What do judges look for in the show ring? What can I do to prevent cracks in my girth?
Q I am a parent of a beginner rider. What do judges look for in the show ring? A HOLLY HUGO-VIDAL
The question suggests that a one- or two-word answer is expected such as “heels down” or “wear a blue coat” or that the answer is a carefully guarded secret among judges.
One reason that judging results may seem hard to understand is when you (the parent) compare ribbons won in different classes. For instance, you watch your child in one class and she gets a mid-level ribbon then rides better in the next class and is pinned lower. The reason very often is that all the other riders in the class improved as well. Therefore, watching the entire class and not just your rider is important.
Below are examples of what the judge is looking for in the equitation and hunter divisions.
Equitation: In equitation the rider is being judged, not the horse. In a beginner-level equitation class on the flat, the breakdown is basic. Control is at the top of my list followed by position. The riders must be able to stay by themselves and not bunch up in a group. The riders should execute the gaits promptly and correctly. In the trot they should be on the correct diagonal and in canter, on the correct lead. This is mandatory to place. However, bear in mind that everything is relative and some mistakes are worse than others. A judge may forgive a rider who is on the wrong diagonal and realizes it quickly and corrects as compared to the rider who goes around the ring and never corrects it. The same applies to the canter. The rider must be on the correct lead to earn a ribbon at an average show. At a small show in a beginner class, a prompt correction of an incorrect lead might be overlooked and awarded a low ribbon.
At the beginner level, the judge is looking for a secure and workman-like position. The heels should be down with a secure lower leg as opposed to a loose swinging leg, a flat (not arched and artificial) back and a relaxed, not a stiff posed, look. The arm should be relaxed with a natural bend at the elbow. The wrist should be straight and fingers closed on the reins. The reins should lie flat from the bit to the hand (no twist in the rein). When using a pelham with two reins, the (top) snaffle rein goes on the outside and the curb on the inside. The rider’s eyes should be ahead and level. Riders in an equitation class should sit or try to sit at the canter and not be in a jumping position or out of the saddle.
The legendary hunter judge Arthur Hawkins said, “The first impression is the appearance of the horse and rider, which is very important to me. In a flat equitation class, the angles of the body as well as the position and use of the hands are the first things I judge. Even at the walk, sometimes the reins are too short or too long or the hands are too high and aggravating the horse’s mouth. The hands are particularly important at the canter. Often
riders at this stage will get grabbing and yanking on the horse’s mouth if the horses canter too fast instead of finessing.”
Equitation over fences: The beginner classes are usually held over very simple, easy courses. These courses typically start with twice around and gradually become more involved.
The jumping round starts with control and safety. The ideal round needs to start and finish with the same pace. The jumps should look smooth, almost like another canter stride. Major faults are excessive speed, which shows a lack of control and is possibly dangerous, runouts and refusals. If the rider falls off, that is cause for elimination. The rider is not allowed to remount in the ring and is excused from that class but may continue to show. Going off course will result in elimination as well.
Less extreme faults include a loss of a stirrup or breaking gait. A horse hitting a rail or knocking it down is not considered a fault at this level. If the rider caused the bad jump and a rail comes down then the judge would mark it against the rider.
The rider who enters the ring looking as if she has a plan, picks up the canter and negotiates the course smoothly while maintaining the correct position usually will be the winner.
Hunters: The hunter division is judged on the performance of the horse and not the rider. Similar to equitation, the round should be smooth in pace and over the jumps. At the lower levels, the number of strides between the jumps is not as critical as it is at the higher level. Safety as well as the proportionate size of the horse or pony, which can affect his stride, is taken into consideration. The course designer will set the jumps based on a 12-foot stride, however if a very small horse goes around and adds an extra stride between the jumps and does it nicely, this is preferable to going too fast. An even and safe pace with smooth jumps will be rewarded.
Major faults in a class over fences include: a refusal, run-out, an uneven dan- gerous jump, a rail down, cross-cantering or breaking gait. These faults will result in a low ribbon or no ribbon, depending on the other riders’ rounds and the size of the class. Fall of horse or rider and going off course constitute elimination.
“Over fences, whether it is equation or hunters, maintaining pace is extremely important,” Arthur says. “The horse should start and finish with the same pace. There should be no visible change of pace at the jumps either. I don’t want to see a rider suddenly increase the pace to one jump then grab back and slow down to another. There should be no change.”
Highly respected judge Sue Ashe shared a few of her personal likes and dislikes from a judge’s perspective: “I really don’t like to see any abuse to the horse’s mouth. I don’t like to have a trainer screaming at kids while they’re on course in the ring. If I can hear them from the judge’s box, it is too loud. Another thing I don’t like is waiting for the last rider and waiting and waiting and then waiting for the trainer to teach them the course after 25 have already gone. I cannot stand bows on pigtails that interfere with the rider’s number. I love to see a well turned-out horse and rider.”
Trainer Holly Hugo-Vidal judges and gives clinics around the country. Her mentors include George Morris, Victor Hugo-Vidal and Rodney Jenkins. She is the author of the book Build Confidence Over Fences! Holly trains out of her show barn, Pacific Blue in Milton, Georgia.
Foolproof Leather Care
Q I clean my tack regularly yet I still get cracks in my girth. What can I do to prevent this?
AGirths are in contact with high amounts of sweat. Over time, the salt and acid in the sweat damage the leather, which is why girths (and all other leather goods) should be cleaned and conditioned regularly.
If you are wiping down your girth after every ride and you’re still seeing cracks, then consider a better grade of leather. Cheap leather is harder to maintain because it’s missing some of the oils and preservatives that protect it. High quality leather—if cared for regularly— should last for life.
Here is a step-by-step cleaning system I recommend for general tack cleaning:
Plan to clean and oil your tack and dry it in the sun. The sun will heat the leather, aiding the oil-absorption process.
Use a bucket of warm water. Warm water opens up the pores of the leather.
Use a damp sponge to wipe off the initial layer of sweat.
Rinse the sponge and squeeze out the
Control, position and good first impressions are important qualities that judges are looking for in hunters and equitation, but they are usually at the top of the list in a beginner class.
While you don’t need to oil your girth after every ride, you should at least wipe off the sweat and dirt.