing, generally any style western saddle can be used for pleasure, however the fancy ones heavily stamped and/or carved, and festooned with silver and beads are very desirable in today’s show ring. Still, a correct entry is more important than a fancy one. A rear girth is not required but can be used. My personal experience with real horses is that this back girth does not need to be snug and in fact can have a small amount of space between the horse and girth (no more than 1/16” on a TR scale model). Because of my personal experience, I do not mark down an entry adjusted like this, though I have been marked down by other judges for it in the past.

Bling is the thing!

Generally a curb bit is used, however a bosel is allowable as are snaffle bits up to a certain age. Different breed registries have differing rules, but 4 or 5 is generally the cut off to move to a curb. Reins must be either split reins (required for a snaffle bridle) or romel style. A bosel bridle will have mecate reins, which is a single long rein tied in a loop with a free “lead rope” end. This lead rope end should be tied to the saddle horn loosely with a  slip knot (meaning it should have no contact to the nose or else it will affect the signals being given from rider to mount) or hung on the latigo, but should not drape so loosely as to be a risk for the horse to step through or trip on. My general rule of thumb is the lowest part of the drape should be about even with half way between the elbow and knee of the horse.
Split and Romel reins should have a gentle drape between the “hands” and bit, and not show direct contact to the mouth, except in the case of when the horse is backing or being signaled to change gaits. They should never be tight. In the case of a snaffle bit, there should be light contact with the mouth, but not appear to be tight.

Here is your tacking up checklist. No matter what class you’re setting up for, doing a mental checklist like this for each one helps you eliminate any simple errors the judge might mark you down for:

                1. Rein position: are your reins the proper amount of contact or drape for the event and the horse’s activity. I HATE reins just left lying over the neck if there is no doll. This was common practice back when I started showing in the 90’s, but now WE ARE BETTER THAN THIS! The reins should be either held by the doll or sticky waxed to the neck in place.
                2. Headstall straight and not in the eyes… a far more common error than you could believe
                3. Bit in mouth and at the proper angle for rein tension: just like their real counter parts our models frequently spit their bits out whenever they can, particularly during the summer shows when the sticky wax is all melty. Additionally, know how your bit works! When you pull on one end – how does the bit move with or against the horse.  It drives me nuts to see all those curb bits straight along the horse’s mouth but with tight reins that would be pulling it back.
                4. All straps buckled and in their keepers. Have to loosen something so much it doesn’t reach to the keeper? Then sticky wax the end down. No flappers!
                5. Saddle straight on the back. If you were sitting in that saddle, would you want to ride crooked? No. Hurts your back, hurts the horse’s back, and looks sloppy
                6. Breastcollar fit. If the breastcollar is SNUG on a standing horse, it’s going to yank and hurt when ever that horse moves it shoulder forward while in motion and pull the saddle forward. With a traditional standing model, it should be snug against your pointer finger stuck between the horse and the breastcollar. This is not to stay it should stick out that far! It should drape nicely against the model at that tension. If one shoulder is moving forward, remember that the breastcollar would move with it.
                7. Girth tight. Unlike a real horse, you don’t have to worry about them holding their breath while you tack up, or falling off because your saddle slid sideways during a drill team performance (… never did get the stain out of my white jeans from that night…) so generally as long as I can’t see between the model and girth, that’s good enough for me.
                8. Curb chain. A curb chain should not be so long as to bang the horse in the lip and flap around. On a model, stick with lightly snug with no space between it and the horse.
                9. The doll. We’ll have a whole article on my beef with dolls coming up soon, but for now the three most important little things:
                ~ equitation: I don’t care if it’s not an equitation class, Butts in the saddle! You WILL see me holding up a pencil up to make sure the shoulder-hip-heel are all in a vertical line. I am well known as the Doll Nazi, and if you’re doll doesn’t sit well, you’re better off not using it.

                ~looking where you’re going. We’re emulating the real world here people and like the real world both horse and rider need to be looking where they are going. This means a model like the Caprice resin should not be shown with the description “walking down the rail”.
                ~Hold the reins properly. Each type of rein – mecate, split, or romel are held differently. I’ll do a tutorial on them in the future, but for now – research people. RESEARCH. 

Depending upon the show, you may or may not be allowed the use of additional props for pleasure classes. These would include an arena fence and/or arena footing. An arena fence should be simple and not distract from your entry and footing must be IN SCALE and appropriate. Do not, I repeat DO NOT use kitty litter. Why? Would you ride your horse in an arena filled with driveway gravel? NO! (At least, I hope not.) Sand, coffee grounds, even felt or velvet or velour fabrics make great footing. My personal favorite is sand or coffee grounds because then you can create nice little footprints – an excellent added detail to your set up. To keep it contained, head to walmart or the nearest craft store and pick up those cheap clear plastic “box frames”. I think it’s less than $20 for a poster sized one which is big enough for most traditional scale performance scenes. THESE are what I use, I just happened to find them in a local craft store in more sizes. 

~ The way I judge:  When judging western pleasure I always start by making one quick loop around the ring to rule out any blatant errors – bits out of the mouth, incorrect or illegal equipment, etc. I get rid of the fast and easy ones first. Then, I start looking at my personal priorities: 1) is the horse doing what its description card says and is it doing it well, 2) is all the tack adjusted properly, fit well, and being used properly 3) does the horse look like a pleasure to ride and 4) does the entry have an overall finished and polished look. Generally western pleasure is one of my least favorite classes to judge because I have to get so nitpicky between a large number of really beautiful entries. It tends to be the absolute most difficult and also the one I get the most challenges against my placings on.

SO let’s go ahead and judge a class! Here are 4 western pleasure entries from my old photo show files:

Entry #1

Entry #2

Entry #3

Entry #4

Each of the models is an excellent choice for western pleasure, but each entry has a minor fault or two. Entry #1's reins are a touch too loose and the browband looks a touch too small and to be pinching on the ears. The hoofprints in the sand are an excellent touch. Entry #2 is excellent except for the fact that it is on the wrong lead, as is entry #3, however entry #3's reins appear to be laying on the horn instead of in the rider's hands. Entry #4 has absolutely no control over their horse with the reins just laying across the neck and the breastcollar appears too tight around the neck for the horse just standing there. 

I would place this class #1, #2, #3, #4. Had entry #2 been turned the opposite way along the rail, it would have won the class. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Creating the Perfect Classlist

One of the first ways to make or break a performance shower’s day happens before the show packets even go out. The class list. Particularly for show holder’s who don’t show performance themselves, they may not realize how much impact just the order of the classes can make, not to mention the breakdown of the classes themselves. Most performance showers try to get the absolute most use out of each of their tack sets and have chosen their main show horses as the most versatile among their showstring, with a few one-hit-wonders added in to flesh things out.

As we all know, when a classlist says you can enter 2 or 3 horses, no matter what division you’re showing in – you want to fill that class limit up as much as you can. Why not? You’re paying the entry fee, you might as well get the most out of it, right? But for performance showers, the added challenge is how to do so without going completely insane from tack changes through the day. This is where the order of the classlist is most important. So a few tips to keep your showers (and thus YOUR) sanity on show day. 

#1: Harness should always be the first class of the day.

Why? Because it has the most straps, buckles, and different parts to adjust, especially if the hitch is more than one horse. By making it the first class of the day, you can give the entrants the most time possible to set up their entries without holding up the show. It’s recommended to assign your performance rings and start letting entrants set up at least 30 minutes before the start time of the show, but you may find some entrants will come ask you sooner if they have a big or multiple set ups. Most experienced showers are pretty good about knowing how long they need for set up, but keep an eye out for obvious beginners and try to prevent issues before they come up. 

The other benefit is that most showers tack their horses in the first set of the day at home and then just fuss and place everything for the set up. Harness being the most time intensive to get on the horse, this means they’ve spent that large portion of time at home and not holding up your judge between classes.  

Can you imagine tacking and hitching all 6 of these horses in 10 minutes or less? And yes.. those are micro minis, O_o  Just arranging the reins probably takes 5 or 6 minutes!

#2: If running OF and CM divisions separately but concurrently, make sure you don’t have the same sub division (Western vs English) running in both divisions at the same time.

Most showers at heart are very efficiency minded. They want to get the absolute most out of everything they have. Often, that means that the same tack set gets used on both an OF model and a CM model so that they can show horses in both divisions without buying another tack set. There is no fighting this, so do both yourself and them a favor and organize the class list so that the same style of tack would not be used in both divisions at the same time. While the OF division is running Western classes, the CM division should be running English. No matter how many times you ask showers to pick one or the other, there will always be that one or two who still tries to do the tack switches back and forth and ends up delaying the entire show to do so. Don’t fight it. Avoid it. 

#3: Put all classes in each sub-division in “Strip Order”

This is a BIG one! Strip order means that you put the most accessories on the horse for the first class and as you progress, you simply remove pieces or “strip” the horse as you go through the class list rather than having to take off - put on - take off - put on. Time consuming and irritating! It takes 30 seconds or less to take something off, but it can take 5 minutes to put something on and make sure it's perfectly adjusted and in place. Down below you’ll see two comparable class list sizes and all are in strip order. Try to keep to this order as you pick which classes to split out from the basic.

Just like good lingerie, it takes more time to put it on than it does to take it off ;)

#4: Start with a smaller classlist and allow splits, rather than starting with a large classlist and having to combine

Ever heard the saying it’s better to be surprised than disappointed? This is doubly true with crazy model horse people. It is FAR better to start with a smaller classlist and have an unexpected split with enough entries so MORE ribbons and NAN cards are handed out, than to have to later combine two classes and have some people have to scratch entries because they planned more than the limit or argue over which classes should be combined with which. That god-awful “apples and oranges” argument… *keels over in exasperation*.

I remember one show I was asked to judge at… several people knew me, but I’d never shown or judged in the region before. They had a great classlist, and all looked to go smoothly, until I started calling up the classes… By the time we got 1/3 of the way through the first day’s classlist (it was a 3 day show), it was blatantly obvious that the most efficient way to judge would be to go around the room, ask which class they were showing in, and hand them a blue ribbon. There was 1, maybe 2 entries per class. It was ridiculous. I finally called a halt in the middle of the show and asked all the performance showers for the day to come up for a brief meeting. All 6 or 7 of them... I ended up cutting the classlist down by about 60% and STILL I had only 2, maybe 3 or 4 entries per class. Let me tell you, both the showers and myself were disappointed, but there was no point in a class of one entry each time. I’d hate to ever have to do that again. I tried to make up for it by doing mini clinics with each class, but even so, I felt like the showers who did bring entries were disappointed with the experience.

#5: NEVER change the classlist order the day of the show unless absolutely necessary.

Unless you feel like a good mass riot would liven up the day

Performance showers are the epitomy of efficiency. Each and every experienced shower has their own strategy and plan for the day, from the first time they sit down to choose their entries. They put their props in order, their description cards in order, their leg tags and reference materials and tack sets and everything else – in the exact order they will be needed through the day. They plan which horses they bring by how they can most efficiently attack the day. Change something last minute, even if it’s in an attempt to make things easier for them, and you will have absolute chaos. Plan ahead, and if you see a place you could make a change for improvement – hold on to it for your next show.  

#6: If you have more than 15 classes in the division, you need 2 separate rings.

It’s an absolute must to give shower’s 10 minutes between performance classes and no matter how hard you stick to timers or any other rule, you will have people taking longer and other delays. If you have a less than confrontational judge, it may take them a few minutes past that timer to clear the ring of showers making last second checks... however much time you give a performance shower... they will use every last second until you tell them to get lost. Given that a single class can take anywhere from 5-15 minutes to judge (longer if it’s a large show with a lot of experienced showers), a 15 class division still takes a bare minimum of 6.5-7 hours, and that’s without a lunch break, going hell bent for leather. If your classlist is any larger, have two rings going to keep things running smoothly and prevent a lot of delays. One ring can be setting up while the other is being judged, and then swap. When classes have cross entries (such as western pleasure and western trail), allow the entrants to set up their next entries without the horse and then they can finish up when the previous class is completed. This prevents a lot of start-stop action, keeps people moving and thinking and busy, and it also gives a little extra time for set up, which is always much appreciated. Particularly when you’re showing 4 or 5 elaborate entries in a class… 

...not that I’ve ever done that…

#7: If performance will only run for half the day – make sure it starts in the morning.

We’re all a lot like kids or pets… if we’re not occupied, we’ll find some way to occupy ourselves… 

There are two bench mark rules that you can rely on at a show: people are always more organized, motivated, and 'get with it' in the morning, and performance will always take longer than expected. If your performance showers are all sitting around for half the day doing nothing until their division is up, then when they do start, they will be lethargic and slow moving. Plus, you run a high risk of the show going far later into the evening than you planned. Hope you’re a night owl.

Keep these simple guidelines in mind when planning your next show and I guarantee that your showers will appreciate it! Remember that you want good size classes to make the competition worthwhile and challenging, but not so large that over the lunch break your judge contemplates an escape route through the ventilation system in the bathroom. 

A basic performance class list in strip order:

The English and western subdivisions can be switched in order, but the classes themselves are combined with most like-entries, leaving out the most commonly participated in classes on their own, and still giving a place for any event. Great for all-mini shows, and less than around 8 performance showers total

Other Performance

Working Western
Other Western
Western Trail
Western Pleasure

Over Fences
Other English
English Pleasure

A good standard sized classlist for most medium - large regional level shows:
Notice a few more classes are split out, but those group still remain related.

Arab Costume
Native American Costume
Other Costume/Parade
Other Performance

Jumper/Cross Country
Other English
English Trail
Hunter over Fences
Huntseat Pleasure - Sport Breeds
Huntseat Pleasure - Other Breeds

Working Western
Western Games
Other Western
Western Trail - Natural setting
Western Trail - Arena setting
Western Pleasure - Stock Breeds
Western Pleasure - Other Breeds

A very extended class list:
This is great for a show expecting more than 30 or 35 showers, and with a history of full classes in the region. To give you an idea, I've only personally seen one show handle a class list this extensive with full classes and that was New England Performance Challenge. But it illustrates what you can split out further. 

Harness: Combined Driving event
Harness: Working
Harness: Pleasure
Harness: Other

Arab Costume – Native
Arab Costume – Hollywood/Modern
Native American Costume
Historical Costume (medieval, cavalry, etc)
Circus Costume
Other Costume

Showmanship/In Hand Events
Other Performance

Cross Country/Eventing
Other English
Natural Trail
Arena Trail
Hunter Over Fences/Handy Hunter
Huntseat Pleasure – Sport Breeds
Huntseat Pleasure – Other Breeds
Dressage – lower level
Dressage – Upper Level

Saddleseat: Gaited (Big Lick, 5 gaited ASB, etc)
Saddleseat: Park/High Action (morgans, arabs, other 3 gaited breeds)
Saddleseat: Low Action/Pleasure (country pleasure, English pleasure, etc)
Saddleseat: Other

Working Western – Timed Events (roping, team penning, etc)
Working Western – Judged Events (cutting, working cowhorse, etc)
Speed Games (barrel racing, pole bending, etc)
Non-Speed Games (egg and spoon, bean bag toss, etc)
Other Western
Natural Trail
Arena Trail
Western Pattern Classes (reining, W riding, etc)
Western Pleasure – Stock Breeds
Western Pleasure Other Breeds

Obviously there are infinite ways to create a class list of the size best for your show, but the main key is this: make sense. Think about the order of the classes and whether your showers have time for likely tack changes, for example a horse used in saddleseat will not as likely be used in either dressage or working western.. thus why I placed saddleseat between the English and western divisions: few cross entries, and gives time for entrants to switch tack on versatility horses from English to western. Also think about the classes you combine: what key characteristics do they share that make them a good combo. If you only want 2 jumping classes in English, then I suggest combining jumper and cross country because they are both 3 day eventing classes, have similar allowances in equipment, and are both timed events with potential faults. Hunter over fences on the other hand is a judged event based on form and control. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

What is performance?

A quick explanation for anyone new to the hobby, or just tuning in out of amusement: what is performance showing with a model horse? Performance showing is portraying a model horse in any given task that a real horse would be used for. And yes, it's as wide of a range and field as that sounds like. Everything from a hunter over fences entry to jousting, to Amish driving, to cattle work can be included. It is judged on what the horse is doing, rather than the horse itself as either artwork or representation of anatomy. 

Just how do you judge the performance of an inanimate object you ask? Well we all circle around the show ring and gallop them up and down on the table top while skipping in our own 2-legged canters and prancing trots beside the table, and then we roll a dice to see who is fairest in the land on that day. 

Yes, I'm kidding. But you'd be amazed how often people ask if that's how it works. 

In actuality, we set up the horse or horses and assorted other props such as cows or jumps or trees or doll riders or what have you in a scene, and the entire package is judged as if a frozen moment in time. While it seems relatively simple enough, it's actually extremely complicated, particularly because not only are we judging the skill of craftsmanship for creating all elements of the scene, and not only are we judging the level of skill in the shower's use of the horse and all accouterments, but we're also judging the scene itself against the ideal of the skill that is depicted. For example in a western pleasure class, each of the entries is judged not only on the elements for the event – are they all correct and of quality, but we are also judging if that horse is doing what it should be doing in a western pleasure class of the level shown, and how well it is doing so.  

A scene from a typical model horse show: show rings down the center, with entrants tables around the sides. Performance entries are being set up in ring 1 in the foreground. 

A typical successful performance entry. Oddly enough, yes doll riders are optional, however they are becoming more popular and necessary for a winning entry as competition gets tougher.

A performance division at a model horse show comes from a general list of 12 or so classes in which any event portrayed can be fit, and depending on the size of show and number of entries, further classes are split out to more specific disciplines. In some shows, Original Finish and Customized models will compete against each other, and in others, they may be divided to separate divisions. 

There are two very important things for showers that we’ll be discussing another time in great detail: research and documentation. The largest part of performance is emulating a real horse event in as absolute close detail as possible. The only way to do this, is to know EVERYTHING you can about what you’re trying to portray. In many instances, you’ll find that model horse showers often have a larger knowledge base than real horse showers out of necessity. They have to be able to tell the difference between what is possible or what is allowed and what is not. In real horses, a lot of that doesn’t need to be thought of because it can’t happen. One great example of this is positioning your horse within the scene. Movement is restricted to the plausible in the real world, a horse cannot fly, so it has to have the proper propulsion to get over a fence. If it doesn’t it doesn’t get over the fence. End of story. In models, you have to know that it is implausible for a trotting horse 5 scale feet in front of a 6 foot jump to make it over that jump. But you can still put the model there… see the difference?

Can you spot the plausibility issue with this entry? 

He's too close to the wall for the angle of the jump. He would have had to come through the wall to make that angle with his body position as it is. (Admittedly not the best photo angle, but you get the idea)

Each of the above topics I'll be going into in far more detail in the future, but this gives you a general grasp on what performance is, and where the challenges lie. Some of my ideas for future topics are listed below, I hope they (and I) interest you enough to keep reading! For now - I'm off to go clean for my birthday party :P

What the future holds (in no particular order):

Planning a Classlist: different size shows and how to arrange the order for your entrants sanity
Western Pleasure: a rundown of the “easiest” class
Dolls – for good or for evil?
live show set ups vs photo show set ups – the different elements
picking your models – how to make use of a difficult horse
reins – they are not floppy neck decorations
documentation – what to include and what NOT to include
scene vs performance
My biggest pet peave: Costume classes. Are they a TACK class or a PERFORMANCE class?!?
positioning your model to an obstacle – measuring strides, direction, momentum, etc
Proper Jumps: what type of jumps are allowed in what events
Safety first – just because eit can happen, doesn’t mean it should
proper presentation: those little details that make or break an entry
bits: the general rules for breeds and disciplines
Boots: using vet wrap well, when boots are optional and when they're not

Stay tuned for next week!