by Emily Baker
Riding a Hunter Derby is no easy feat, as demonstrated by the recent International Derby Finals at the Kentucky Horse Park this past weekend. In light of this, Equestrienne spoke with Savoy Stables' head trainer Brianna Davis about her tips for riding the Hunter Derbies. Davis humbly denounced her expertise in the area of Hunter Derbies, but is in fact a decorated hunter rider. She grew up riding here in Colorado but spent a few of her professional years running the Cedar Brook Farm in Connecticut where she received Horse of the Year awards in the 2nd-Year Greens and then Regular Working Hunters two consecutive years.
Today, Davis is back in Colorado running Savoy Stables which specializes in hunters, jumpers, and equitation. Davis currently has a few different Derby horses at Savoy that she has shown around the country, and can be seen competing in the Grand Prix de Santa Fe International Derby with Bailando in the video below. From all of her experience, she has developed some tips and tricks to help current and aspiring Derby riders in these challenging classes.
1. Know Your Horse
One of the most important facets of riding a Hunter Derby is knowing your horse's strengths and weaknesses. This helps you to know how to ride the course that you are given.
"For example," Davis stated, "Bailey (shown above) has a huge stride which could get me into trouble in a tight line." If they were to jump in big to a line or were to override it, that would put them in a difficult situation getting out of the line and could cost them points. It's important, therefore, to know what your horse is best at in order to showcase those talents while avoiding situations that might illustrate their greatest challenges.
2. Assess Where You Can Take a Risk
In line with knowing your horse, it is also important to analyze on your course where you can take a risk. Especially in the handy round, tighter "more handy" turns are going to get you more favor with the judge, however they may not always be a risk you can take. Also, you must be able to plan where you'll be able to do the high option on course, and where it would be best for your horse to jump the low option.
"I have two derby horses that don't have great lead changes," Davis stated of this situation. So on those particular horses she has to be very aware of where those tight turn options are on course and plan for the lead change ahead. If her horse does not land the lead, Davis has to have a backup plan that will still make the round look as organized and well-executed as possible.
4. Know Your Course
This sentiment may seem like an obvious piece of advice, but that does not make it any less vital. Davis stresses the importance of knowing your course backwards and forwards.
"I'll go over a course at least 50 times before I go in the ring," she says, "and honestly that's on the low end." Reviewing your course at the gate is key but you can continue to go over it in your head wherever you are at the show. If you have an image of your course in your mind even when you're not at the ring, still keep practicing! Furthermore, if you're afforded the opportunity, it is obviously helpful to watch how other riders perform on the course as well. However we are not always that lucky.
Each of these tidbits of advice are equally important, but can be summed up in what Davis refers to as the 7 P's: "Proper Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance." If you've prepared your tack and your attire, prepped your horse and yourself, and practiced and reviewed every aspect of your round you will be much more prepared for a successful Hunter Derby!