People watching is one of my favorite ways to pass the time. Horse showing, as we all well know, is one of my favorite activities. Since my nerves can be… challenging… sometimes I prefer to be at the actual horse show more than I want to be riding in it. And, though it is not a great character trait, I love judging people.
You can probably guess where I’ve been doing with all this. In the past year, I’ve been fortunate enough to start judging some local shows around Texas. Let me catch you up.
When I was still in California, I decided I wanted to start what is going to be a very lengthy process in getting my ‘r’ card for hunter judging. The formal application process includes attending a USHJA judges clinic, sitting with many recognized judges, filling out a formal application, and then going through their approval process. Full disclosure–I have not started the formal process in any way. The application wants a rated showing record, which I do not have. So while I still want my ‘r’ card, I’m realistic that it isn’t going to happen until I’ve built more (and by more, I mean any) of a rated record for myself.
‘r’ is the goal, but I started with buckling down and learning everything possible. My barn in California holds a local show series. When I had Simon, I showed in them, but after he died I volunteered my time to announce. The best part of that job? It’s right next to the judge. So I had the opportunity to sit with an ‘r’ judge all day, ask her tons of questions and mock judge alongside her. We shared our results and discussed scores (“Never score in the 70s for someone who makes you gasp”) as well as rules. It was super educational, but also extremely fun.
Through my work at TPH, I also have some ‘R’ and ‘r’ judge connections. I’ve had the opportunity to chat judging with them, sometimes compare scores virtually via livestream, and hope to be able to sit and observe with them when I’m ready to start my official ‘r’ process.
When I moved back to Texas, my name got tossed to someone to judge for a schooling show. Of course I immediately accepted, and texted my ‘R’ friend for her advice (“Dress the part”). With my best, I’m casual but also professional and am here to judge your efforts today, outfit I packed my judge’s bag with a whistle, stop watch, notebook, advil, chapstick and pens and made it through my first show.
Since then, I’ve done about half a dozen more for a variety of show holders. It’s both a great gig, and incredibly hard. Each time I get a little better at deciphering my own notes and symbols for each round. Whether it’s ground rails or a 2’6″ hunter derby, I give everyone a score. I know the hunters are subjective, but there are defined rules and score baselines. A rail (in hunters) is a 45. A break of gait (not counting simple changes, which I give some allowance to in the itty bitty baby divisions) is a 55. There’s such a widespread critique that the hunters are too political and based on appearances. And yes, a lot of that critique is valid. But at the local level, it’s really more about making the fewest amount of mistakes (at least when I judge). I think it’s important to record scores and comments for everything to help bring out the truly objective goals that are the foundation of this discipline.
Judging has opened my eyes to a new perspective at showing. While I will make many faults on my courses whenever Poet and I manage to get in the ring, I promise you I will not be cutting my corners. It’s crazy (and mildly infuriating) how many cut off entire chunks of the arena to their course’s detriment. My dedication to turnout has doubled down, but it has nothing to do with fancy brands. Yes, I can recognize $$$ Struck or Equiline breeches from across the ring, know which coats are Animo or AA and can identify most name brand helmets. However, none of that matters two flips when judging. It’s all about neat and tidy. I already knew that, but when you’re judging a division of 8 and only two riders have properly fitting clothes and clean boots… you notice those riders even more.
In March, I judged 1 IHSA unofficial scrimmage (official IHSA/IEA requires ‘r’ card), 1 2′ and under ring at a local show series, and 1 main hunter ring at a different local series. I’m both exhausted, and feeling a lot more competent in my scoring. You really do improve after watching hundreds of hunter rounds in a month!
I’d love for this new-found perspective to transfer to my own riding/showing abilities, but that’s very TBD. While realistically I think I’m a few years away from being able to pursue my ‘r’ card, having the knowledge and ability to judge fairly is something I place a lot of importance on. Until that happens, I’ll keep studying the rules, watching rounds and doing the best job I can whenever hired for local events.