Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Training Vs Judging on Counting Strides

I'm posting this topic as I had a trainer recently question my ability to judge a hunter equitation over fences class since I do not count strides while judging.

When training any rider to ride over fences it has always been a part of my curriculum to school riders to count fences. It helps them to start learning to see the spot they want at the next fence and it helps regulate pace without harping on it along with many other advantages. When a rider is ready for a bit more strategy, I also train them to ride a 5 stride line in 4 strides and in 6 strides regardless of their horse natural stride length. That is what I do when training.

When judging hunter and hunter equitation classes over fences, I do not always count strides. I do not assume if the horse/rider chip in at a fence, that they will finish long over the second fence if set in a straight line. Each fence gets a score separately unless it is a combination, in and out, etc. If a line is set to a 12 or 13 foot stride and calls for 5 strides, that is all based on averages and except for the occasional really bad spot or oddly strided horse, it's best ridden in 5 strides. A skilled rider riding a small mount through a line calling for an average of 5 strides, may very well ride that line without a fault, in 6 strides. They may ride it in 6 strides looking just as smooth and elegant as one who rides it in 5 strides.

So my reasoning of not counting strides on a hunter or hunter equitation course is really very simple. If it looks good and everything stays subtle, graceful and elegant, counting strides is only the job of the rider and/or trainer, not the judge. For someone adding a stride but the add didn't cause them to chip in, go long, drop a rail, etc and was unnoticeable in every other way, I do not penalize. Usually if a stride is added, there is another fault more prominent to address anyway. There is no language at this time in the USEF or AQHA rules, that mandates a certain number of strides be ridden in a line on a hunter or hunter equitation course. If you are judging and counting strides, it is your preference but not a requirement. If a line is set for 5 average strides, most likely it will be ridden in 5 average strides.

So next time you go to a show, local, regional, backyard or national and the course shows distances which reflect what is expected to be a certain number of strides, go for it. Be cognizant of the size of your horse and their stride length; listen to your trainer and count out loud if you need to, but don't expect the judge to be counting along with you. Have fun and safe rides!

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I am just one judge with one judge's opinion. Almost all of the classes I judge are based on the rules of USEF & AQHA. Judging a horse show is very subjective to the interpretation of the rules. Please keep this in mind when commenting.