Thursday, October 29, 2009

Taking the top call .......

So you enter the ring for your flat class. Let's say it's a pleasure class for judging sake.
You're now being judged at the walk. You take note that there are some really nice looking horses in this 'pleasure' class. Although your horse is obedient, he may not be the best mover. Most of the time, you place but maybe not so high as you'd like. 
Trot please, all trot (or jog if your in western pleasure). Don't rush into it. Good. Nice departure. Here and there you take note of some of the other horses in the ring.
Canter, All Canter (or Lope if you're in western) Okay, gather yourself and make sure you're ready. Apply leg and yes! I got the lead!! You got all the transitions and even your diagonols and leads. Wow, you have a real shot at winning this class! What a great feeling! You take note that out of the corner of your eye, you saw a few wrong lead departures so your chances are really getting better.
Fast forward to line up and pinning. You're waiting in line for the announcer to call you for the blue. But wait!......Are you kidding me? What is this judge looking at! The horse I was right behind busted his lead in one direction. His pace set mine very well and he was a helluva mover but come on......he busted a lead for at least 2 or 3 strides before changing. This judge is blind and I may as well go home now!!
Have you been in this class? Unfortunately, from the back of your horse in a class, you cannot see everything that happens with the other horses.
The horse that picked up the wrong lead for 2 or 3 strides and then swapped, either flying or simple change, was a very nice mover. He definitely had the whole package. Quality gaits with transitions that showed excellent control. His expression showed calmness and his overall conformation was suitable for his job..
Your horse was good. Just because he falls out of gait for transitions, doesn't mean he's the worst. Of course not. Maybe your horse is not the best built horse around but he held a great pace and you did everything right!
Something to consider is that the horse you thought 'wow, he blew his lead so that's one less I have to beat' may just possess more ability that shows through.
In this scenario, the better horse has to get the blue. If a lead is blown and corrected within 2 or 3 strides, I make note of it for tie breaking purposes but that is not to say I have weighted that fault heavily for a better overall horse. I know that's hard for some people. Wrong lead through the whole direction, I would definitely have to discount much greater and they would forfeit the win. But you always have to reward the better horse. The most you can do is your best. Some judges would weight that blown lead more heavily, not taking in account the quick correction.
You may not always always agree with a judges' opinion. Our job as a judge is to reward the best horse in that class on that day.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Critique Today

This is a critique of the rider as requested only. The setting is schooling and not a show.

The Leg - this rider appears to be pinching at the knee instead of riding with her weight in her heels. The leg has fallen back behind the girth and they have lost upper body balance. Either they were simply left behind on departure due to the inability of the weak leg or fell back into the saddle over the fence.. Either way, this rider is really in the way of the horse by being in the saddle over a fence. Though her heel is below her hip, the amount of bend in the knee and the lack of rising her weight out of the saddle, shows a weak leg a la knee pinching.

Hands - I'm not seeing a release here. It appears as if the rider was trying to balance off the rein and pull herself up into two point, using the reins. This simply jabs the horse in the mouth. Even if you get left behind at a jump, it is best to at least have enough independence in your hands to move them along with your horses' mouth. Impeding the horse with your weight on his back is hard enough but if you also are hanging off his mouth, depending on what bit is in there, your doing everything wrong. Grab mane if need be!

Eye - this rider appears to be looking at the back of her horses' head and not up to where she really wants to go. Her chin is tucked, her eye is down and her shoulders are rotated forward. Keep the eye up beyond your present jump and it will help to keep the shoulders and back in check also.

I don't want to go on and on over this rider's faults. I see many faults but it looks as though she is a novice so as not to discourage her too much, I just stuck with the basic aids. I did not include seat as I don't think this rider has much independence or experience.

I would suggest this rider doing a lot more ground work. Jumping is fun especially if you have a mount that just goes on about it regardless of what you do. But you can also end up discouraging a horse from jumping with so many faults. You can cause a loss of confidence in your horse also depending on his personality. Some horses take faults personally and this can greatly hinder what used to be a packer over fences.

You don't have to just driill posting trot and trotting in two point with no stirrups and extreme short (jockey) stirrups to build a leg although those are two definite ways to get a leg! Put out a series of ground poles approximately 6 feet apart. Get in 2 point and trot into the poles moving your hands forward and back to the rhythm of the strides. The distance your hand moves along the neck should not be extreme. Don't throw your hands forward, nor bring them back behind your shoulder. Once your hand is moving independently, it makes it easier to work on your leg. Another good thing is to post to the trot for 5 strides and then 2 point with half crest release for 5 strides (as long as your horse maintains a rhythm without contact.). This exercise will help you move from one position to the other. If you feel unstable in your upper body doing this exercise, you're probably pinching with your knee. Go back to walking in two point and the trot remembering to relax your hips and knees to follow the motion of your horse through the barrel.

Overall my suggestions would be to just leave the cross rails alone until you are able to trot and canter on the flat, moving through 3 point, half seat and 2 point with independent legs, seat and hands. That's not to say that this rider doesn't appear to have potential. Her mount looks willing enough from this picture. The rider has taken great care in providing her horse with leg & hoof protection. She has prepared her own appointments well with a helmet and body protector, boots and gloves. I do not know how long this pair has been schooling cross rails so my suggestions are based completely on this picture with no assumptions to the ability of either the rider or horse. Good luck, keep up your safety habits and always try to end on a high note!

Monday, October 26, 2009

When Disciplines Collide

Well another weekend of judging over! I have again, a plethera of topics swirling around in my head but I've chosen this for today. First off, look at the clock and take note of the minute hand.

At many open shows, classes that are not over fences are just referred to as english. This usually brings out a hefty variety of saddles in the ring. When the show has English Pleasure, English Equitation, etc designated as classes, you never know what you're going to get. The only distinction you can possibly use in these classes are the judging designation such as pleasure, equitation, performance, etc.

English Pleasure was announced and in came two saddle seat riders, one side saddle rider and several variations of hunt seat. There was a  western horse in english tack, a gaited horse ridden side saddle, kids on ponies, a big floating horse, 2 animated saddle seat horses (or were they) and a high headed, skinny minny looks to be OTTB.   That is definitely a recipe for questions to the judge when I pin this class so I'd better be rather exact in my notes.

Here's the line up
  1. Large dark bay, hunt seat rider, naturally large gaits, flat knees, nice carriage and obviously great natured pleasurable mount.
  2. Large chestnut, saddle seat rider, well animated gaits, very light carriage and very well mannered
  3. Gray large pony, hunt seat rider, nice carriage, a bit animated in the knees but moving out well, obviously well mannered 
  4. Large chestnut, hunt seat rider, obvious western horse in english tack, a bit animated but light carriage and well mannered
  5. Gaited dark bay, nice flat & running walk, side saddle rider with a heavy hand, nice manners but rider doesn't keep it in gait.
  6. Small pony, hunt seat rider, fast but small child rider had control. Didn't look too pleasurable but ok.
  7. Thin, large dark bay, hunt seat rider, large strides, poor carriage, fast and high headed but flat kneed, with some problems with attention and manners (my guess it was an OTTB that was still very green to show and treed saddle)
  8. Small gray horse, saddle seat rider, very spooky, rider has death grip on long shanked bit, rider & horse look scared.
 I made sure to take note of the gaits, the horses' manners and their overall appearance of being a pleasurable mount with happy riders. Although I must say, hunters is my first choice to ride, show & judge. I cannot say that I am biased in a generalized pleasure class such as this.
 I like to see the saddle seat horses show their animation and still be so light in their carriage. That is a very pretty picture. I love side saddle and on a gaited horse with decent flat & running walk, who wouldn't find that a pleasurable ride?

A big well conditioned, flat kneed hunter type horse with light carriage, good manners, ground covering stride without the aid of the rider's spur to keep the stride open and reaching? Well in this field of 8, I see it as the obvious choice for all day pleasurable hack. The rider wasn't over schooling, see sawing the reins or balancing off the reins. Good conformation supported the natural movement that the #1 horse had. Swinging from the shoulder, flat kneed, ground covering natural stride.... hands down my top pick.

Big red gelding with a nicely appointed saddle seat rider. This horse was well suited and trained for saddle seat. No heavy shoes or obvious scarring showed that he was a naturally gifted saddle seat mount and not something inhumanely manufactured. A victim of a bit too much leg from the rider during transitions which ended up being rather sticky going from the trot to the canter. I think the rider was a novice and just anticipated the gait changes a bit much. Once the horse went to the canter, she let go of the choke hold reins and the horse just floated along with really nice gaits. Just a tad fast but again, I think the rider just may have been a bit nervous. Otherwise, a great 2nd place. Nice to watch, looks like they are a pleasurable, mostly relaxed duo.

The gray pony was ridden by what appearred to be a happy and correctly positioned 'tween' aged girl. This pony was run up on by some of the other entries and never missed a step or batted an eye. The pony had a bit more knee action than I would like to see for a hunter style pony. A little long in the barrel which may have contributed to the knee not moving through from the shoulder, but otherwise, looked like a happy pair with good gait transitions. Okay .... that'll be my third pick.

Oh my! Small gray horse crow hopping sideways down the rail and about to collide with the little pony. I better call quick for a walk!! Wow, not such a great horse for a pleasure class and not looking forward to it coming back in the ring for safety sake but ... whew! Collision averted and if the rider would let the horse get off that choke hold long shanked bit just a little, maybe they'd have a snowball's chance....okay, I have the bottom of my list. You don't always work with first place down in order. This duo was not suited for each other at this time in their training and I'm not sure this horse was ready for a show environment.

Let's see, what's left that I haven't placed. This should not be too difficult as I have my first three placings and a definite last.
  • I have a western horse in english tack and the perverbial western rider in english habit, hunt cap, no harness, make up and eye down. Horses' stride is a bit short but they've a fair pace with nice manners on the horses' part. He too, was a close call victim of the gray crow hopper.  
  • I have a possible VOR - victim of rider - side saddle rider on a walker of some sort who does a nice flat and running walk. I believe this horse has nice barefoot gaits for a walker or walker cross. The running walk is a gait that takes conditioning on the horses' part and this horse had a nice one but it's possible the rider was new to side saddle although the horse was well suited for it. They broke gait twice (that I saw)  but no excessive speed, suitability and a nicely matched pair.
  • Small or possibly a large mini pony with small child on board. This pony gave a few head down upward hump backed jumps transitioning up from trot to canter both times. Not so mannerly but the size is suitable and rider does not seem rattled at all. Cute pair, pony stretching for the stride but rather fast, even passing the large dark bay. Doesn't look pleasurable to post that fast.
  • Thin horse, looks to be a thoroughbred and possibly just off the track. He appears willing or this rider would have not made it to the end of the day. Although willing, he doesn't seem to have any idea of what is being asked of him. Looks like they have some work to do. His nose is pointed straight out to evade that bit but he looks to be built well enough to eventually have a nice stride. He's looking all around and having some attention span problems which makes me think he's new to the arena but he's not appearring spooky. I see a good prospect for a nice horse with training and time. The rider also appearred a bit of a novice but had a good balance and didn't seem to be too rattled by her mount that was making his own path around the ring.
These are my remaining 4 horses to place, keeping in mind, it's a pleasure class. I think the skinny propect is, at this stage of his development, not a pleasure to ride and is excessively fast. They'll be good in the future but right now, all he can beat out is the crow hopping gray horse that I really wish would leave the ring. He had a few breaks at the canter and the pace went up and down depending on whether there was something for the horse to look at or not. I don't see volatilility and there's a lot of willingness on part of the rider and horse. Okay, he goes above the unruly gray horse but won't beat out anyone else in the ring.... I have my 7th place.

Just a note - This show only pinned through 6th place but having only 8 in the class, I'll place them all so as not to discount an opinion for any of them in case they wish to see my cards or ask a question.

Okay, 4th place isn't too hard. The western horse in english tack. Nice manners with a rider working way too hard for a pleasure class but nonetheless better than the 'breaking gait' walker, the 'funny fat mile a minute' pony and definitely over the skinny OTTB and gray crash about to happen horse.

Now what to do with the gaited and the tiny pony? Does speed and slightly bad manners (remember the small pony may have humped his way from the trot to the canter but was almost taken out by the gray crash waiting to happen without so much as a laid back ear, so the manners were not that bad).  Hmmm, oh my, better make a command decision and be done with it. Breaking gait vs. speeding pony, breaking gait, speeding pony, break, speed.....I don't like speed especially in a pleasure class but this is a tiny pony in a ring with horses upwards of 16hh +. Breaking gait is a major fault but I believe this rider to be new to side saddle and therefore not keeping the horse in gait allowing him to drop down.

Wow, how long have I had them at the trot? Better call for the walk and line up.

Although breaking gait is a major fault, excessive speed should be weighted more heavily in any pleasure class also a major fault. So along with his speed and little hump backed canter departures, little pony gets the green with pink going to the side saddle walker.

As they exit the ring, there are so many things I would like to tell them. I sure hope that little girl on the little pony gets a chance to ride a really nice pony, just once. I applaud the side saddle rider for keeping the discipline alive while learning on a gaited horse that was highly suitable. I want the western horse in english tack to do well in western and the rider not to wear make up .... oh and get a helmet with a harness. It's not a fashion statement, it's a safety device. I want to tell the tall, dark and handsome winning horse that he is gorgeous and I would love to see them over fences. I want to tell the gray crow hopper to please go home and practice. Go out to some venues without showing as you are dangerous to other riders and you can get experience without going in the ring. Oh and please don't over ride that OTTB. He needs some down time off the track to grow, be a horse and by all means, eat. He looks like he's lost his muscling from the track but hasn't settled enough off his high protein diet to start gaining some weight. Go slow and be as willing to him as he appears to be to you, OTTB rider. Tween Suzie on the gray, keep up the good work. Hope to see you popping little jumps in short stirrup. Saddle seat chestnut with the 2nd place..... if you relax a bit and let your horse do what he has obviously mastered, you may have won this class. Go to lots of shows and then you'll relax and your horse can win in the collision of disciplines pleasure class!

I would like to have made those my notes on the card but I'm not conducting a clinic. I'm judging a show and with that, the next class is called in to the ring.

How many minutes ticked by? All of those thoughts and more ran through my head in probably five minutes of this class. Keep in mind, I'm writing in symbols and short hand without looking pretty much the whole time this class was floating and hopping around the ring. That's judging. Factor in some rather unseasonably cool breezes and cold coffee and that was my Saturday.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Recommended Reading for All Disciplines

There is a book that I don't think has had enough promotion and accolades given for it's valuable information. (If you click on the book title here or at the bottom of the post, it will take you to Claire Lilley's website.)
Schooling With Ground Poles : Flatwork for Every Horse Every Sport by Claire Lilley
I would include in the title For Every Rider since it has some skill enhancing techniques that even a novice backyard horse and rider can benefit from.  I stumbled on this book while perusing Ebay one day a while back. When I was instructing riders, it's so hard sometimes, to get a particular bit of detail across in more than one way so I purchased the book for ideas. It's a fantastic arsenal of information for riders, trainers, instructors and owners.

The book covers the basics on everything from scant ground equipment needs, lunging, in hand work, rider's aids, retraining an ill tempered horse, jumping and dressage movements through Prix St. George level. You would be surprised at how many intricate details of riding can be enhanced with simple ground pole exercises.

I've always tried to drill equitation riders on course elements set up with ground poles but no matter how hard you try, most do not want or will not, believe that the jump does not come from jumping but rather the flatwork a rider and horse put time into. Until you can easily see the lines of course elements and ride them smoothly, jumping them is not going to ramp up your equitation wins.

Claire Lilley's experience spans the upper levels of not only dressage but show jumping, vaulting and instucting in all of her unique specialties. The book is well written and extremely well illustrated with easy to understand explanations for lessons and goals.

Schooling with Ground Poles was first published in 2003 by Trafalgar Square Publishing. I do not know if there have been subsequent editions as mine is a hard back copy from the original 2003 printing.

I would recommend this book for anyone who has anything to do with horses. Whether you show or not, train or not, instruct or not, ride or are a care giver, handling horses only in halter; this book has something for you to enhance your skills or teach you and your horse new elements.

Just about everything that can be corrected, initially trained for horse and / or rider is covered in well illustrated, easy to understand language which also makes it wonderful reference for beginners all the way to master instructors.
If you can have only one horse book, get
Schooling With Ground Poles : Flatwork for Every Horse Every Sport by Claire Lilley

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Yesterday's Comment is Today's Post

One comment from yesterday I'm making the topic of today's post. If you didn't read it, .....
"You've covered how you feel about the rider's look, and the tack used on the horse, but I'm curious if any thought is given to the look of the horse in the class.

Where I used to show in my youth, you didn't dare show up without trimming your horse's fetlocks, ears, bridle path, and muzzle, or with a dirty horse. Basically, your horse was spotless.
Where I show these days, at least in the open shows, people pull their horses out of the pasture and haul to the show for a day of fun. Some of the horses are muddy and hairy, and it is quite obvious that no effort was made to groom the horses in preparation for the show."
Absolutely the horses turnout condition is taken into account where appropriate. Halter: judged on the conformation of the horse, sometimes includes color and / or pattern of coat but is heavily weighted on conformation. An ill groomed horse will downplay his attributes in the ring. If the coat isn't shiny and giving the appearance of health, that will detract. Consciously or subconciously, it will come into play. Grooming of the horse can actually shape it's appearance, enhance conformation flaws and distract them also. If your horse has a nice even topline with great proportions poll to wither, wither to hip but the mane is long and not drawn up in some manner of presentation, your horse may appear to have a shorter neck. A thick mane in the middle may give the appearance of a cresty neck which can indicate that he's out of shape or not in proportion to the standard of the breed he is representing. Grooming to enhance & downplay your horses' best and worst, is an art form. I will notice long toes even if they are painted with hoof polish and it, more often than not, will hinder your horses' ability to perform pivots in hand and under saddle.

Unless everyone at the show, shows up with no apparent preparation, your horse' turnout will definitely play a part. For one, a horse that is just caught up out of the field with no grooming and such, will most likely show that he/she hasn't been working for the classes under saddle either.

"I would expect a horse in this condition to be marked down in showmanship, but what about other classes? Would you give preference to the groomed horse? What about horses that are too thin?"
In horsemanship if the best rider that executes a pattern or works the best on the rail but has the dirtiest horse, they will still win. It is doubtful though, that someone who works and practices their riding prowess, is not going to pay attention to their horse' turnout. But if this turns out to be the case, the best rider takes the blue.
In pleasure if the best horse has engaged his hocks, is moving straight and light under the rider, has the best movement overall with true gaits, he will win without me taking into account that he has muddy hocks. Again, those that work and practice to win in a pleasure class are most likely to show up ready to go as will their horse.

I would hate to think that an exhibitor left a show thinking that the judge pinned a clean horse with poor conformation over a dirty but highly correct horse just because of coat polish, face oil, baby powder and black hooves. Those exhibitor's who gussy up their standardbred / welsh / shire  cross that has the movement of a sewing machine with a needle stuck in leather, are trying to play up what few good conformation points that their horse possesses. It doesn't mean they should win if a beautifully built, natural moving quarter horse comes in looking like something just caught by a BLM helicopter round up in the dusty red rock valley unless the class is grooming and conditioning or showmanship. Then again, showmanship has a lot of other criteria i.e. execution of the pattern, presentation in the inspection, etc.

I split ties using the smallest of nit picks. There are always those tiny little flaws no one else may see. A halt that was a bit too short; a bobble on the backing steps; a shoulder dragging transition....something. There is always something, however slight, that will give me my order to place. When I pin a class, I know that if asked, I could give detailed reason as to why I placed how I placed and no, I was not on a 4H judging team.

If I have two horses that I just cannot decide who is first and who is second because they are both good movers, well built, with suitable riders who are showing them to there highest of abilities, what would I do?

 I would split a tie using turnout as a mitigating factor only if I could not find any tiny flaw in 2 riders' pattern and rail work. Turnout of the horse does reflect on a rider and therefore I would give very low weight but consider the horses' turnout if everything were equal. I would like to think every judge could give good reasons if asked about their placings with reference only to the rules and expectations of the class (i.e. pleasure, halter, horsemanship, etc).

I wish I spoke for all judges but unfortunately, I have double judged with a judge who did take fancy clothes and silver things into account when placing. Those judges do exist. I suggest you be proactive with your chosen show series or club and try to find a resource list with fair and knowledgable judges.

I just noticed I left out the thin horse question. By thin, I assume that you mean, underweight. Working horses can be fit and may appear a bit thin but their condition is usually well defined by their performance and muscle. Now the underweight horse will never pin over a nicely kept but possibly poorly conformed horse. In this case, the lesser endowed horse would win over the underweight horse. Again, being underweight, can and will define the outline for that horses' conformation so it's most likely not going to come down to a well conformed underweight horse tied with a nicely conditioned but poorly built horse. If in fact, it came to that, the healtheir horse will win even if it's covered with mud and the exhibitor wore a burlap toga.

I hope that covers the question you asked. Please feel free to comment and ask for further clarification if I left something out. I am not a trained writer and therefore sometimes my thoughts do not come out the same on paper or monitor in this case.

Hava great day....the weekend is coming up....are you ready for the show?  

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bling it on!

Again, a million topics to post on went through my head this weekend. Again, I did not jot the ideas down but this one just crept into my thoughts and I think everyone, exhibitors and judges, has an opinion. This is mine.

Attire in the Western Show Ring
I'm asked all the time what I think of the amount of silver on saddles, halters and bridles. Many times I am within earshot, most likely on purpose, of people making comments about so and so's glossy lambskin and rhinestone outfit, gawdy and otherwise. Whether anyone believes or not, I do not judge a HORSE show as a beauty pagent. Unless you are wearing flannel pajamas, I am not staring at your attire. I do not care if you look like an easter egg or a bland dinner salad. Truly I am judging what I need to judge. Whether it is the conformation of your horse, your horsemanship and execution of a pattern or the movement of your horse for pleasure riding.
There are some tricks to make yourself and your horse hide or enhance specific areas. As we all know, dark colors can shed a few pounds for people. If you don't have the quietest hand, I'd say leave off the french cuffs. If your horse has a really nice looking face and expression, don't use the widest, heaviest silver donned halter you can afford.
I do get offended when I hear comments like, the judge pinned by the amount of silver on the saddles. Or, Ann had custom glossy smooth lambskin chaps with a matching shirt and little Suzie only had a plaid cotton shirt & jeans, so that's why Ann won. Give me a break! I can't even tell you what someone was wearing if it was a pleasure class. I can tell you who schooled too much in the class. See-sawing the reins and staring at the back of their horse' head looking as far from having a pleasurable ride as driving down a dirt road in a car with no shocks.
If you are riding an individual horsemanship pattern, I can tell you who knows the difference between an oval and a circle but most likely, I cannot tell you whether they wore chaps or not. Your attire is not what is on my mind even as I look to see the effectiveness of your aids and your position over your leg.
If you are wearing something so loud and so gawdy that it draws my attention to you, you better know how to ride! I look at everyone who comes into the ring. I may only look at a green unsuitable pleasure mount moving like it's in the starter shoot to run down a steer once to catch the exhibitor number but I will look at everyone.
I have to say, too much will draw attention but it will probably not be the attention you want. The most extreme example of too much that I have come across was at a western mixed class show. There was a woman who had a very nice horse which placed well in pleasure classes but it was very hard to see her horse. Why? She wore a cowboy hat that was completely adorned on the underside of the brim with rhinestones and there was a tiara around the crown of the hat.
When the show was over and I saw the woman at her trailer, I couldn't resist. I went over to her and asked what the hat was about. She said, she always wore that hat because she couldn't afford the silver saddles and crystals custom show clothing. I replied that she had a nice moving, suitable horse to ride, she only needed to meet the show attire minimum requirements. She asked me if the hat had helped her be seen and I said no, it kept my eye above your nice horse. Honestly, I don't know how she saw out from under that brim. It was blinding! Had she taken it off and held it towards the sun, a huge fireball would have pelted out and blinded me! She told that the hat did what she thought.....get her attention and she would continue wearing it. It had become lucky to her.
I think if she qualified and won a high point award from that series, that they buy her a hat in leiu of a trophy.
You can wear it but it doesn't make you a better rider. If you want to stand out, train your horse, practice your riding and you will stand out. If you want a lot of silver tack and crystalized outfits, that's fine. But you better have something to show if you really want everyone looking at you! So bring on the bling! Unless it blinds me, it won't change my decision and I doubt it sways any other judges' minds either.
Oh and next time you place or think someone else placed because of glitzy silver and AB rhinestones, ask your show secretary, manager, steward or whomever is halfway in charge of your show to please ask the judge for a moment of their time. I think you'll find out that no one else' tack or attire was the reason for the placings.

The above picture on today's post is from the 2006 American Paint Horse Association Vegas Horse Show. Ms. Thompson, the rider in the picture was riding in the gambler trail class. Her outfit was used as an example of extreme outfits but was perfectly appropriate for the venue and class she was riding. I thought ya'll might enjoy seeing it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Judge Did Not Get Top Call....

What do you do when you want to cancel a horse show and it isn't for weather conditions? Managers work hard and plan everything for a horse show only to have it come to the entry closing date with only 4 entries. Maybe it's the economy, maybe they didn't plan it well enough in accordance to conflicting shows within the area, maybe they need to revamp their divisions or restrictions to widen their clientele range.
So, they put out the word. Posting cancellations on their websites, online calendar sites and send out the word in their email lists. It's hard to cancel a show when it isn't for obvious reasons like a typhoon or a blizzard. But I would like to offer this tip to all show managers when cancelling a horse show. Ad this to your checklist for cancelling.


Yes, I showed up to judge a show on a very nice spring day. I had been booked for that show almost a year in advance. It was an annual show that was well attended from what I knew and had heard. Even if I had 24 hour notice, that is better than nothing. Sometimes I think because they have signed a contract with the judge to protect themselves from a no notice no show, they think that if the SHOW is cancelled, the judge will still require payment, partial or full, depending on contract requirements. Personally, I would not require any payment regardless of what a contract says, if I get at least 24 hour notification and depending on the circumstances, may waive fees even if it's less than a 24 hour cancellation. This particular show manager, did not even offer to compensate me for gas for driving to the show. I drove 210 miles round trip.
When I arrived at the show, the manager sort of hid from me, sending a child volunteer out to tell me they were just there picking up things from the showgrounds. I asked to speak with the manager and was told she was busy. HUH?????? So am I!!! I'm SUPPOSED to be judging a show!!
Finally with some pushing, I found the manager. I told her my mileage to the show and it seems I should at least be compensated for the gas to get there and that was being generous. Many judges' in this situation would demand payment in full.

So today's post is actually my venting after a few months of stewing about this particular show manager. I see where the show is being planned again for next season and they are already begging for sponsor money and have posted the judge they have booked. I would love to contact that judge to tell them my experience and to be wary but then I don't want to cause bad blood. It seems their returning clientele were not loyal to them last year and I don't want to sabotage any plans for their attendance in the future. Besides, every judge has to learn for themselves I suppose.

Blessings to all showing this weekend!

Send me a picture and I'll critique it in the fairest manner possible. Maybe that could be my next post!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Photo Submission - Description from rider - In this picture, my horse, a 13 year old off the track thoroughbred, and I are schooling a fairly difficult grid for him. It was 3 trot poles to 3 bounce x-rails to a one stride 2'6" vertical to a two stride 3' vertical to a three stride 3'6" oxer. All strides were set a little short for him to encourage him to get a little deep and have to round a bit over the fences. He is very much a long and flat kind of jumper. The eventual goal was to compete at USPC Show Jumping Championships. The picture was taken in March while it was still a bit cold here so please excuse the extremely informal attire on my part and Jazz's slightly less than gleaming winter coat.

is it okay to post the picture with your description (below) along with the critique on the blog? I just wanted to be sure about that before I posted. Thanx~!

Most definitely! Feel free to edit it or whatever if you think it would read better/be easier to understand.

I added the email dialogue so everyone would know I have permission from the rider to post the picture and her description of the work being done in the photo.
So that said, attire is not an issue, nor turnout of the horse. I was very happy to see an auto release. This type of release just isn't being taught these days and it is so much more efficient especially when working through some tough gymnastics. I'm so tired of seeing upper level hunters and riders using half crest and even full crest releases. So I commend the rider for having such a nice hand and auto release. Following well as you can see the straight line from the bit to the elbow. Her rein is merely an extension of her arm. I can see a little slack in the rein. Just a slightly shorter rein and you could have brought your arm a little more forward and not test your center of gravity to the nth degree. As with any release, you need to keep those thumbs up. Although your hand is showing towards an angle downward, it is not enough to keep your elbows in, which is why when you look at the photo, the elbow draws your eye to it. Ideally your hand should be parallel to the horses shoulder angle as seen from the saddle. When you are mounted, turning your thumbs up is fine for full & half crest release riders but the most efficient for auto release is to keep the hands apart the width of the neck and look down at your horses' shoulder. Position the hand with thumbs turning up and carry your hand parallel to the downward angle of the shoulder. It is so efficient and nice to see this technique in hunters or jumpers. By using the auto release you simply keep your hand following the motion of the horse and your horse is able to stay easily between your hands. Can you tell I really am partial to old school and the auto release? Well, it's not really old school. It's still the release that should be taught but I believe that as competition has evolved into something geared more  towards a 'get it done now' attitude, it just isn't taught. You should be able to watch any national level medal rider come out and use the auto release on course and now time just isn't taken to do that. SO, I commend your use of the auto release, just shorten up a little on the rein so as to keep contact at all times over the fence. Get your hand parallel to the neck with thumbs on the up side.
Nice leg, right at the girth. You're neither falling behind or forward of the motion. The only tiny nitpick here which if it wasn't a still shot, I probably wouldn't notice is that it seems your iron is slightly forward of the ball of your foot. Not a huge problem but it has kept your upper body very conservative within the hip angle. For this kind of gymnastic work, you need the utmost of security and I would like to see you close that hip angle a bit more but I think I am seeing the correllation with the center of gravity due to the iron being set a tad forward.
Shoulders back and open..... I love it! A keen eye with chin up.....I love it! Freeing up your horses' back to work and show such a nice bascule off the departure is really nice.
Now I didn't see the approach but with regards to your horse not being square behind on departure.....and this is purely speculation... but it could stem from not having held medium contact in the rein to the fence. If you were not able to sit a stride into the base of departure in order to keep contact through legs, seat and hands, your horse can lose a tad of balance compensating, and come off with a less than square departure. Remember to ride the back end of the horse. Get used to knowing where the hind legs are in reference to your stride and departure.
Now I know some of this seems intricate, but being a picture of perfection means being an efficient, handy rider able to use small subtle aids to optimize their mounts best attributes. Sometimes I see trainers and parents only worried about the presentation if it's a hunter judged class. If it's equitation, they don't always understand that unless you are using yourself AND your horse to max efficiency, you are not the best eq rider.
That's why you'll see at upper levels of equitation, horses that are specialized as equitation horses. Just as stock horses are specialized for halter, pleasure, trail and what not, so are hunters. Not all good show hunters are good equitation horses and not all equitation horses are good show hunters. Jumpers is a whole different 'animal' and rarely is a horse good in the jumper ring and good in the hunter ring although a handy jumper can make a very nice equitation horse.
If you see everything in my critique seems directly related to what is going on in the picture, then you are ready to start adding the small details to finesse your equitation, thereby bringing out the best in your horse. If you don't, please feel free to ask for clarification.
Overall, this appears to be a nicely paired horse and rider working well within their abilities. If the rider tightens up their equitation a bit, the horse may also be tighter and more confident in the legs, giving a picture of more symmetry.
I'd also like to ask that no ill comments be left or I will have to moderate them. I was worried about doing individual critiques, but if we all play by the rules and understand this is for positive constructive opinion, use tact and diplomacy, it should be just fine.
Thanx for your submission and I hope my critique will help you. I mean not to offend you in any way and if you've a need for me to clarify anything I've said, feel free to ask.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Photo Critiques

Okay, I said in the beginning of this blog, I wouldn't do individual critiques. I have had a couple of requests to do them so I will but here's a few ground rules and things to remember.
  1. I am only one judge with only my opinion and interpretation of the rules.
  2. I do not fancy myself as great as George Morris who does these in a regular column in Practical Horseman Magazine
  3. I can only judge what is presented in the photo. I have no knowledge of what happens when the camera is not on nor do I know how long one has been riding, what level of training they are at or any knowledge of you mounts. Just what is in the photo is all I can comment on.
  4. I would like if you comment on any of the posts that include a picture and critique, that your comments be constructive. If you see something wrong and comment on it, also include a solution to what may be wrong. No rider or horse bashing please.
  5. Send your photo or video link to with a short synopsis of the class you're riding if it's at a show or what you are working on if it's a schooling shot and what I'm critiquing.... rider, mount or both.
  6. Keep it civil and I think maybe we can all learn something new.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Here's Your Sign!!

This is a post, I've been meaning to put out here but kept forgetting. I have seen several times, believe it or not, horses being shown with advertising on them. Once, when I called out a horse with a political candidates bumper sticker on it's flank, the mother of the rider told me her daughter recieved sponsor money in exchange for suiting her horse up with a bumper sticker. That is not acceptable 'equipment' for any ring. If you have a sponsor, let them know you cannot and should not do that. If you are lucky enough to get a sponsor of some sort, make sure you tell them you will pass out their business card, put a magnetic sign on your trailer, wear their t-shirt over your show shirt when NOT mounted, but no way will your horse wear a bumper sticker or the like. It's tacky, it's lame and I hope your candidates' sticker falls off and gets pooped on!
This is another one I've seen and although I've thought of it once in a while, I would never do it...... shaving or stenciling FOR SALE anywhere on your horse. Just don't. Ask the show to announce it when you go into the ring for your round; hang a sign on your trailer; post a flyer in the restroom of the show facility but don't humiliate your horse that way and draw attention you may NOT want.
Here's Your Sign...
FOR SALE, this horse that just swapped leads in front of fence 4 and cross fired his canter on the first change of direction.
FOR SALE, this lovely western pleasure horse with fantastic gaits, spooking at the garbage barrel.

Jumper Courses For Open Shows

A few posts ago, someone asked about jumper courses for an open show. Here are 2 courses showing optional jump offs if they are needed depending on the rule used for that class. I also don't know if the show has timers or uses a marker and stopwatch so I didn't go moving the start/finish lines in the jump offs. The only fence that I would say should require an oxer (I know it uses more standards but ...), on course A, fence 8b and I would also make fence 2 a narrow. Set jumps 4, 5 and 6 with at least 5 strides and also 5 strides at least between fence 10 and 11.

This course shows the jumps still in the same position and slight movement for the start finish unless you just use the width of the ring with timers or markers & stopwatch. There is an option for a jump off depending on what rule you use for this course. This course also uses the jumps going in the same direction as course A except for fence 10 is jumped in the opposite direction. That is an invaluable time saver when setting up a course. With only one jump needing to be a 2 way directional, it's obvious that it would be a simple vertical.

Now, I am not a jumper course designer and these are only suggested courses based on a long history of experience in the jumper ring and also from building courses at a bazillion horse shows. With non sanctioned, schooling shows, you can modify things to fit your course or ring requirements. If your ring dimensions are more square or more narrow, or have a low spot, whatever, make sure you adjust the course to maximize the space you have to set up. Also take in consideration what standards, poles, panels, post standards for oxers, etc, you have to use for a course. After you set up a course, walk it. Walk it again and check all the lines approaching and departing a fence. Then have someone ride it before opening the course to your exhibitors. Get feedback and make any adjustments you need to before allowing exhibitors on the course. I also firmly believe that a jumper course should be opened for walking and then also opened to schooling riders' with supervision of course. At sanctioned USEF shows, you can only walk the jumper courses and they are never allowed to be schooled while mounted. But, we're talking about open, schooling, non sanctioned shows. There is a difference and trying to push rated show rules onto exhibitors that may not ever go to a rated show, is a bit much. Give everyone a fighting chance to school at your open schooling show and things will be much safer and more fun.
My intention with these courses is to show that a course (1) can be built with little or no movement of the start - finish lines between courses; (2) to show that you can have variety between courses without moving jumps; (3) to show you can have variety with very few fences needing to be jumped in both directions.
I may even post some hunter courses coming up soon as I am really getting tired of the same old figure 8. It seems that there are many good intentioned volunteers working for local clubs, 4H, etc, that use the same old outside, inside, outside, inside figure 8 hunter course most likely because that's the only one they know or think they can use. As a rider you should get a little bit of challenge, even at a schooling show.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Show Must Go On

When are you ready to show vs. when you are ready to show

Here is a snippet from an email I recently recieved....
 I love the idea of your blog on judging. ......I felt early on that my instructor pushed me into showing..........I now realize I should have said no because I was inexperienced, nervous and the whole thing sent me backwards and not forward......there is a difference between a challenge and getting frustrated. So, I just said no to showing. .....

.....when are you ready to show and what someone should expect from their instructor. PS I have been volunteering .....and have learned a great deal from listening to the judges. It is a tough job.....

Well, this is better answered by instructors who coach at the shows so I hope I get some comments from them here also. I have coached students at many horse shows. Probably through a couple dozen different disciplines, styles and governing organizations, including IHSA (collegiate), USEF, AQHA, VHSA, 4-H and some really odd local show clubs as well. So I'll tell you my opinion on this and those instructors out there, please feel free to chime in. Your ideas may very well outweigh mine by a mile!

When are you ready to show? Well, it should be when YOU are ready to show. Okay, confusing a little but there are some things you can do to help you decide IF you want to show and IF you are ready to show. Your instructor can point you in certain directions but doing some prep work on your own will help you acclimate to the show enviroment. 
  • Find a local show: ask your trainer, visit your local feed or tack shops for flyers, ask a friend who rides
  • Go to the show just to watch. Take note on what the attire and tack in use are and make sure to pick up local rules, entry forms and any other information they're offerring. Ask any questions that day so when you come back you are more prepared.
  • Take your horse to the show facility on a day they do not have a show. If this option is available, it is invaluable to being able to assess your horse' concerns about the facility and get knowledge of the layout on horseback.
  • If possible take your horse to the show on show day with no intentions of showing. It gets you both in the enviroment and you can address any issues your horse may have that day. It's fun to be there and there's no pressure.
So you've found the venue, local horse show series, visited on foot during the show, returned with your horse on off days (if that option is available).... you're next step is to talk to your instructor and make sure she coaches at that facility. Find out if anyone else from your barn shows at your chosen series. Even if you're in the same division competing against one another, you'll most likely find that they are happy to befriend you and even help you at the show.

If you get to the show, on show day, with your horse and for some reason, don't find it fun albeit a bit jittery....... scratch. If it makes you sick to your stomache, gives you a headache, raises your blood pressure or you feel any symptoms of anxiety, just scratch. You don't have to show to ride a horse. It's just an outlet for some on many different levels. Don't look at showing as though you have to move up through the levels and get better and better. I've seen some adults show in 2' divisions or walk/jog on the same horse for years and they are quite content to stay at that level. Don't look at showing like you have to not only climb the levels of the local circuit but go on to rated USEF or breed shows (i.e. AQHA, APHA, etc). You may very well be inspired to climb through the levels and find you love the comraderie of the competition. Or you may show for a series or even one show and be content having done it at least once.

What to expect from your trainer? Well, make sure you observe their style of coaching in the show enviroment.  If you have a jeckle n hyde type instructor (they teach lessons like a lamb and go out to shows like a lion), find a friend at your barn or elsewhere,  with show experience and ask them to take you. I don't advocate going around or over your trainer's advice but quite frankly I've witnessed some real nasty 'coaching' at shows even from some very big name trainers. If 'get your head out of your butt' is part of their coaching advice at a show, don't show with them. Trainers, instructors and even parents who tend to get mouthy at the shows, in my opinion, are a direct safety hazard. They rattle their students and invoke emotions that keep the riders' focus completely off the task at hand. 

I would love to hear from some other instructors or students experiences to help this reader out! I love showing and as a judge I am keenly aware of what I say to any exhibitors at a show. I'm not going to insult little Suzie Q's equitation when she bounds over to me on a break to ask 'what did i do wrong?' I'm going to tell her what she did right and maybe add some subtle hints on improving her worst fault....instead of your hands were all over the place, say work on keeping your hands from posting with you when you trot. I want to see little Suzie Q continue showing. For me and many others, the show enviroment is like going home to a warm bed with your grandmothers' afghan every so often. But then again, you may have had a hateful old bat for a grandmother and your old home is now a freeway! LOL!