Monday, June 16, 2008

My Report from the Judge's Booth

Remember how I was deliberating on what to wear to judge that big horse show at the country club this past weekend? Well, as it turned out, I wore a simple little khaki twill skirt and a peach-colored peasant blouse with some beading on it. It was a pretty summer outfit.

Unfortunately, I misjudged the climate in San Diego County. Where it was dry and in the low 90's at my house, at the horse show it was overcast and never got warmer than about 75. Since I was seated in a raised judge's booth, I was buffeted by a cool marine breeze much of the time, which literally left me shivering. The horse show secretary took pity on me and brought me a big parka out of her car. A big, plaid, flannel, quilted parka. Then the judge in the other arena (who happened to be wearing a pant suit, complete with a vest and blazer) tossed me a red wool lap throw she'd been using as a seat cushion. I draped that over my bare legs. So by noontime I was really stylin'. So much for my summery wardrobe. Instead I was cloaked in garments that made me look like I was hanging out at a college football stadium.

While ultimately I had a great time, it was a very loooooong day. I started judging at a few minutes past 9:00 a.m. The contract that the show managers had with the club stated that we had to finish all of the classes by 6:00 p.m. Guess what? I pinned the ribbons in my last class-- the Green Rider Medal-- at 5:50. So I made it by 10 minutes! In order to accomplish that, the backgate guy was shuttling in the next rider on course as soon as the previous rider had landed after the final jump. Needless to say, that didn't give me much time to deliberate on the scoring of each round. It was more like, "Okay, that was worthy of something in the mid-70's. Hmmm... Did I like her more than the girl on the gray pony, who got a 72? Oh darn... Here comes the next horse!"

But perhaps the most stressful part was having to hold 6 open cards for the short stirrup and long stirrup classes. For those of you who aren't familiar with this concept, I'll quickly explain.

"Short stirrup" classes are for the little kids who are just starting to jump courses. "Long stirrup" classes are just a play-on-words: they're the older riders who are at the same level as the younger short stirrup riders. They all jump the same courses. Typically there are two hunter rounds and an equitation over fences round within both the short stirrup division and the long stirrup division.

To keep things rolling along at a big show, management wants the judge to hold open cards. That means that the judge-- in this case ME-- has a clipboard with all of the short stirrup and long stirrup class scorecards in front of her. Next to that are the courses, because each class has its own course. Then, the riders can come in whenever they're ready and compete in pretty much any order. So I might conceivably see a short stirrup rider's first hunter round, then another short stirrup rider's first hunter round, then a long stirrup rider's equitation round, then a short stirrup rider's equitation round, then a long stirrup rider's second hunter round... I'm sure you're getting dizzy imagining the possibilities.

It kind of makes my head spin, too.

Ideally the announcer is supposed to make it very, very, VERY clear to the judge which round the rider is doing as they come through the in-gate. 99 out of 100 times that happens. Once in a while, it doesn't, and then the score can end up on the wrong score card. Then, when the mistake is discovered, that score has to be transferred onto the correct scorecard and the ribbon placings re-shuffled to accomodate the change. So both the judge and the announcer have to really work as a team to make sure that paperwork nightmare doesn't occur. But even when the procedure works properly, the judge (that would be me) has to rifle through 6 pages of scorecards to find the correct one with each rider and then glance back over the corresponding jumping course, all in a matter of seconds.

You can understand now how stressful it can be!

But then there are some funny moments that break up the tenseness of the whole situation. For example, in the 11 & Under Maiden Equitation class, I watched intently as a couple of kids on big horses barely squeezed between the jumps and the rail while they were cantering. (Jumps are left in the arena during the flat classes). I thought to myself, "Wow, that one big gray almost went over that jump!"

Next time around, guess what? The big gray's ears locked onto the jump and the kid did next to nothing to avert the horse's attention. The horse leapt over the jump, taking it in stride, then landed and continued cantering around the arena as if that was what it was supposed to do.

Naturally, I couldn't give her a ribbon, because let's face it: One of the basic tenets of horsemanship is the ability to guide and control one's horse. Yet as she rode into the center of the arena for the line-up, I did say to her nicely, "Well, that was quite spectacular!"

She laughed, although with a blush of embarrassment to her cheeks.

All in all, it was a long day. But it was memorable!

If you'd like to leave a comment, just click on "comments" below!


Anonymous said...

I couldn't ever be a judge. I'd be too busy watching the horses move and not writing down on my scorecards. Plus, I'm WAY too critical. I'd be better off as a trainer (but even that, I don't think I could do....) - pointing out people's faults and suggesting ways to fix them. Except I'm a LOT more harsh......

Anonymous said...

Well go you, Cindy, for being such a friendly judge! I've only done a few shows, and the only one where I talked to the judge was a disaster! Firstly because I did horribly (it was my first show), and secondly because the judge was a horrible prude who made me cry (I was 13) and I learned nothing. It thus also led to me not going to any more shows for quite a few years. I'm so glad you are not like that! That girl will have learned something and her desire to show and love her horse will not have diminished...

Jessica said...

I recently got to participate in a Ride-N-Review with a judge after my dressage test, and it was such a postive and encouraging experience. She came off telling me what she really liked abour our ride then gave us a few hints on what to work on with the test. Overall, there's nothing MORE encourage than a judge with a kind word. It really inspires me to move on and make the next step in our training.

I also had a hunter judge laugh with me about the fact that my baby decided to stop and nibble on the flowers in the flower box before going over it. - Humor is always appreciated hehe :-) (Needless to say, we didn't place in that one *grin*)

On the flip side, I've had judges with mean words really get me down before as well - which makes me think that they sometimes don't quite realize the influence they have over their riders.

Cindy Hale said...

You've all left some insightful comments, and I appreciate them! I promise, I'll address them soon either in my blog or in a Horse Channel online mini-article. When I judge, I try not to be perceived as the competitor's adversary. There are definitely some judges who want to be seen as this lofty, authority figure. But while I DO want to have my opinion respected, and while horse shows are a "show" and not a training clinic, if I can tell that some rider (especially a kid) is struggling with her emotions and is clueless about why she didn't win a ribbon, I'll try to make an effort to offer some encouragement.