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. 

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