I have a client who was a “hunter pace queen” before she became a “dressage queen” (this is not me being derogatory in any way; she has a cap announcing the switch). Although we’re in the middle of the season, she has kindly agreed to a brief interview on the one thing that still makes her heart beat faster, even though she’d rather sit the trot these days. While she insists on anonymity, Ex-Hunter Pace Queen is delighted to share her insights with you. Novice or not, there’s still time for you to go out there and gallop!
EXHPQ: Well, I think everyone would agree it’s the weather. What rider doesn’t like to ride on a lovely autumn day? It’s cool, no bugs, the foliage is spectacular. But also it’s riding outside a ring; galloping long, open meadows; jumping all manner of fences; bending around trees in the woods like a barrel racer; riding new land. It’s up and down and all around fun!
RoR: I’ve never been to a hunter pace, what do I need to do to prepare?
EXHPQ: It depends on what pace you are doing and which division you enter. The smaller paces have a Western division and a Pleasure division. If you and your horse aren’t in the best of shape, the Pleasure division would be your pick, as the Western division is almost as fast as the Hunt division, just without the jumping.
If you want to have a good time in the Hunt division, I suggest you bring a horse that will jump whatever you point him at with no balking. Otherwise, it’s just a day of frustration. If you’re anywhere near the Golden’s Bridge Hounds on Baxter Road in North Salem, NY, I also suggest joining the North Salem Bridle Trails Association so you can ride all the wonderful trails in the area. Galloping the meadows and practicing over the solid stone walls (with toppers) will have you and your horse fit for pacing in no time.
The fence height is never over 4′. But you have banks to jump both up and down, drop fences, roll tops, downed trees, trakehners, brush fences, in and outs, water jumps, piled up logs, coops, and the ubiquitous stone walls.
The Adjacent Hunts of NY & CT [ed: home turf for us] is a serious pace. You and your horse will have to be in great riding shape if you plan on being competitive (in the smaller paces, not so much). The last time I rode Rombout, there were no go arounds at any of the jumps. But most paces — if not all, by now — have go arounds on all fences, as they hope to attract more people.
RoR: I’ve heard I need a partner. What can I do if I don’t have one?
EXHPQ: If you don’t have a pace partner (and you aren’t allowed to compete alone) you can always call the pace secretary and ask to be partnered. There are lots of teams of two that wouldn’t mind an extra rider. Unfortunately, if you place, they only have two ribbons…and it gets even worse if you win and they only have one plate!
RoR: What’s the best way to find out about hunter paces in my area?
EXHPQ: They don’t make it easy for people to find the paces. You can pick up a copy of Equine Journal or your local horse publications (in the Northeast, it’s SteedRead and Horseman’s Yankee Pedlar) to find schedules of paces in your area. Your local USEA site is a great resource — Area 1 has a great list of hunter paces and trials. Or you can go online and Google.
Around Connecticut and New York, there are a whole bunch along with the Adjacent Hunts: Fairfield, Old Chatham, Smithtown, Rombout, Golden’s Bridge, Millbrook, and Windy Hollow. There’s also Middlebury (this one’s come and gone), Greenwich, and Lewisboro (this weekend). If you’re looking for a great pace, with lots of fun jumps and the best luncheon around, you can’t beat the Bedford Hills, NY pace.
Once you start pacing, you’ll find out from the people who frequent them where they all are — just ask.
RoR: What does it take to win? Are there any secrets to success?
EXHPQ: Besides having a good field hunter, you need a great sense of timing and a lot of luck. I once had a fellow come up to me, after we won at one of the Adjacent Hunts paces (my pace partner and I won back-to-back Adjacent Hunts Unaffiliated Championships back in the 90s) and tell me he had never won a pace in his 15 years of trying.
So many things can go wrong. Your horse may be having an off day, you may get lost and ruin your time (shame on the riders who pull down markers!), your horse could throw a shoe (Tip: bring an Easyboot and hang it from your saddle dee), or your tack could break (Another Tip: bring an extra stirrup leather and put it around your horse’s neck, which also comes in handy when you have to climb up a steep hill).
It’s nice to win, but it’s fun just to ride across country. As much as I love dressage, I miss pacing!
My thanks to Ex-HunterPaceQueen for sharing her insight, advice and knowledge of pacing here in our neck of the woods. We hope it inspires you to get out there and join in the fun, if not this year, maybe next (there are spring paces, too). You can use the comment link above this post to share your own experience and advice, or to ask any more questions, which I promise to pass along to EXHPQ.