Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Consider this the first installment in a recurring series I'll call: Things that Torment Horse Show Judges.

Today's episode: The Small Class Crisis

One of the worst dilemmas I face when I'm judging a horse show is having to decide the ribbon placings in a small flat class of maybe 2-4 riders. Let me explain why.

When a flat class is large it's actually quite simple, most of the time, to spot the first three placings right away. They shine. The other rankings tend to fall into place as the class progresses. Of course, when a flat class is too large it engenders a whole other rant about trying to sort through 16 identical bay geldings, each ridden by a girl in a navy blue huntcoat. But that's a topic for later!

The very small classes are challenging to judge for two reasons. First, there's the decision-making process. If it's an equitation class, a small class of riders forces me to consider which is a worse flaw: A lower leg that is shoved in front of the girth or a rider who doesn't seem to be fully in control of her mount. In hunters under saddle, what exactly am I supposed to do with a trio of horses, none of which epitomizes anything near the ideal under saddle horse? Should I pin the horse that's stiff behind over the horse that moves like a sewing machine in front? Second, there's the emotional aspect of judging a small class. This is really hard if the competitors are all cute, earnest little kids. I know I'm supposed to be as objective as possible, and award the blue ribbon to the most deserving exhibitor. But I also hate to be the person who very clearly conveys the message that darling, pony-tailed Samantha aboard fuzzy, sweet-natured Starlight is going to get third place out of three once again. If I could explain why to the kids and their parents-- that if Samantha learned to tell when she was on the wrong lead, or if Starlight didn't toss his head at the halt-- then maybe I wouldn't feel so conflicted. But at most of the shows I judge, I rarely get that opportunity. I am, after all, there to judge, not to host a training clinic.

And so, this ends Part One of Things that Torment Horse Show Judges.

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