Last and First

By Terry Golson

Last Saturday, Tonka and I competed in our first show over fences. The Hunter/Jumper world is new to me and I left it to my trainer, Stephanie Plaisted, to decide what classes to enter us in. The class list reads to me like a foreign language. “beginner”, “pre-modified”, “open”, “hunter”, “equitation.” Steph entered us in the “beginning” division that allows you to trot into the jumps. She thought that we might need that option. Then there’s the difference between hunter and equitation. A hunter class is judged on how the horse goes – you want consistent smooth strides and jumps that create the picture of a lovely arc. Equitation is scored on the rider’s position and effectiveness. Although there are clear criteria, it’s also very subjective and up to the judge. (Which is different than the jumpers division, or what happens at 3-phase events, which are determined by whether the rails stay up.)

My biggest challenge at a jumping show is staying on course! I can’t seem to ride and remember where to go. I’ll get over the second jump and be totally blank about where to go next. Steph assures me that this is a skill that is learned with experience. A reason to enter the beginning division is that the courses are super easy. Even I could remember these.


The jumps were almost too easy.  Because I trotted into the first one, Tonka wasn’t sure if it was a cavaletti that he should step over, or something to actually jump. It was a bit awkward. We cantered the next line of jumps, but came in too close to each.


My agile horse manage to take off


and land in fine form, but it wasn’t the pretty picture that a judge is looking for in a hunter class. However, this initial rough ride didn’t quench Tonka’s enthusiasm for the activity. After this first course we watched two riders do their turns, and then went back in for our equitation class.

This time, we started at the canter. Tonka was delighted.


We had one too-close take-off, and even with that, Tonka tucked his knees like a pro. Otherwise the course flowed.


I trusted that he could go forward with his big horse stride into these little jumps and he wouldn’t overdo it. We had an almost perfect line. He even did a seamless lead swap over the second jump!


It was a lot of fun, and our time in the ring was over too soon. However, the day was hot and steamy and so I packed up the trailer while I waited to hear the class placement. I wanted to be on the road before the worst of the day’s heat hit. Unlike at dressage shows, results are announced soon after you ride. Not surprisingly, those chips in too close to the jumps in the hunter ring cost us, and we came in sixth out of eight. But we had ironed it all out for our second go, I had managed to remember the course AND look up, and so we were first out of eight. I won a very nice blue mug, which I am drinking coffee out of while I write this.

What did Tonka get? A day of new experiences, jumping, peppermints after each class, apple pieces in his water, a nice graze with Steve in a new place (while I fussed with gear and got the ribbons) and a sense of accomplishment for a skill well-done. A win in both our books.



18 thoughts on “Last and First

  • Laura allemand

    Congratulations! That looks like so much fun. I miss shows…there’s still not too much going on here.

    • Terry Golson Post author

      We are very fortunate to have these local shows happening. No one is taking them for granted. We are social distancing, wearing masks, and being appreciative and polite about the protocols. But being outside is the best way to be social, and the risk at these day shows is minimal. We should be encouraging these sort of activities!

  • Judy

    Terry, you and Tonka are both amazing. And thanks to Steve for capturing the adventure. Bravo!

    • Terry Golson Post author

      Steve is the best show help. Not only does he video my rides, but he and Tonka are best buddies, so they have a companionable visit while I fuss with show stuff.

    • Terry Golson Post author

      It has. I think about that a lot. What’s different in my riding, his attitude, how his body feels when he’s heading to a fence versus doing a dressage circle, what I’m communicating? Whatever, it sure is fun to feel those twinkle-toes under me 🙂

  • Jan

    Very well done to both off you doing something new and winning even better. Our Grandson has started jumping again and is trying to argue for a bigger horse because he wants to jump higher but we have told him he has got to wait, he is already jumping 3′ and we think that is high enough for a while as he is only 12 years old. He is going to give junior cross country a trial to see if that will pacify him for a while. Trouble is he has no fear and needs reining in a bit. Stay safe. 🙂

    • Terry Golson Post author

      He does need reining in 🙂 It takes time to get the basics down and learn horsemanship so that the big jumps are a partnership with the horse and not only an adrenalin rush. Every horseman has complained about how long it takes to do that apprenticeship! The best jumpers in the world focus on ground work and poles. But it’s hard to convince a 12 year old of that!

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