Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Waltzing In The Ring For Halter

Today I wanted to throw out a post on a subject that I ask other judge's all the time and end up with as many different answers. It really comes down to preference and that's it. The showmanship 'dance' in halter classes. I'm not talking about the dance for showmanship but using that dance in halter classes.
In halter classes, I find the dance rather annoying. If you exhibit a horse in a halter class, your job as the handler is to make sure the horse is presented in it's best position.....and then stay out of the way so as not to obstruct a judges' view of the horse. The judge needs to see a complete picture and by casually using the half method (staying on the same side as the judge), that is quite enough of the dance without being a distraction. When you are animating your steps, holding the lead like you're serving tea, faking a smile from ear to ear, changing sides every few steps, you're just a distraction and I may even have to hunt down your exhibitor number because you've been dancing too fast for me to catch it.
So my preference for halter, is that you focus more attention on setting up your horse and doing what you need for that horse to look it's best. Stretching the neck up, down, whatever is best for your horse; getting the ears pricked up; keeping them from falling asleep, etc are things you can do while keeping the judge in your peripheral vision. Stay on the same side as the judge but not obstructing the view of your horse. You need to exhibit your horse safely, yes but doing the showmanship dance in halter is not necessary.

On an extra note when presenting a horse in halter.... general stock horse rules, including 4-H, do require you to walk/jog/trot directly to the judge. The judge will move out of the way or instruct something else if they want a different view. This means, walk/jog/trot the HORSE directly to & away from the judge. NOT YOURSELF. I don't care if you paddle out or have a weak ankle. I want to see how your HORSE tracks & moves. Although you cannot see if your horse is directly at and away from the judge but if you offset yourself left of the judge when presenting, it's a good chance I'll see your horses' movement as opposed to yours.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Top Ten Worst Pet Peeves - Hunter Equitation

My blog is relatively young and it seems when I'm at a show or doing laundry, I can think of a thousand topics to add. Then I sit down to post something and I draw a blank. I want to keep adding new posts so I can keep readers interested, so please, if you've a topic, email me.

Top Ten Worst Pet Peeves - Hunter Equitation
These are just my preferences and do not in any way mean that the judge you show in front of, will feel the same way. That's why judging hunters and hunter equitation is so subjective. Of course your performance will count immensely but if it comes down to one tiny fault against another who has a better turnout, the tiny fault with the better turnout will take top call!

1. Gloves - I don't care if they are the cotton pimple grip cheapies, wear gloves.

2. Jackets - Even when jackets are waived for heat, jackets are still most proper in the equitation rounds, wear it! Put it on just before you enter and rip it off after your class is finished. It's only a couple of minutes. Oh and make sure it fits. Hunt coats should ride just above or at the hip. You should not be sitting on it when mounted and when you try one on, stretch your arms out in front of you at shoulder level. Do the sleeves come halfway up to your elbow? Then the sleeves are too short. The coat is too look good while your riding, not while your standing in line at the concessionaire. Oh and if your mother tells you a blazer is the same thing, it's not and you will feel out of place if you wear one.

3. Shirt Sleeves - If you do decide not to wear a jacket, it is proper to have long sleeves. You take a short sleeve or sleeveless shirt to wear in hunter, pleasure, etc rounds and change into your long sleeve just for equitation. Western riders change complete outfits frequently for different classes. Hunter riders should think of doing the same.

4. Crops or bats. Not in equitation please. If your horse requires the use of a crop or bat, it is not ready for equitation. Spurs are fine and will help mask leg cues but crops/bats and usually used incorrectly forward of the girth. 

5. Dirty boots. If nothing else is available, ask someone to wet a rag and at least dust them off. I don't ever notice anyone's boots unless they are dull & dirty. 

6. Hair nets. Use them. Practice putting your hair up even if you have short hair, it will keep strays from flying around your head like a bee. Oh and please use the correct color. A dark net on blond hair is annoying. 

7. Leg protection for your horse. It is acceptable for your horse to wear splint boots, heidi boots, open fronts, etc for equitation. Pink polos are a definite no-no as are purple glitter bell boots. Leave the spastic colors for home schooling. Try to get a color as close to your horse' leg color as possible so the leg protection is not a distraction. 

8. Jewelry. Don't wear it. If you have small post earrings or a watch, that's fine. I've seen everything from dangling earrings to facial adornments and not only is it improper, it is unsafe.  

9. Breeches. I don't notice if your breeches are side zipped tailored sportsman or hundred year old Harry Hall's that everyone in your barn has passed down. As long as they fit, I don't even notice such things. It's when they are skin tight, I cringe. Pass them along to the next smaller person and get a new pair.

10. No make up. When you sweat, it looks like your face is melting. I know that many who show in breed shows wear makeup in the ring but to me, it just is out of place.

Friday, September 25, 2009

I'm Dizzy, Where's My Box of Wine?

 I had to let this one out!! I went to judge a small open hunter show which was a fundraising event for a 4-H club. The kids of the club were left to run the entire show. I was told it was to give them experience and it was their club's money to use towards going to their district show next year. Well, that's all well and good but really kids cannot learn things unless they are taught. No adults stepped in during the many flusters and clusters of the day but I was all too busy on the walkie talkie. I even passed out ribbons at one point. I don't mind helping out but you cannot expect your judge to take on extra duties at your show.

So anyway, the beginner classes were all morning and then I noticed this course was posted for the crossrails and up to 2'6" hunter division. You were supposed to ride this same course for both rounds over fences and then ride the course again for the equitation rounds. HUH???? They said that was so people could improve each round because they already knew the course. HUH???? This wasn't a course. The jumps were nothing but post and rail so a 2'6" fence looked like 4' and even the crossrails looked lonely and unattractive. Please, some branches off a tree, some fake flowers stuck in them and poof, you have fill! Buy a few pickets and 2x4 and make some wings for your jumps.Trim your shrubbery at home and bring the clippings to the show if you have no other fill. I mean really? Really!!

There is no change of direction in this course to start with and I would think a horse would get dizzy!! Then there's the "jump it twice in each round" fence. What happens when someone knocks a rail on fence 3 and then has to come back to it (from a horrifically sharp angle) to jump fence 6 and there is no rail? There were plenty of those rounds and they told me that if it wasn't reset before the rider came back around again, just score it as if it were a ground pole. Well, that isn't quite fair to those that had come off that sharp angle and it was reset so they had to jump it again.

The classes were only $7 and I had given them a 50% discount because they were 4H. Those associated with the club thought it was great.....why? No flying changes? HUH????? I tried to refuse the course and was going to reset a few angles on the inside and then give it at least a decent chance but the one time the adults stepped in was when the club kids got grouchy about my idea. Okay, I let it go but if anyone was having unsafe rounds due to the course, I was changing it!  Unsafe, due to ponies and horse not ready to even trot poles on the ground, which they left alot of, was not of my concern.

 I'm booked for one more of their shows in a few months.....I may either send them my courses with some fill in ideas or find an excuse to cancel and refer them to someone trying to build some hours for their judging resume. Here's the course in question.......I wouldn't have ridden it and I can tell you watching every entry ride it three times, really tried my patience. I think I was just so damn dizzy, after the 32nd round, I couldn't see straight anyhow!

I think if you click on the course, it'll come up in all it's hideous glory. And yes, the ring was narrow and oval. I bet it wasn't 125 feet across and maybe 200 feet long......HUH????? The outside lines had no rhyme or reason as for distance so some got lucky with it and most didn't. Now, you be the judge........where's my box of wine!!!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

So You Want to be a Horse Show Judge.....

I have often been asked how do you become a horse show judge by competitors, trainers, parents, young and old. I thought I'd put some starter tips on today's post, since yes, last weekend I was once again asked this question. First of all, you must understand that judging horse shows is much harder work than you might think. A judge does not simply sit in the judge's box or stand in the ring and watch the pretty horses. There are some very definite skills required. Not only do you need to have a good eye from experience riding and showing the discipline you wish to judge but you also have to stay current on rules governing your chosen discipline. Then there must be very accurate and well learned symbols of shorthand that you can go back and recount minutes, hours and even days later, weeks sometimes. Here are some steps that I would see as the best way to progress to judging a horse show on your own.
  1. Go to any show, rated, breed, local, 4-H, sit on the sidelines and judge the classes. Hone your shorthand skills and compare your placing with the sitting judge of the show. Go home and try to 'read' your shorthand notes. If you don't recall something, try making flash cards for your shorthand symbols and practice learning them. Some classes go on for hours; some cards stay open for the entire show. You must be able to go back and recount from your notes, what a particular exhibitor was marked. Even with numerical scoring, you must be able to recall what sets apart a couple of exhibitors who may have both been given a 74. How does split in the placings? If you go back and read their errors, you should be able to pick which 74 score was better.
  2. Ask to apprentice at any and all local horse shows. USEF & Breed shows do not allow this but any show that is 4h, local club, etc should be just fine. Call the show manager/secretary and get their permission while asking for the judges' contact. Call the judge and inform them that you have permission from the show mgr/sec. Ask if they will allow it and any requests they may have of you. Make sure you get permission from the show coordinator AND the judge at least a couple days prior to the show.
  3. Find shows that are online in video for entire classes in your chosen discipline. Practice judging from the video and remember, the judge only gets one view of things so if the camera is fixed in one location for the entire show, that is how the judge may have been able to see. Here's a link to some of the classes that are completely on the video from the Upperville Horse Show You can always note the time on the video and come back later to finish classes. Plus you have the advantage of instant replay, although you lose the advantage of knowing what the sitting judge actually tallied for the final score.
  4. Read some of the good books already in print. If they're out of print, try amazon or ebay.
    • Horse Show Judging for Beginners: Getting Started as a Horse Show Judge by Hallie McEvoy
    • Judging Hunters & Hunter Seat Equitation: A Comprehensive Guide for Exhibitors & Judges by Anna Jane White-Mullin
    • Dressage: A Guideline for Riders & Judges by Wolfgang Niggli
    • Competing in Western Shows & Events by Charlene Strickland
    • Any State 4-H horse show and judging guide (Your Local Cooperative Extension 4-H) check the phone book
    • Judging halter horses (from the top down) by Ken Krieg
    • The Field Guide to Horses by Samantha Johnson and Daniel Johnson
    • Storey's Horse-Lover's Encyclopedia: An English & Western A-to-Z Guide by Deborah Burns, Lisa Hiley, and Deb Burns
    • Search the web for 4H publications. Most are free and downloadable.
    • Any breed specific and or discipline specific show governing organization rules. Most are free & downloadable.
  5. Attend any clinics and seminars whether you are testing or just auditing. Some very good ones to attend are
  6. Until you can comfortably score and place a class of 12 or more in any chosen discipline specific class or show, don't attempt to bill yourself as a judge. You want to remember that most likely, you are the highest paid (sometimes the only paid) staff at the show; exhibitors are paying for a knowledgable, professional opinion based on breed and/or discipline specific standards; you should be able to recall exhibitor performances from your cards easily as you will be asked constantly at open shows and from the stewards at rated shows, what did I do right/wrong? what can I do better? etc. If you cannot state verbal reasons why you pinned a class in a particular order, then you are not ready to judge on your own.
  7. Judging a show is hard work both mentally and physically. You must be ready for chapped lips, sunburns, cold winds, mosquitoes, rickety chairs, no chair, dusty rings, lousy food, no food, few and far between breaks, big blue plastic potties, cussing & fussing parents, trainers, exhibitors and even sometimes, managers. You need to be able to focus on the class or exhibitor in the ring while distractions constantly try to taunt your attention away from the performance at hand. Sometimes the distractions are accidental, incidental, all the way to the well planned purposeful. You have to be able to ignore being spoken to by one party,  while you are attempting to judge someone else in the ring. You cannot stop judging because someone asks you a question, You cannot stop judging to go potty, get something to eat or drink, etc until you coordinate it with show staff. Above & beyond all you need to be able to state your reason based on rules and experience, why you placed classes. You WILL be asked. You can never lose your focus or temper. Local, open, schooling shows with/without pre entry can go on for more than 10 or 12 hours. You must be ready to fulfill your duties without fail, regardless. I'll probably write more posts on this topic but for now, this is becoming almost my own book......Guide to becoming a horse show judge!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Prep

As another weekend is upon us and another billion shows get ready for their exhibitors, I pack my day bag for 2 open hunter shows. I like to be prepared for anything but if I know the venue(s) I'll be judging at, I pack just for that location. In my bag always
  • various pens, various colors for my own entertainment and always with rubber grip
  • chapstick
  • my own preferred cards for marking rounds
  • cell phone on vibrate
  • brimmed hat & emergency visor
  • cough drops
  • headache medication of choice, just in case
  • compact telescoping umbrella (for those venues who provide no shade & rain of course)
  • small towel for those hot days; can also be used for neck warmer if cold
  • sketch pad (for shows who allow way too much time for trainer/rider/horse conflicts & lateness)
  • rule books for the appropriate show (always USEF, AQHA and then as needed APHA, WPSA, etc)
  • small digital voice recorder - for notes, thoughts, etc
  • bug spray
  • high SPF sun blocker
  • gloves (in case it gets cold)
  • ear buds and walkie talkie (in case the show doesn't have enough, I need access to the manager, secretary, gate person, etc)
  • batteries for above
  • whistle (for jumper classes w/ broken or no buzzer, I'm not using one that the show provides - who knows where it's been)
  • stopwatch (for jumper classes with broken or no reliable timers & second backup plan)
  • digital camera for snapping interesting observations of normal, inadequate or outrageous performances in & out of the ring
  • neck lanyard for holding any issued ID that may be required
  • and I always check with a website or secretary, for those shows with their own extra rules and descriptions of classes
Seems like a lot? Well it is I suppose but as a judge of many disciplines, traveling through many states, I find it better to be ready for almost anything.
For those going to show this weekend...... do your best; try your hardest; have fun & smile; learn something new; improve on the old; wear your helmet and be safe!!
Show Tip: I always prefer to see gloves worn in equitation classes. It gives a polished look and can detract from your boots if in fact you forgot to polish them!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Courtesy Circles

Beginning Courtesy Circle Strategy
Courtesy circles are much more than a courtesy. I see all too often, people just simply doing a circle and then getting on with their course strategy. A courtesy circle at the beginning of a hunter course is an opportunity to pick up your intended gait, most likely a canter, and to start setting your pace for the course. It is a fault to pick up the wrong lead but if changed within short order of a stride or two, can be forgiven depending on the rest of the performance. Practice setting up a pace within that circle at home just as you would school other elements to improve your performance. Don't use the courtesy circle at the beginning of a course to school and show your horse the fences. Your horse will not think differently of a fence he went past when approaching it to jump later on. Use this opportunity to set up in gait and focus on pace. Pace is a huge part of riding a good hunter course.

Dotted Line
If you see a dotted line on a course diagram, make sure you do not cross that line when making a circle before or after the course. That is cause for elimination because you were ' off course ' . This is also somewhat discretionary on the judges' part. The dotted line must always have landmarks within the ring such as 'island' displays and/or jumps. Take note if a dotted line is in force or not. Be mindful when starting and ending your course.

Ending Courtesy Circle Strategy
A circle at the end of the course is also a good chance to show off your horse' movement. You should be well in rhythm by the end of the course transition down to a trot for the ending circle. It is a good way to show an open, fluid trot transition. The ending circle, while showing off a distinctive trot, can also show a well conditioned horse who has just finishsed a course with ease. While it is a rule to jog horses for hunter course awards at rated USEF shows, it is not a requirement, usually, at local, unrated shows. So again, another opportunity in the ending circle is to show that your horse just came off the course sound.

My Preference & Perception
I do not like to see riders coming to a walk but continuing to circle at the end of a course. What is the purpose of that? You are judged from the time you enter the ring until you exit while in a class with a course (not a flat class). If you walk out your ending circle, it shows me you or your horse are possibly fatiqued, possibly sore and hints at subtle arogance. As if you're sayiing you rocked the course so well with your impeccably perfect horse, you don't need to show all the way out the gate.

Opposite End of the Ring (Long Approach)
Although you are permitted a circle at the beginning and end of a course, if the first fence of the course is on the far side of the arena from where you enter and coming back to the direction of gate entry, start from the entry point setting up your gait and pace. Then go on to your first fence without circling. So many times you see riders entering the ring, trotting all the way across the arena and then circling in front of the first fence. That is not only a waste of time but if you pick up your gait and start setting a pace from the entry point, it's very impressive. If you pick up your gait and start setting your pace from the point of entry, circling could only prove hazardous by setting your pace back or even breaking gait. The same is true for a course that ends on the opposite end of the ring.

In summary, make every stride from the entry into and out of the ring, a chance to win. It is more useful to pick up your canter and start setting pace in a beginning circle rather than just thinking your circling as a courtesy. Then use the ending circle to show the condition, ease of movement down to the trot and soundness of your horse.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jane Alone and her trusty steed, One & Only

Why do some shows hold classes with one entry? Why don't all shows combine classes with less than 3 entries? Holding a class for one entry is a waste of time. Their performance shouldn't count for year end points and barring a DQ, they're going to get a blue ribbon. Some shows will combine and just about all of them have that clause on the prizelist " reserves the right to cancel, combine or split....". Unfortunately some of them with their 'own' set of rules a mile long and members who constantly check points, don't exercise that option.
If Children's hunter is 2'6" and has 5 entries and Adult Amateur is 2'6" and has 1 entry, how many entries should be in the amateur hunter class? If you picked six, you're correct! If you asked which amateur class, you need to focus more on your riding skills so you don't fear competition.
Most of the classes are the same. The courses are probably the same. The criteria to enter the divisions are basically the same other than age. The judging criteria will be the same. Just combine them. If the AA pins last in all the classes for that division and whines about not getting separate pinnings, then explain to them that competeing with themselves is not a show....... that is called schooling at home. If a class consistantly has less than 3 entries in your series, then it is not a popular class for your area and I suggest you drop it from future shows. It's a waste of time & money for the show although I consider it break time for the judge. I either practice holding my breath for the big blue closet or draw pictures on my cards. I hardly ever watch Jane Alone mounted on her trusty steed, One & Only. Jane is nuts for ribbons if she rides it. The only place I understand showing in a single entry class is rated and breed shows where points really mean alot more than just a ribbon.

Monday, September 14, 2009

When offerred a job, judging at any venue...

...... there are things that I consider for comfort value only.  After judging tons of shows, I know most all of the venues' good and bad points. Shows pop up everywhere there is an interest. Venues built just for shows, private farms, public stables, hay fields and backyards. One big thing I take into account is the restroom facility. If it's a big blue plastic closet, I know I'll have to go into dehydration mode for that show or book another show. I hate porta potties!
 Here's a few suggestions to any shows using porta potties.
  • Ask your members to waive their year end awards in lieu of a septic and well.
  • Solicit sponsors and membership from local plumbing contractors; home supply companies that sell plumbing supplies, tractor and excavation equipment rental, well and septic companies, etc. Once you get them in the door as a member, exploit their access to any service or item to build that septic & well. They most likely will not like porta potties either. If they don't ride or have any interest in the horse show business, just ask them for a monetary donation. Make a big deal about helping to promote them to your members (i.e. banners, announcements, printed materials, etc). If $25 is all they'll chip in, take it and find a more generous plumbing supplier. Treat them like royalty and complain alot about the expense of porta potty maintenance and rental fees. If those subtle hints are not enough to nudge them in the right direction, get a bullhorn and just upfront ask for whatever they can do to help get rid of the blue plastic closet.
  • Charge a dollar usage fee for the plastic blue closet! You could just list your office fee as a porta potty fee. That might also generate future donations to build a real restroom. Even if it has only one toilet, one sink and is unisex. It will inherently increase the club's assets and spectators, exhibitors, volunteers, members, parents and the judges will thank you from the bottom of their ..... uh.....heart.