Monday, April 28, 2008

Another Day in the Judge's Booth

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:


Anonymous said...

I think your are 100 percent right what realy matters is your riding capalbility.

Anonymous said...

Definitely - I wear generic brand show clothes. I don't see the point to why I should wear fancy-schmancy custom boots when off-the-rack Devon Aires work just fine for me. Sure, the soles have to be taped on to the boot (I've had them five years), but seriously - the judge isn't going to be sitting there going, "Oh, there she goes! She's a good rider but has black electrical tape on her boots. Take ten points off of her final score." or "Oh! Look! She can't ride worth anything, but she has fancy-schmancy Pikeur boots. Give her a 85!"

(I'm talking about dressage here)

There are other things that really annoy me. For one - the striped helmets in dressage. Now, I know, some of them are either hunter or jumper riders who are using dressage as a way to tone up their horses or to broaden their horizons. But really, it isn't that difficult for the "pure dressage" people to pick up a simple velvet-covered helmet. A good, economical helmet with velvet is definitely hundreds of dollars chepaer than a GPA.

Which leads me to this - why do some people ALWAYS have to buy their things new? My entire show wardrobe (minus the boots and breeches) were given to me free as hand-me-downs. I bought my boots because everyone I know wears at least a size 8 or have insanely long and skinny calves. I'm a 6 1/2 and wear a short and skinny calf. And I'm weird about breeches, they have to be new. I can't really make myself wear breeches that someone else has already worn.

Er - that turned out to be a novel.

Anonymous said...

I agree that horse shows should be more than a fashion show. But in our 4H and small open shows, we aren't always lucky to get good judges like that. More often than not we get a judge that prefers horses/riders that look a certain way. Case in point: I was in a horsemanship class once in an almost too-small arena. The pattern was too easy, and I forgot it (I tend to do that with too easy patterns) I placed first over the only lady who did the pattern correctly, who didn't place at all. It was my first first-place ribbon, and I felt bad 'cause I'd done the pattern all wrong and thought I hadn't really earned it. I guess that judge forgot the pattern too and thought me and Sas pulled it off the best.


Anonymous said...

YOur right cindy! And thank god its starting to warm up over here again except for the fact that we were suppose to get snow on sunday! Oh the joy. I want warm weather.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. Unfortunately at our small local shows, the show judges play favorites a lot. I once saw a little girl do an awesome pattern, she definately did it right and so much smoother and better than everyone else. But the judge never placed her because he doesn't like gray horses. She was dressed appropriately, and her horse was turned out perfectly, she did the pattern perfect, and still didnt get a ribbon. I couldn't resist going up to her afterwards, as she was hugging her horse with tears in her eyes, and I told her what I thought, that she was the best rider in her class, and she and her horse looked very nice. That's when her mom came over and said that that particular judger NEVER places the grays. He preferred bays to any other color. That is so not fair.

He also never placed horses with riders who weren't obviously wearing " the latest styles" or horses without silver loaded saddles.
As the owner of 3 gray horses, I know better than to enter any of the classes that I know he will be judging.

Cindy Hale said...

Lord knows I used to love looking nifty when I showed, but I really never thought that I was doing it to influence the judge. I was doing it to impress my fellow competitors! LOL!

Neat, properly fitted clothes that are correct attire for your division are definitely important. But price and brand? No. There is so much going on when you're judging: you're marking the score card, scribbling notes, talking to the announcer over the walkie-talkie... The last thing you're doing is trying to decipher what brand of breeches someone is wearing or how old their riding boots might be.

As for colored horses: I pin the horse that does best. Period. And I know that most-- not all-- of my friends who are judges do the same. I think that's because I personally have owned some really nice horses that were paints, pintos, half-Arabs, and appaloosas and they did hunters and huntseat equitation and they did it well. But yes, sometimes a judge's personal preference comes in to play, I think especially when the horse is not the traditional color for the particular discipline. For example, I know that sometimes my pinto mare would not be pinned in hunters-- even though she was actually a branded Dutch warmblood who just happened to be a tobiano pinto in color! I just learned to accept it. And now colored horses are quite popular on the open hunter circuit. I guess that's what makes horse shows interesting and unpredictable in some ways.

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