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Today, I was very generously invited by Holly to tag along with her as she judged a local schooling show, and observe the process from the judge’s perspective. I was excited to have the opportunity to shadow her, and to sit and watch a whole day’s worth of trips and see a sort of consistency of process and what judges are looking for overall, and what flaws happen mostly commonly that can be avoided.

It was at a very close facility to the barn, which I’d planned to attend for a dressage show that was unfortunately cancelled the other weekend, so it was nice to actually get a chance to get over there and she how conveniently close it was to us. We got there about 20 minutes before classes were to start, picked up a neatly prepared packet with course maps, a prizelist with class descriptions, and a clipboard full of judges’ cards, and then settled ourselves in to the judges’ stand.

Big part of the process: caffeine

We read through the prizelist for the first few classes, then headed down to the ring, since the first class was leadline, and a beginner walk/trot class that Holly judged from in the ring, keeping the kids in half the ring. Unlike a lot of shows, they actually pin the kids, but they both seemed happy with their prizes, as did the walk/trotter.

Then it was time for pleasure divisions, which were mostly flat classes. That was a bit of challenge, and I got tasked with helping sort out placings there, looking for wrong leads and breaks of gait. There were quite a few really nice horses, and only one literal-pearls-clutched moment as one of the junior riders had their pony bolt and go careening over one of the fences! I was so worried she was going to be hurt, but she managed to get the pony pulled up and get herself out of the ring in one piece.

After the lunch break, it was mostly over fences stuff, which was more educational for me, as it was often pretty apparent who the winner or two/three top placings were, but there were a lot of little flaws to have to evaluate in placing the rest of the class, which was perhaps the most valuable learning part of the experience for me. It was deciding between trotted changes and unattempted changes, or too fast and flat versus too slow and chippy. During the ponies, Holly asked me to just watch the rounds in silence with her, then give me a numeric score and see how it fell in comparison with hers. I did pretty well, and got fairly close on her scores, and in the same order of placings as she was putting them.

The most common problem we saw, which happened all day at all the levels, from crossrails to the Open division, was people being too picky in their approach to the fences, not putting enough leg on, and getting a chip, in some cases pulling rails in the process, which was a major ding. So that was a really clear illustration of what I’ve been working on in lessons myself–keep leg on and soften a bit, allowing the horse to move easily to the base and jump well. I have a feeling that’s going to stand me in good stead for my lesson tomorrow, as it will be fresh in my mind. WHEN IN DOUBT, ADD LEG!

Getting to sit and watch the day’s events from the booth was a really great opportunity that I’m incredibly grateful for. Hopefully I’ll get to do it again sometime, because it was an excellent chance to understand the process, and the way judges make their decisions, in a way that someone just explaining to you just doesn’t replicate. It really allowed me to see the whole value of Trip A, and weight it against the whole value of Trip B, and make a decision about which was better, and why.

And to be reminded, when in doubt, ADD LEG!