It has been twelve years since the United States Hunter Jumper Association introduced the first-ever Hunter Derby to horse show schedules around the country. As the years have passed, the division has evolved, offering both national and international levels and asking new questions of the horse-and-rider pairs who enter. Victoria Colvin has been no stranger to her fair share of success in this exciting addition to the hunter/jumper community and has established herself as a formidable force in the world of hunter derbies. Phelps Sports sat down with Colvin to discuss what she looks for in a hunter derby prospect and how to prepare them for their new life of handy rounds and work-offs.
When shopping for jumpers, equestrians look for scope and the ability to jump sizable obstacles and, when shopping for hunters, evaluate their form and ability to get down the lines, but what should one look for when scouting for a hunter derby horse? Colvin explained that as the sport has grown and new questions are being asked of these horses, some things have changed while others have remained the same.
“Years ago, when derbies started to gain popularity, derby horses were more jumper and equitation types,” she shared. “More recently, they have begun looking more and more like hunters, which is great because it allows them to excel in hunters classes, also. A lot of these horses will be cross-entered in derbies, but also hunter divisions, making them more versatile and valuable.”
But hunter derby horses are often exposed to questions and elements they may not see in the traditional hunter ring, which makes one trait necessary when shopping for a potential derby mount: their mind.
“The mind is the most important. Derby horses need to be brave, brave, brave. They must want to win for you and not look for a reason to lose. I’ve been lucky to ride some amazing derby horses that make my job easier because they are as committed to winning as I am. You can tell when a horse understands his job and wants to do a good job instead of fighting you,” commented Colvin. “For a derby horse, it is a plus to be beautiful, but it is more important to have the brains and scope to be able to navigate the handier turns and larger fences that you often see in derby courses.”
In addition to being brave and wise, Colvin also looks for horses who exhibit a stylish jumping technique and a good deal of scope so that they can deliver a round filled with finesse and class.
Once you have found a horse who exhibits all the qualities of being a potential derby horse, it is time to build them up for success. Colvin divulged one of her favorite ways to prepare greener mounts for the derby life.
“One of the most important things is to desensitize your horse. Flat your horse like an equitation horse, and go past and through things you would never really encounter. If your horse is already brave, this will be easier, but it helps to ensure that your horse is not fazed by large, intimidating fences or big atmospheres at horse shows he will go to. Do this all while loving on them and bonding with them, and it will go a long way towards a successful derby horse,” she remarked.
Colvin also shared that when she is on the hunt for an up-and-coming derby prospect, she tends to look at jumpers with good movement and form, as they seem to transition into the derby lifestyle a little easier. If she had to choose between a green horse or a horse looking for a career transition, she would choose the latter.
“I look for horses with mileage. There are rare ones that are born with mature eyes, but it helps them to have been in the show ring before and to have seen different types of jumps, as well as been in atmospheres outside of their home barn,” noted Colvin.
While horse shopping can be grueling and take some time, sometimes you just know the minute you lay eyes on a horse that he or she is the one. At least, that is how it went when Colvin first met WCHR 2018 Hunter of the Year and 2018 USHJA International Hunter Derby Champion, Private Practice.
“About two years ago, I was looking at a jumper when I walked by Private Practice’s stall and wanted him. Even though he wasn’t the horse we were there for, I kept going back to his stall. Eventually, things worked out, and I was reconnected with Private Practice, who we call ‘Peter,’ but I guess you could say I knew he was special before I even sat on him. He wants to do well, and you can tell just by watching him,” she remembered.
Colvin’s gut reaction to Peter would prove fruitful as the pair have had great success together during the duration of their partnership, proving that following your instinct is always an important part of horse shopping. As the 2020 season slowly starts to kick back into gear, there will be plenty of riders out there scouring the market for their newest partner. Should you find yourself hunting for your next derby champion, take Colvin’s advice to heart and seek a partner of sound mind and body who will be ready to help you prove their handiness in the work-off!