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A rider, a trainer, and also a judge's perspective

Having been a rider, trainer and judge for many years, it gives you great perspective and empathy. You see things from all angles;  how the rider feels, how the horse should be performing and what could be done to obtain better marks.

It is very much a juggle doing all three.  I really enjoy judging and would love to upgrade further and possibly judge overseas one day.  However, this focus can really limit my own progress as a trainer and rider.  I cannot judge the riders I train at registered days, and obviously I cannot judge and ride at the same time.  Another fact is more money n be earned while teaching, rather than when judging. It is a balance.  As a judge, you receive a good oversight on the development of the sport, whilst also keeping your eye ‘up with the play’.  It is a nice feeling to give back to the sport, as “NO judge, NO event!”

These days I try and juggle my teaching, riding and judging on a day-to-day basis depending on the time of year and what competitions are planned.  Of course, Covid has now thrown a curve ball so I just try and go with the flow and do what I can fit in.

Ben Weir and I have a tag team approach to riding and competing Del Rico.  We are both time poor, so it works quite well.  Ben is a talented elegant rider and I’m enjoying training him and Rico to see how far they can progress.  During the week, I do most of the schooling, so I keep in touch with how the horse is feeling.  It is a unique partnership, and most enjoyable as we get to all learn together in a fun way.

As a rider, I fully appreciate the nerves and the amount of time, money and effort that goes into competing.  I also know the feeling of when your brain completely stops at X and you feel like you do not know how to ride anymore or need a road map!  All I can say is that most people feel the same at some stage and you just must smile and keep going.

I feel fortunate to have had experiences as a judge, rider and trainer and to see things from different angles.  Having to then decide on a mark on a score sheet can be very difficult!  Judges’ brains must work very quickly and you can’t stop to think too much! That is why it is so important that judges continue to upskill themselves.  Riders also need to appreciate that judges are only human too!

Judges must concentrate for an entire class, not just on the movements of the test, but making sure that rules are adhered to, whether that be clothing, tack or etiquette.  It is not always comfortable sitting in a hot or cold, wet car for hours on end, crossing your legs waiting for a rest break!  There are strict times that need to be adhered to, so although it may appear unjust to the riders, we cannot always let your horse keep going round the outside of the arena until they are ready.

I know from a rider’s point of view, it is very easy to think a judge “doesn’t like my horse” or ”…this type of horse,” but really that is not so.  It often is something in the training that needs attention.  Judges aim to judge correctly, well-schooled horses and really would like riders to do well.

I find as a judge that I have to try and remove my trainer’s hat and just critique the test that is presented. Sometimes I would like to get out of the car and just do a little bit of training to improve things.  However, we can only judge what we see on the day, even though you may have ridden an amazing test the day before at home if your horse freaks out at a flowerpot, the marks are not going to be as good.  The same with a young horse out for a first outing you may get told that he is tense, and the rider thinks: “well, yes of course he is!” But we cannot factor that in.  We may be aware of it, but none the less, still must judge what we see.  Same with a lovely old schoolmaster who, we may say, needs to be more supple even though he possibly cannot be!  It is difficult!!

Tips for better marks

  • Write for a judge you will learn heaps
  • Use your corners to help to balance your horse, especially in the canter
  • Practice riding correct halts.  There are 20 marks at least in a test
  • Free walk and stretch in the trot are double marks.  Learn how to do these well.  Do not just throw the reins away and no wide hands
  • Prepare for each movement
  • Learn the test!!  Even if you have a caller, you need to know where you are going
  • Only move up the levels when you have got consistently good scores at the level that you are in.

Pat the horse and SMILE at the judge at the end!!

by Melissa Steed