by Mitzi Summers
Showing should be the result of hours and hours of honest, ethical training of horse and rider. It is a chance to judge for yourself how you have been doing, and yes, show off a little if you have been doing a good job.
Show nerves are a real part of the picture. No matter how many times a well-meaning friend tells you to relax and just have a good time, people ARE looking at you and judging you, and let’s face it, anyone not connected with you is rooting for someone else.
The more you show the easier it will get. So if you are ready and can afford it, go to as many as you can.
I used to have the students in my barn that were showing for the very first time get all washed and primed and ready to go, but the first time they could not bring their show clothes. They could ride in the warm-up ring nicely dressed, but no matter how well their horse went, they knew they could not show that day. It helped so much in calming them and making even their horses less nervous. It set them up well for the next show when they COULD compete. Hint: Check with the show committee to be certain that this is allowed. Some will want a ring fee. It is well worth it.
Some general tips
Make eye contact with the judge and smile, but do not overdo it. In a halter class, keep an eye on the judge ALL the time unless you are actively working your horse. I want to be on the end of a line of a 40 horse Fitting and Showmanship Class and look down and see those exhibitors that I saw 15 minutes ago still posing and watching me. They are the ones that will win.
If I am showing a horse in a class and we are having a good go, I will place myself on the inside track, so there is not a horse between me and the judge. Let’s say my horse’s extended trot is going to be awesome! I will showboat just a bit….as I pass the horse and my horse is round and perfect and in tempo, I will look at the judge in a kind of “Look at this…..this horse is GOOD!”. It catches his eye and makes him look. I show that I am confident and he will want to know the reason why. If, however, for some reason (probably my fault) my horse has decided that he cannot canter to the left, I will try to position myself on the rail. I am hoping a horse does come between me and the judge, so if I mess up and have to wait a few moments to get the correct lead, I can delay it and not get penalized.
If you are wearing something eye-catching, make sure you are GOOD because it will work and you will catch the judge’s eye and maybe you really do not want to. I remember a woman coming in for a Western Equitation class. She was wearing a very expensive, very shimmery blouse with fringe on the arms that made her look a bit like a Christmas decoration. I do remember thinking to myself, “Okay, you have caught my attention, so you had better be good.” Alas, she was NOT.
Sometimes in a Western Equitation class I will have the riders drop their stirrups, lengthen their jog, or do both. She was a very posed and stiff rider and ended up bouncing quite a bit. The fringe moved so much that it frightened one of the horses! (I did not penalize it). It would have been apparent that she was not a good rider, but the fringe made it much more noticeable. So be careful of what you wear and pick your show clothes accordingly.
If you need to carry a crop in a hunter-type class, carry it in the hand closest to the rail. We all know that we school usually with the crop on the inside, but I must confess if you need to carry a crop in say, a pleasure class, and you have to use it, I will not be impressed. Be a bit sneaky about it. If you do use it, though, it should be behind your leg. A knowledgeable judge will give you negative marks for hitting the horse in front of the saddle, and some rules will eliminate you for that. I do not mind, however, if a small child’s pony, who is insisting on stopping at the in gate, for example, taps the pony on the shoulder. The child is just not quite coordinated enough to use a crop properly.
Notice to coaches and parents, we judges are NOT impressed by coaching from the ring. If the child does not know by now to put her heels down or which diagonal she is on, telling her for yet the 200th time at the show is not going to accomplish your goal. Coaches, we judges are irritated by last-minute instructions to your charge as they pass you on the rail. It might impress the parents if you are trying to convince them that you do indeed earn your fees, but it is vexing to judges and other coaches. The child cannot hear you anyway. As she is trying to maneuver over to catch your words of wisdom she will, at the least, lose her concentration, and at the most run into the chestnut mare with the red ribbon in her tail.
Lastly, do not resort to doing the so-called “Quarter Horse Snatch”on the mouth of your horse. It is a misnomer, as it is done with all disciplines and all breeds. It is the incessant jerking on the horse’s mouth. It hurts their horse, it creates an artificial head set, and it just shouts ignorance and lack of empathy for the horse. The better judges will mark you down for it, and other exhibitors should rightly turn their noses up at you. Judges are being told in judge’s seminars to mark this down as harshly as a wrong lead. At the very least, if you do not care about the amount of pain you are inflicting on your horse and the lack of knowledge it exhibits, it points out to the judge that either you or the horse is not performing correctly or this sort of thing would not be visible. Remember that the best riding should include invisible aids.
I think all good instructors should do a bit of judging. It gets you thinking as a judge has to think, and lets you appreciate the job. It also helps you when you are scanning your group lesson of nine if you can scan a show class of 30.
To all exhibitors, remember to just have fun. It is all about good sportmanship and the ethics of the sport. But yes, I will admit that winning that blue is a huge thrill. Just do your best and come to the show as prepared as you possibly can be. It is all worth it. If the judge is obviously working hard and doing his best, take the time to thank him (her) even if you did not place. It will mean a lot.