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a horse is a horse, of course of course

Nancy and I attended the recent Portola Valley Classic Equestrian Festival and Horse Show. We got excellent (free) bleacher seats just in front of one of the final jumps. It was a warm sunny day, so we were glad that the organizers had put the bleachers under a large tent roof!

The Equestrian Festival itself was a five-day event with many classes of riders. We went on Sunday, the final day. First up were the finals of the amateur competition. (Let me give credit up front to Nancy, who took almost all of these pictures. She worked until she got the timing of the digital camera down perfectly — great job!)

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As an intermission between the amateur and professional competitions, there were two exhibition events. The first was a demonstration of horseback gymnastics. The announcer explained that in some parts of Europe, this is a very popular and competitive sport. Knowing the difficulties I’ve had in merely staying in the saddle of a walking horse, it was amazing to see what these gymnasts could do!

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The second exhibition was a promenade by the local “hunt”. These groups carry on the tradition of English foxhunts in the Bay area, although of course they don’t actually hunt foxes any more. The announcer explained that these dogs have a very strong pack instinct, and really do work together as a team. (Though that didn’t stop one dog from lagging behind at the end, to take a cool bath in the water hazard of one of the jumps! :-) If I remember correctly, the announcer also explained that a red jacket indicates someone who has been a “hunt leader”.

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Then it was time for the main event: the finals of the professional class, with a first prize of $25,000. Even for an untrained observer like myself, the differences in skill, in both horses and riders, between the amateur and professional classes were very evident. You may not be able to see it clearly in these photos, but the rails of the jumps were raised several inches for the professionals, and the course they followed was significantly longer and included more jumps.

When the announcer introduced the first rider, he explained that her red jacket indicated that she had represented the United States in international competition. Her run was perfect and well under the required time, setting a high standard for the competitors to follow.

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I think this is the horse which the announcer said was 17 hands tall, which Nancy explained to me is very tall for a horse. He just seemed to glide over the jumps, also with a perfect run.

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Here is the woman in the red jacket, riding her second of three horses in the competition, yet again with a perfect run. I heard several people amused by the idea that she might end up competing directly against herself for the top prize!

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Sitting in the audience with knowledgeable “horse people” all around discussing the action was very informative. There was lots of “color commentary”, and I also learned the basic rules of the competition: the riders each want a low score, based on the number of “gates” unsuccessfully jumped, but that they get no score if they don’t finish the course within a designated par time. If after everyone has gone there is a tie (as is often the case, with several perfect scores), the tiebreaker is done as a follow-on set of rounds, though I’m not sure I understood all of the complexities. If a horse stops short of a jump (called a “refusal”), the rider must come around and try again though this increases their score, and of course also costs time. Three refusals in a single run is a disqualification. There were several disqualifications in the amateur finals, but not a single refusal in the professionals.

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Of course, not everybody can be perfect, as you can see from the falling rail in the picture below. I wasn’t keeping track, but I think that six of the nine or ten professionals had perfect runs.

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Unfortunately, Nancy and I had to leave before the end of the competition due to a prior commitment, so we didn’t get to see who won. But we certainly had a great time, and it got me thinking that perhaps I should take riding lessons, so I can feel more confident on horseback. Nancy loves horses and rode quit a bit when she was younger, and there are lots of places in the Bay area for recreational horseback riding.

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