Welcome to the Land of Oz
by Mitzi Summers
It is spring, or nearly so, when a young (or not so young) equestrienne’s fancy often turns to showing. Yes, those seven months of caring for your horse, lugging hay, chipping out frozen water buckets and mucking out when treading through snow up to your knees, finally results in your reward. This reward will be five months of intense grooming, bathing, schooling, being coached, trailering, and spending your food allowance on new tack and entry fees. This is all to submit oneself to the subjective approval (or dis) of a person who may suddenly take an intense dislike for the color of the horse you are showing.
Horse shows can bring out the best in people and, unfortunately, sometimes the worst. Ego, nerves, competition, and in some venues money, can cause riders to not look out for the best interests of their horses. I remember one client of mine – a sweet little girl in pigtails who LOVED her pony. In her first class, a mistake she made caused her not to place. She came out of the ring with a red face, jerked on her pony and said, “I hate you!” With parents in full agreement, we packed up pony and disgruntled child and traveled back to the stable. Happy ending, lesson well taught, she developed the correct attitude a child should have about showing, “It is for fun, and the welfare of your pony comes first,” and the improved attitude actually resulted in a Reserve Championship at the end of the year.
Judges do need to develop thick skins. Most of them do their best to be ethical and nurturing. Sometimes it can be difficult. One weekend I was judging a show in northern Connecticut that was held on beautiful grounds, and had a large ring with good footing. I had judged there several times. On this particular day rain was predicted, so I was trying to judge carefully and thoroughly, but also wanted the show to run smoothly so we could complete all the classes. Usually the show committee was great. The woman who had hired me and usually headed things had to leave quite early, so most of the left-over staff was fairly new. The announcer’s stand was above the ring, very high, so that I had to really shout and wave to get the announcer’s attention. I am sure she was a very nice woman, but I think she got paid in free food as her announcements at times were barely understandable and I had to get her to repeat things to me when I asked her questions.
The first harbinger of trouble to come was when the gatekeeper had to leave. This was a big show, but I could not find anyone right away to take charge of the gate, and it was difficult to get the announcer to repeat the request, so that became one of my duties. Then my ring steward, a teenage girl who was getting paid for the day, was difficult to direct as she was always at the fence talking to her friends. It started to drizzle, and my pens would not work, so I asked her to get me a pencil. She replied that she could not, that she was leaving. She had a date that night and if she stayed outside her hair would frizz. So I was trying to get the announcer’s attention, then have her make announcements that I needed a steward and a gatekeeper, but her mouth was full, and no one understood her. For a couple of classes I managed it all, finally I did get help.
My next class to judge was a western horse halter class. One of the horses had a tail that had been damaged by some sort of trauma. It had hair missing and was a bit crooked, but this was not a breed show with top competition so I did not consider that above conformation and way of going. There were two horses who were easily better than that horse in their conformation and also in their gaits, so I pinned the horse with the damaged tail third. As they were leaving the ring a very large woman yelled at me. “I want to talk to you!” Technically she should ask permission to speak to a judge and then the show committee asks the judge. It was really starting to rain, so I replied to the woman that I would speak to her but that I wanted to get a few more classes judged before it rained harder.
Sure enough, after the next class, there she was “I want to talk to you now!” It was raining even harder so I said very sweetly that I REALLY wanted to talk to her, and if she would just stay RIGHT THERE that I would take time after the next class. As I walked over to her she really started shouting at me, that I had pinned her horse third because of his tail. I replied that was not true. Then she said he had won some class at a show last week to which I replied that that was wonderful – maybe he was moving better then. Oops! She really started in. I tried to get the attention of the announcer (good luck) to tell her that she needed to tell the woman to stop or she would have to leave the show grounds. Somehow, that worked and I did not see the horse’s owner the rest of the wet, rainy day.
The rest of the show went well. Exhibitors seemed to have a great time even with the weather, and I could help many of them with some tips for their riding. When I got in my van at the end of the day I was relieved to find my tires were not slashed, but as I was driving I did wonder what would cause the woman to lose her temper so badly. Then Alice, the woman who hired me, called me and said she had already gotten good reports and asked if could I judge their Championship Fall Show, that people had requested me.
I replied that a certain woman in an Army green tee shirt certainly would not agree. Alice replied. “Oh, you mean Greta. I heard all about that! You know two years ago she went into the ring and grabbed a male judge by the shoulder because she did not like his judging.” I asked her why they allowed Greta on the show grounds. Alice replied that they had not thought about it because they thought that she was still in jail! I had to ask. “What was she in jail for – assaulting a judge?” “No,” Alice replied, “she was convicted for fraud.”
So that made me feel better. I had stood up to a convicted person and lived to see another day! There is just nothing as rewarding, fun, interesting, and, apparently, requiring bravery, as judging or riding in a horse show.