Here’s How

Practical Horseman - - Con­tents -

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.

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