Yesterday I judged a county-rated hunter & equitation show near Los Angeles. For those of you living east of the Rockies, you're probably not going to appreciate this comment-- because I know from some of your comments and emails that it's still cold and stormy in your area-- but it was UNGODLY HOT ALL DAY!!! Several times I trudged to the concession truck, grabbed some paper napkins, dunked them in my bottled water and then sponged the dust and sweat off my face and arms. Lovely visual image, is it not?
I enjoy the chance to be Judge for a Day. After all my years of competing, judging gives me a new perspective on showing. I always come away with the same observation: It sure is easy to tell which riders are properly prepared to compete, and which are not.
I'm not referring to tailored clothing and high-dollar tack. Anyone can go to their local tack store, plunk down their credit card and buy all the garb and gear to "look the part." But if you climb in the saddle and cannot ride, the judge doesn't care which brand label is stuck on your breeches or which emblem is glued on the front of your helmet. Honestly, judges really are judging your horsemanship, not your fashion sense. Being able to bend your hunter around its turns or place it to the center of each jump counts far more than whether or not you have a sheepskin girth or custom tall boots.
That was the case yesterday with three particular riders. All three of them had the right "look" and their horses were clean and well-fed. But they had not mastered the very basics of huntseat riding. Oh, they could sit on a horse alright; they seemed fearless as well. And I'm sure they were very dedicated, competitive young horsewomen, because by the second round, when it was apparent that they could not guide their horses smoothly and accurately over the jumps, their expressions turned quite dour. They were not having fun. At all.
For example, the turns in each corner were taken as if they were running a barrel racing course, not cantering around a hunter course. This sort of kamikaze approach to the jumps led to refusals and awkward jumping efforts. I wanted to stop judging and start teaching. We could begin our lesson with, "How about we learn how to ride a STRAIGHT LINE TO THE JUMP?"
Second lesson? That would be, "Introduction to the Crest Release," whereby the rider learns that it's much easier for the horse to jump when it's given a small amount of freedom with the reins.
These three riders were standouts compared to the rest of the participants who, despite facing their own struggles and challenges, had solid basic English riding skills built on a secure, correct position.
So, what's the difference between these two, disparate groups of competitors? They're all trying hard, they all want the blue ribbon. But why were the three I singled out so "different" from the others? I think it's the instruction they are-- or aren't-- receiving. Everyone makes mistakes at a horse show. Horse shows are a test. Horse shows are where we learn what we need to work on at home. But a good instructor would never put their students into a class that is far above their current skill level, and then blame it on the horse when things don't go well.
Of course, that's just my opinion.
As always, feel free to add your thoughts by clicking on "comments" below or emailing me at: firstname.lastname@example.org