Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Part 2 of RailGal's Question - Traffic Jams

My second about flat classes. I often find people riding up my butt, so

to speak, and all jumbled around me. Is it alright to circle away from the jumble...and

if so, what is the best way to do this? Should we simply cut the arena in half, putting

ourselves on the other half of the arena, far from the jumble...or should we just make a

5-10m circle, and re-join the jumble at the back of the line? It's been suggested that we

should circle across the arena to be in front of the jumble...but then I find they just catch

up and I have to circle again...which in my mind, makes me look bad... or if I do a small circle

and rejoin the line behind the group, they seem to slow down and I get stuck...having to circle

again...again, in my mind making me look bad. How do you handle the on-the-rail jumble?
As this does happen often, it's a great question! If in fact I'm starting a class and exhibitors are jumbled, I'll ask the announcer to ask them, to spread out. Try to start by yourself. Don't assume if you are next to what you percieve to be the best horse, that you'll get noticed more. (I've actually heard trainers telling exhibitors to employ this tactic.....silly!)

If at sometime during the class, you find yourself jumbled up on the rail, please, by all means, feel free to circle out. Just as in driving a car, make sure you are not going to cut anyone off and as soon as you can safely move away from the other horses, do so. This is not a fault of any kind. Some riders are never taught class protocal and some just don't pay attention to where they are going. If you stare at the back of your horses' head to see if it's 'down', your attention is not on the class but rather on whether your horse will lose his head during the class..... I assume. Your horses' head is not going anywhere without you and if you have done some preparation and practice prior to the show ring, your horse will do what he has been schooled to do.

Cutting across the ring, shows a sign of greatness, not weakness. You are able to safely move away from the other horses and it's much more of a desirable trait than trying to change your pace to suit your fellow exhibitors. Besides, pace, whether in hunters or western pleasure is everything! Set your pace according to your horse and the type of class, then keep it.

If you chose to circle as opposed to cutting across the ring (depending on the ring size and where you're located within), make your circle large so you may not have to circle again and again. If you do not circle large enough, not only could it put you back in 'traffic', but it's more likely your horse will change pace or break gait.

Circling or cutting across the ring is never wrong. It shows proper ring ettiquette, safety and control. Don't compromise your pace to stay on the rail. If you do the latter, you're liable to end up staying in 'traffic' and the judge will miss the attributes you have worked so hard to attain.

I hope that clarifies things. I can and usually do state, that this is a subjective job and this blog reflects only my personal preference and interpretation of the basic AQHA & USEF rules. BUT.....along the same lines, there is no rule, only common sense when dealing with traffic jams in the show ring. Be safe, consistant and win or your best and be gracious!

First of a 2 Part Question - Handler Presentation

I'm trying to stay up to date here so I'll post a few this morning. I recieved a very nice email from Railgal who has 2 questions. Since they differ in nature, I'll split it into to different posts. Here is the first question....
In halter classes...I was always taught to check over my shoulder to make sure the judge is paying attention. Basically...the "routine" we were taught was to walk to the rail (we were asked to walk to the rail and then trot down the rail away from the judge, rejoining the lineup at the end of the rail), check to see that the judge is watching, pick up our trot, and halfway down the rail, while trotting, to check again to make sure the judge is watching, and then finish the trot and take our place at the end of the lineup. Problem's hard to maintain a straight trot when you're looking over your shoulder, and it seems rather repetative to me. Is it suggested to check over our shoulder to see if the judge is paying attention in the first place? Isn't the judges JOB to pay attention? What are your thoughts?
First off to say, I have seen this done more in showmanship classes than in halter classes. The only time you need check to see if the judge is ready or paying attention is at the beginner of your pattern or halter presentation. The judge will nod and you commence with your pattern (showmanship) or presentation (halter) as prescribed by either the judge or ring steward. When you are finished, watch for the judge to either nod again excusing you back into a line up which is appropriate for showmanship.

 In halter a judge may watch you present your horse in motion the entire way around into the line up. Sometimes, I spot faults immediately, sometimes, I see greatness immediately, sometimes, I like to watch not only the movement in linear form (away or towards me) but also from the side view. I may watch you all the way into a line up during a halter class or I may make a few marks on my card and move on. Either way, it doesn't mean I've dismissed or disregarded your horse.

After all horses are presented and lined up, I'll do my 'walk arounds' for conformation and up close inspection. I usually set a score on movement and then combine it with a score for conformation while standing in the line up. I then will compare my scores and marks on the cards, re-evaluate my picks visually and then call in my winning line up to the announcer.

At no time during halter will I be looking at the handler unless they get in the way of seeing the entire horse. That's why (I also referenced this in an earlier blog post which I'll try to find the link to) I recommend in halter classes that you NOT do the showmanship 'dance' (i.e. Quarter Method). It's distracting to me to have you changing sides constantly. I'm really looking at the view of the horse.

You are completely correct to point out that if you are looking over your shoulder at the judge, you may not be doing your horse justice as I see it trot away. You may not stay straight and certainly if you are not on the rail, it could really inhibit a nice straight jog/trot.

You are also correct to assume it is the judges' JOB to be paying attention!! If in fact you see at any time a judge not looking directly at you, do not assume they have disregarded or dismissed you. Although your horse is judged on an ideal for his breed, he is ultimately compared with the other horses in the class. Sometimes, there is an obvious winner, sometimes, not.

In halter classes, it is best to move only side to side if you are obstructing the judges' view from any part of your horse. That whole looking over the shoulder thing with regards to showmanship, is also inappropriate, distracting and much of an oddity. Maybe they do this at beauty pagents while walking the runway, but remember it's a horse show and not a beauty pagent. If your trainer instructs you however, to constantly look back while moving with your horse.....
1. ...inquire as to how you can make sure to get a true steady straight line while doing that
2. .... ask why your trainer doesn't think the judge is paying attention?
3. ...Another point to ponder along the same lines is, let's say you are looking over your shoulder and decide the judge isn't paying attention. What would your coach have you do then? Stop? Holler? Change sides?

Look where you are going, not where you have been. You won't miss anything if you don't look back me!

Is it appropriate for someone who is not exhibiting a horse to approach the judge and ask questions?

This question comes from the comments from yesterday's post. It is never appropriate for anyone except show officials (ring steward, manager, secretary, etc) to approach the judge directly. There are several reasons for this but the most obvious from a judges' point of view is the distraction. Sometimes we (judges) look as though we are not doing anything. In fact, keeping a running tally of our top picks, adding up scores, deciphering our own shorthand and even possibly running a class or eating a quick bite are all things that we may be doing without your knowledge of it. If you are not exhibiting, you should still use proper protocal for asking any questions of the judge. Go to any show official and they will either point you to the correct official or take your request and present it to the judge. The judge will then find the best time to take a moment to answer any questions. You may get a written response, a rulebook reference or possibly a moment with the judge directly. Another big reason not to approach the judge is bias. There should never be an implication on part of a judge towards a bias to one horse and/or rider or another. It is just inappropriate. Most all rulebooks address this situation and actually, I can't think of one that doesn't. USEF, AQHA, APHA, ApHC, POAC, FOSH, and the numerous other governing bodies address this directly in their rules.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Oops! Better late than never I hope!!

Oh my~! I have overlooked a question in the inbox. I must apologize for answering this late and I hope you won't hold it against me. I'm certainly not playing favorites with the email for sure!! LOL! The question.....
Hi, I have a question for you, not sure if you've already covered anything like this in your blog or not (I haven't read it since it started, I only started reading it recently), if you have feel free to ignore this and point me in that direction. I'm not an experienced shower by any means (I've been to one local schooling show, with a horse I'd only been riding for a couple months after I switched barns). So this question can probably be explained from my level of inexperience. At a show is it ok to talk to the judge? Ask them about your flaws, or what you did well, etc? After the class is over, of course. I know debate and horse showing are not comparable, but one thing I remember about going to debate tournaments (I was at tournaments almost every weekend as a high schooler... Never did very well, but that's beside the point) you could talk to the judge any time you wanted, whenever you happened to catch them, and ask them about the round they judged you in. You could even ask them if they thought you'd improved since they last judged you, and half the time they'd give you a critique at the end of the round without being asked for one. Now, being a shy person, it would probably never occur to me to walk up to the judge and ask their opinion. But at my one show (very small local schooling show, there were all of six entrants in my divisions, 2'3" hunters and 2'3" equitation, and the show placed 1-6) the judge actually walked up to ME and told me she just loved my horse and that if it hadn't been for the refusal I'd have placed very well in equitation over fences. That refusal brings up another question... When you have a refusal and you have to retake a fence, do you redo the whole line or just the one fence? In eventing it depended on whether the jumps were 1 and 2 or 1a and 1b. If they were 1a and 1b you redid both of them, if it was just 2, then you jumped two. My refusal was at the second fence of a bending line, and being unsure, I just redid the second one. Thanks!
1. How, when and should you, ask the judge a question. Well I did kind of answer that in the previous post but since you wouldn't know that (I apologize for overlooking again)..... yes, you should ask the judge a question if need be. Now something I really do not like when I show or when I judge, is for a show manager to ask me to do more than a short bit of critique in any class. If the judge carries on conversations in the ring, giving critique on every little thing, that is a clinic and not a show. I don't mind sharing some information but just quick notes that stand out to me. If you want to ask the judge something they have not made verbal note to you about, then approach your ring steward, show secretary, show manager, the gate person, anyone associated with the running of the show is probably fine. They should then ask the judge for a moment to speak to you or relay your question to the judge. The answer to your question may be on the judges' cards but sometimes they are illegible or the class was just too small or too large to take notes (barring individual performances such as over fences and patterns). My notes are mostly in short hand & not always translated in an obvious manner. I would recommend that you never approach the judge directly unless the judge addresses you first. This is because if you approach the judge, they may be in the middle of judging a class and not need the distraction. As a judge, you also want individual requests so that there is no misconception of bias by the other exhibitors. I also suggest you make your request in a timely manner. After seeing a few classes of bays and chestnuts, I may not remember your lovely Plain Jane with the banded mane and I may not have made written notes on my cards. I too, find that at hunter shows, everyone wearing a helmet and hunt coat, looks the same. When they approach after putting up their horse, shaking out their hair and changing into a pair of shorts & tshirt, I have no idea who they are even if they say they were wearing a taupe coat with a melon ratcatcher riding a dark bay gelding. It's not a fashion show, therefore I don't really notice the outfits. You can even cover yourself in swarovski crystals and own a solid silver saddle and unless it blinded me, I would not take note. I hope after all this rambling that answers the question of how, when and should you speak with the judge. On to another matter.... when to jump the whole line again or just the refusal fence as related to hunters and hunter equitation courses. If the element is an 'in and out' which is one to two strides in length, of course, you have to jump the element again as it is considered one element and would be designated as an 'a' & 'b' fence with the same number. In a combination, faults are considered seperately but in case of a refusal, you do have the right to rejump the obstacle previous to the obstacle refused. Of course, you run the risk of taking the previous obstacle again and getting a less than desirable jump which puts you into the second obstacle awkwardly (NOTE: If you take the previous fence and then the refusal fence, the previous fence will not be scored again). I personally would take a huge liberty circle and come back to approach the refused obstacle as straight on as possible. Case in point...let's say there's a five stride vertical to oxer. Your vertical comes off very nice but your horse puts the brakes on for the oxer. Although much prettier to take the vertical and float into and over the oxer, it is not a guarentee that it will be the best approach to the oxer. If you gather your horse and prepare yourself, circle towards the inside of the ring, going around inside fences if you have to and roll out as close to the inside of the vertical as possible. Leg yield into the line and use seat, leg and artificial aids (crops, bats, spurs, etc) to take the oxer. I hope that answers your question and if there is need for any clarification, please do not hesitate to ask. Don't be shy! The more you show, the more you know, the less shy you'll become all around!

Question from the inbox.....

WHAT THE ????????

Today's post comes from a question from the inbox....
Sometimes I'm at a show and I see something that just makes my head spin... and I wonder how in the world that just happened. Today was one of those days! I was at a local open show and I was observing the halter classes.

The stock type class had what I consider 4 "contenders" and then 5 "filler horses" that will place because they give out 8 ribbons. The winner was a buckskin, 2nd place was a bay, 3rd place was a chestnut, and 4th place was a dun. All very nice horses.

Next halter class was saddle type. The winner was a gorgeous Morgan and the rest were "filler horses", to include a couple ponies, and a really thin Arab.
Here's where I got confused.
They had a championship halter class, which they allow anyone to enter. No qualifying required. So our top 4 stock type horses were entered, along with the Morgan, and a few assorted saddle type horses and other stock type horses from the other classes.
The judge pinned the bay stock type horse first, the dun stock type horse second, the Morgan 3rd, a fat pony 4th, the skinny Arabian 5th, and finally our buckskin stock type class winner was pinned 5th.

What in the world? Why would a halter class winner go from 1st place to 5th place, placing below horses he beat in the previous class?
Thank you for your time!

Well, to start with, thank you in2paints for sending me the question. Just to reiterate, I'm only one judge and this is my opinion based on your information without actually having seen any of these horses. In any class, I attempt to judge what is there at the moment I see the horse.

In halter, if the handler has set the horse up well and I can actually get a good look at the legs, shoulder, poll to croup ratio, I love it. If the handler has not set the horse up to allow the best attributes of a horse' build to shine through or prepared in a shoddy manner, I cannot assume substance is there if I don't see it. This is one big reason that I don't like to arrive too early to a show and I don't like to watch warm up rings or horses on the sidelines. It's difficult but if you see a horse in the warm up area or practicing on the sidelines, it can influence your decision on how that horse may look or perform. In other words, it may be stunning in the warm up area, come in the ring and completely fall apart. I have that stunning horse in the back of my mind but I need to keep focused on what is in the ring for the time I'm judging.
Another influence to halter is preparation. If you have a horse with a long back and short neck, make sure you present the horse stretched forward from the shoulder, ears forward and possibly nosing out a bit. Rub some peppermint extract on your hand or wet a piece of candy and rub that on your hand. Practice setting your horse square and then stretch that neck and head. A shorter mane will also help a short necked presentation.
Now on to the question you've asked. How does the top call get the bottom of the barrel in the championship class. Well, without seeing this for myself, I can only assume that there was possibly a break down in the presentation of the buckskin stock winner. When presented in the stock class, he may have well been the best looking horse in the lot. Possibly when presented in the championship class his movement could have been off or not presented in a way that the judge could see it.
When you trot a horse in halter classes it needs to be directly to the judge and the judge will then step out of the way for you to pass. My personal preference is to also see a reaching movement. Even if good old Blaze is a champion western pleasure horse, I want to see his shoulder and hocks engage in the halter class. Move him off with a nice big sweeping stride. I can see his pension for small strided jog steps later when it is appropriate in the pleasure class.
There is also another way to look at this and that is to take another look at the other horses presented in the championship class. Quite possibly the buckskin stock winner was presented exactly the same and possibly the other horses were stepped up a bit in their presentations and the judge saw something more in them that he/she may have missed earlier. As far as condition, in reference to the fat pony and skinny arab, I cannot say exactly.
It is not always why did Blaze get first in one class and not the other but just as you thought of this, it's quite possible the handler of the bay horse may have thought the same thing. Why did the bay pin under the buckskin in one class and then move up to pin over him in another class? Without having seen this class, there are all of the scenarios in the world to consider.
  • Presentation in both classes
  • The judge saw something less of the buckskin in the later class
  • The judge saw more of something in the other horses in the later class
  • Preference or bias to a certain type or a certain breed on part of the judge.
  • Not judging within the confines of the snapshot you get in the class at hand
  • These could all be reasons or not the reason at all.
You said this was an open show. It would not be out of line to have asked either your show manager, show secretary or ring steward to either see the judges cards for any notes or ask a question of the judge. Make sure you approach this procedure with an open mind; ask the official of the show and then be respectful of the judge's comments. You may come away enlightened or you may come away still confused. I also would suggest that if anyone would like to request to see the judges' cards or ask the judge a question that it always be done through an official of the show, not directly to the judge and that your request be presented in a timely manner. I don't know how many times I've been asked about a horse or rider hours and hours after the fact. Sometimes, days or weeks after a show, I've been asked for tips, pointers and opinion. Usually only a few classes later, I will have deleted the info from my brain. Unless I have written notes, which in halter is not likely unless it is a huge class (then I just request to run it in heats anyway).
Now you are probably still confused but I hope I may have given you some insight on what MAY have happened at the show. I hope you are not discouraged by any of it and continue to show. It can be frustrating at times. Who here has not been baffled by the judging at a show? Show of hands please!
Raising my both of my hands, but of course, I was not judging those days! LOL!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Just five years old and already jumping what appears to be 2'9" or 3' oxers. This horse did not just start jumping like this at this height. The horse had to be started over fences much before his 5th year. Will his legs last until his 10th year? Fifteenth? Some would say depending on the breed, the horse could peak in performance earlier than other breeds but the argument I have with that is he is still in a high impact sport regardless of breed. It's akin to the Olympic sport of gymnastics where little girls start at birth, peak before puberty and retired from the sport at the ripe old age of 16 or so. Growing skeletons in a high impact sport, cannot develop while having to maintain such stress. But again, this is a society of 'get ' er done' attitudes and make a quick buck. I really do not believe that a 5 year old horse of this size should be jumping at this level. It's just too much stress physically and mentally. Will this horse be able to carry riders well into his teens or even twenties? I don't know but he's for sale if you'd like to buy him and find out.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Guess the age?

USEF : Basic Rules for Hunters

❚ Article 2423. General.

1. All classes must be judged on performance and soundness and when indicated,conformation, suitability or manners.
1.1 When a horse makes two faults at one obstacle only the major fault will be counted.
Article 2424. Soundness.
All horses must be serviceably sound. All horses beingconsidered for an award must be jogged for soundness with rider dismounted. (Exception:Under Saddle classes, unrated classes and classes at Local Competitions.) Horses that are not serviceably sound are ineligible for an award, including under saddle classes.

Article 2425. Conformation.
Quality, substance and soundness. Judges must penalize but not necessarily eliminate horses with structural faults, defects and blemishes (such as pinfiring) in areas which might impair their activity and durability. Horses must be stripped for conformation in any class in which conformation counts more than 25%. (Exception:Under Saddle classes.)

Article 2426. Performance.

1. An even hunting pace, manners, jumping style together with faults and way of moving over the course. Manners to be emphasized in Ladies and Amateur classes; brilliance in Corinthian and Formal Hunting Attire classes.
2. When the class is held in a ring, the performance starts as the competitor enters and ends when he leaves. When the class is held outside, the performance starts at any spot designated by competition management and ends at any spot so designated. If the start and finish are not clearly set forth, it is suggested that a judge consider the start approximately 50’ before the first obstacle and the finish approximately 50’ after the last.

Article 2427. Faults.
The following faults are scored according to the judge’s opinion, and depending on severity, may be considered minor or major faults.

Minor or Major Faults
  • Showing an obstacle to a horse.
  • Missing a lead change.
  • Kicking out.
  • Spooking.
  • Jumping out of form.
  • Jumping into corners of obstacles.

Major Faults
  • Knock down of any part of an obstacle.
  • Refusals.
  • Trotting while on course when it is not specified.
  • Bucking.
  • Stopping for loss of shoe or broken equipment.
  • Circling while on course.
  • Dangerous jumping.

  • Three refusals
  • Off course.
  • Jumping a fence before it is reset.
  • Bolting from the ring.
  • Fall of horse or rider.
The following may or may not be considered as faults, depending on their severity and frequency.

  • Light rubs.
  • Swapping leads in a line.
  • Late lead changes.
  • Excessive show of animation.
  • Adding or eliminating a stride in a line.

General Rule for Judging Western Pleasure

Since I've been talking about the standard rules from which most open shows are defined, I thought I should quote the rules here.
Western Pleasure AQHA Rules
"465B Western Pleasure (a) A good pleasure horse has a free-flowing stride of reasonable length in keeping with his conformation. He should cover a reasonable amount of ground with little effort. Ideally, he should have a blanaced, flowing motion, while exhibiting correct gaits that are of the proper cadence. The quality of the movement and the consistency of the gaits is a major consideration. He should carry his head and neck in a relaxed natural position, with his poll level with or slightly above the level of the withers. He should not carry his head behind the vertical, giving the appearance of intimidation, or be excessively nosed out, giving a resistant appearance. His head should be level with his nose slightly in front of the vertical, having a bright experession with his ears alert. He should be shown on a reasonably loose rein, but with light contact and control. He should be responsive, yet smooth, in transitions when called for. When asked to extend he should movee out with the same flowing motion. Maximum credit should be given to the flowing, blanaced and willing horse that gives the appearance of being fit and a pleasure to ride.
465B (e) This class will be judged on the performance, condition and conformation of the horse.
465B (l) Faults that will be cause for disqualification, except in novice amateur or novice youth classes, which shall be faults scored according to severity:
  1. Head carried too low (tip of ear below the withers consistently)
  2. Overflexing or straining neck in head carriage so the nose is carried behind the vertical consistently."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mr Popular

Someone please tell me why this is one of the most sought after hunter riders in a breed specific organization because I cannot find a reason on my own. I have seen this rider several times in the ring, live in action. 90% of the time over fences this is their position. The only thing that I've seen that they do differently at other fences, is to pinch with their knees and allow the leg to slide back . The heel is almost never down and they spur entirely too much. Roached back and close to a left side duck is usual performance from this rider. Leaning on the neck with no visible explanation for a release is also common from this rider. His eyes follow the rails as they go over them and again, that's par for the course from this rider. You will never, ever, ever see gloves on this rider.
With all that said, I'm still wondering why this is one of the most sought after riders in a breed specific organization? His position forces the horse to hang horribly in the front while making up for his weight being thrown over the shoulder but with an unforgiving hand. I don't understand it. I really don't. This is one of those things that just stump me. In front of me I find the horses losing good to excellent form over fences as victims of the rider. Yet he continues to catch ride on some of the best of the best. The trainers don't see it I suppose; the judges keep rewarding it; and it utterly astounds me. I guess this is one reason for my next post. This type of riding should not be regarded as a standard nor rewarded as outstanding. I just don't get it.
This is a rider which I have seen 'live' several times and not someone I'm just simply picking apart for any personal reason. I do not personally know this rider. I only know their riding ability and the fact that they are much sought after as a catch rider. It's just my opinion so please feel free to jump in and correct me. I know a ton of riders who are much better that would catch ride for free just for the shot at riding something great. Why this rider?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Follow up on today's post......A Baby Running the Show

Well, I just thought and thought about today's earlier post. I know I tend to ramble on but I do have a bit more to say on this topic which was spurred by the first comment on the first post of today.

As much as I see wrong in today's open shows, I see just as much right. Those are the ones I reward. I know the rules, the standards for the baseline and through tons of practice, I believe I can apply them to the class at hand and rate them accordingly.

The biggest 'festival of ugliness and impurity' in my opinion has been big money thrown out there for people to win with the youngest of horses. You'll see plenty of 'wrongs' in the show ring but the worst of all, again, in my opinion, is the youngest of horses being harvested for the almighty dollar. These are not show cars to be fixed when their gaskets blow. A good horse, no matter how it is built, is a good horse for the long haul.
Case in point....I have a friend that has shown her mare in lower level dressage for over 15 years. That mare cannot move up past 3rd level tests due to conformation flaws but my friend and this mare still show. Still get excited about having a new judge assess them. She has done right by the mare by not asking her to pinch, pin, strap and sizzle up into 4th level or higher. She knows her mare is at her peak at 3rd level. Why continue to show her? They have fun together. The mare is physically and psychologically healthier staying in this niche. I believe she still scores in the 60's on occassion at the ripe old age of 24. This mare didn't get to that age and still be able to do 3rd level because she was started as a yearling and pushed into a high dollar futurity at the age of 2.

My personal opinion is that all classes for 2 and 3 year olds whether western pleasure or hunter on the flat (or under saddle as some ridiculous organizations thought it ought be named) should be banned. If high dollar amounts be paid out to anyone, it should be a reward for taking the time to allow the horse to mentally and physically grow into a specific discipline and performance. That's not to say that I do not think a 2 or 3 year old should never be ridden. It's how much and how high of an impact any horse should have to endure for the purpose of showing. 
Many will try to equate the argument to the thoroughbred racehorse who is started as a yearling, raced as a two year old and sometimes retired by the age of 3 and usually by the age of 5 or 6. That argument doesn't hold much water for me since the entire industry of racing is based on money and the horse is a commodity. That is completely different from the show horse although a show horse can contribute to many bank accounts throughout its' lifetime. You must also know what happens to thousands of thoroughbred racehorses every year when their careers end. They don't all get to stand stud or produce foals for regenerating the racing industry. So again, the argument of the thoroughbred racing world in comparison to the show horse is again squelched. Another point to ponder is the early growing cycles of stock horses versus the thoroughbred.
I cannot ever see the justification of pushing a stock bred horse into the show ring to be rated on the standards of a mature horse. There are plenty of dollars to be had from a horse that performs well into his teens or twenties but what is to become of the horse asked to endure so much at such a young age? It is ridiculous to consider that this baby horse will move accordingly to the standards set forth for mature horses in certain disciplines. Equate that to asking a twelve year to conduct business at the executive levels of a fortune 500 company and you'll have your answer.
Ask Mrs Mom who sparked this very post. I'm sure she could share a few stories seeing as she is one of those who attempt to rehabilitate those mature horses who were asked to an adult's job when they were only babies.
I guess you could say that out of my pet peeves, those high dollar 'festivals of almighty ugliness' shows for the youngest of horses, are number one on the list of my pet peeves.

Standards of Subjective Judging

For every discipline and every breed, there is an organization who sets the standard for the purpose of judging. Most western classes follow the AQHA (American Quarter Horse Associations) rules and stock breed registeries follow suit. For hunters, it's the USEF (US Equestrian Federation formerly American Horse Show Association or AHSA & they had a couple years calling themselves the USEA aka US Equestrian Association) that sets the standards. For reining there is the NRHA (National Reining Horse Association) and dressage has the USDF (US Dressage Federation). There are many other disciplines that are subjectively judged but we'll stick to the basics of open show classes being hunters and western non timed events.
For the purpose of judging, we have the standards set for hunters by going to the origins of show hunters. A show hunter is the condensed version of the optimum fox hunter. A horse  that exerts minimum energy to execute a ground covering stride at all gaits and has impeccable manners thereby freeing up the rider's mind for the strategy of following the hunt.
As a standard rule, a horse that has high knee action, does not cover much ground in his rather vertical gait. The leg does not swing freely from the shoulder and this is heavily penalized. A horse that is inverted in his topline is not using his hind quarters to propel forward and thereby also inhibiting a forward moving, ground covering stride. Again, heavily penalized. A horse that twitches and flinches at garbage barrels and outside distractions has not the experience to calmly negotiate a course of even more unfamiliar obstacles. A horse that does not travel well in company, is definitely not a good example of a mannerly mount.
Unfortunately these types of horses are not always common at an open show. Breeding is not always selective and people end up with all shapes and sizes of horses that may well go the distance but not be optimum for the show ring. Should these riders even bother? Of course! Your horse may not fit the exact standards or even come close to an efficiently built hunter but consider that the other horses who show up on that day at that show, may not either.
You need to know how your horse measures up to the standards set forth for the hunter ring and go from there. Knowing major &  minor faults from the USEF rules is also something everyone who shows hunters, whether a backyard type show or rated USEF show, should know. Sadly, reading the standards for hunters, rules and faults, is not emphasized by trainers and coaches or saddder still, some judges. There are plenty of riders that have never cracked a rulebook and it shows.
In today's society of 'get'er done attitudes, many organiztions have pushed the boundaries of when a horse should peak in performance. By that, I'm referring to the 2 year old and 3 year old classes, divisions and futurities of several breed organizations and even national awards. If you are jumping a horse that is less than 5 over fences in excess of 2' 6" (and I'm being generous with that height), how can you expect this horse to hold up in the long run. Maybe he looks gorgeous and has the mindset of a saint but he is not done growing. The high impact placed on his muscular, skeletal and neurological systems will most likely show symptoms of break down by the time he is 12 or so. So you're planning on selling him by then and if he achieves this award for the youngest of hunters, he'll bring extra zeroes along on that check from the buyer. He won't be your problem when he breaks down and by then you'll be long gone. This is just my opinion of course and only one short synopsis of yet another crappy standard being set up by big money to further push the imitation hunter out of the nest way too early. I say imitation because I cannot imagine seeing many (any) 2 year olds showing hunter on the flat (or under saddle as some organizations refer to it) correctly.
Then of course there are the monkey see, monkey do crowds that worry more about getting a horse' head to his knees, than engaging his hocks. Take western pleasure for example. Artificial doesn't begin to make a dent in todays models of western pleasure. There is nothing western nor pleasurable about it. READ THE RULES!! The standard for western pleasure is set forth by the AQHA and most breed groups and open shows, follow these rules.
A pleasurable western mount should have stride, in keeping with his conformation, that covers ground easily with minimal effort. A free flowing gait that is relaxed. The western pleasure horse should have a relaxed topline, keeping his poll fairly even with the withers; slightly above depending on conformation and never below. He should carry the bit willingly either on the vertical or slightly forward but never behind. He should possess the manners of a saint. When was the last time I saw this? Hmmmmm, it's been a while.
People get so over the top trying to get their horse to 'keep his head low' they miss the whole point. The horse gets stiff. The gaits become impure (4 beating lopes and 2 foot strides at the jog). The relaxation is so lost that some horses I see have created ways to please their riders, but become convaluted in their mindsets.
The standards that are not adhered to in training a horse for either western non timed events or show hunters can become so lost that the horse moves with the utmost artificial and imitation means. So what has all my rambling about standards accomplished here? Well, for one, you need to know how your horse measures up to the standards set forth for subjective judging.

So as a judge, you must know the standards. The baseline by which a horse is judged for a certain discipline whether open or breed specific. Then, as you watch the class at hand, you must incorporate the weight of a fault, also set forth by the rules of the guideline association. On top of that, you now have to decide if this horse is closer to that baseline than the others in the class. It takes alot of reading, practice and keeping up with the changes to be a judge. I do not think it is for everyone and I also think there are a few out there that could use a good updating seminar but that's coming in another post later on.
My point is that you should read the rules. Assess your horse by the standards of the discipline and/or breed. Know what the major faults are that you can fix by riding better or gaining more knowledge. Recognize that just because old Dobbin is fearless over fences, maybe he doesn't have the flat kneed, free flowing gaits to win the hack. Improve on his strong points. Get your points over fences, ride the flat the best you can and if the tri colors are to come your way, they will because old Dobbin nailed those courses.
If you are showing in western non timed events, i.e. pleasure, horsemanship, trail, etc.... read the rules. Know what is wrong and even if the one who keeps winning top call has the movement of a foreign robot from distant lands, rest assured you will come across a judge that knows their stuff. That robot will not live long and proper.
For whatever your opinion is on subjective judging, there are a thousand arguments for and against it. My advice here is to
Read the rules
Know the major faults
Don't compromise your horse' happiness and well being for the quickie award or because everyone else is doing it. There are plenty of shows, awards  and programs to enhance your collection. Try a different circuit, association or discipline. You'll find your niche and keep your horse on his feet for more years than you can count on both hands and feet. If in fact you want an award or recognition, just because, then buy yourself a trophy online. There's Trophy Depot, Crown Trophy, Winning Ways East, Hodges Badges, and those are just a few that I read on the bottom or back of awards laying around the desk and mantle.
The show is not the means to an end but rather a rest stop on the journey.

I'm Back!

I have to apologize to the readers of this blog. I have been out of town and very busy but I am back and have a ton of topics to write about!! Here is just a few that will be coming up in the next few days....
  • Judged on a standard or against the others in the class : which holds more weight?
  • There's a judge in the class!
  • A sought after hunter rider in a specific breed organization - why? why? why? What's the attraction?
  • Can breed specific organizations ever get it right by their own rules?
  • What to do when the judge sucks!
  • Why open status? I'm nobody's bitch!
Stay tuned.....I'm back!