Brennan increases understanding and accessibility through his Judge My Round online platform.
BY CATIE STASZAK
Tom Brennan’s calendar is always full. Holding roles as a rider, trainer, clinician, commentator, and “R” judge (That’s the short list) will naturally lend itself to numerous business commitments, but when horse show cancellations brought the industry to halt as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, Brennan suddenly found himself in uncharted territory: His calendar was free.
“I went from having six horse shows scheduled to judge and six horse shows schedule to show with my barn, Vineyard Haven, to having a schedule void of anything related to horseshows,” said Brennan, whose operation is based out of Round Hill VA.
So, Brennan, on the judging panel at the 2019 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships, brought the horse show to his students, hosting a virtual competition of sorts for his clients, in which each submitted a video of a jumping round for Brennan to critique from a judge’s perspective. Seeing the fun and educational value the endeavor brought to his group, Brennan sparked a greater idea, and in March, he founded “Judge My Round,” which gives exhibitors virtual access to the judge’s box.
“I am passionate about making judging more understandable to exhibitors, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so,” Brennan said.
Virtual coaching has become a popular endeavor while social distancing has forced many equestrians away from the barn and into their homes, but what makes Judge My Round different is the perspective from which the feedback comes. Available at JudgeMyRound.com, riders submit a video of themselves jumping a full course and receive in-depth commentary and analysis from Brennan. The feedback is extensive: Brennan provides a “first impression commentary” and evaluates the round in real time, as if he were sitting in the judge’s box at a horse show. From there, he will go back and review the round on playback, pausing, rewinding, and annotating on the screen, providing feedback on what a judge could positively note on a score card and what could be done to improve a rider’s placing in competition.
“What we are offering at Judge My Round is a much more focused, in depth experience that can transform a rider’s understanding of how a judge views them and their horse,” Brennan explained. “To create the analysis, each submission truly receives 1.5-2 hours of my focused attention. We believe that this service provides a level of detail and quality of experience that is unmatched in the virtual coaching space.”
Brennan is involved with numerous committees with U.S. Equestrian and the United States Hunter Jumper Association, and with an eye toward bettering the sport, he wants to improve judges’ accessibility to riders. Riders often leave the horse show with no feedback from those evaluating and determining their fate in the show ring. He hopes Judge My Round can help eliminate such uncertainties.
“[The most common misconception about judging] is that the judge is not supporting you,” Brennan said. “Every judge wants to see good rounds. They are not trying to tear you down.
“I want exhibitors to feel that they understand their outcome at the show and understand more about the sport they are participating in,” he added. “The more they understand it, the more competitive they can be. All of us in the sport are lifted by everyone being more educated.”
Judge My Round is succeeding, largely in part to its leader. As both a judge and a commentator, Brennan’s combined knowledge, experience, and ability to articulate the nuances of the sport bring a newfound level of depth and quality to the content—not to mention, he edits the video critiques himself. Brennan also allows participants to submit three judging-related questions—whether specific to their round or more general—with their videos.
“I like the opportunity to answer questions,” Brennan said. “[Virtual judging] has a different goal, which is to help the exhibitor understand their performance through the eyes of a judge, versus the goal of ranking the order of the class in a live event [when judging at a horse show]. In virtual judging, I have the benefit of extra time, re-watching, [and having] no other competitors in the class.”
Just as Brennan’s career has evolved to include a myriad of roles, so too has his product. Brennan plans to continue Judge My Round beyond the reinstatement of competitions, and the program is set to expand to include private virtual judging clinics. These 90-minute clinics on the video conferencing service Zoom will allow riders to receive feedback in a virtual group setting. Brennan will evaluate up to eight videos with commentary and live analysis, with the ability for the group to ask questions along the way. This presents a unique and fun learning opportunity for barns and private groups.
Brennan believes that Judge My Round can be a positive addition to any training program, emphasizing that the focus is on providing feedback from a judge’s perspective—not on providing a training service. For those that may not have access to horse shows, even after the competition calendar resumes, the program can be a valuable educational experience for riders of all levels and backgrounds.
“The goal is that the rider feels like they are sitting in the judge’s booth with me, and I am helping them see what I see,” he said. “Until now, what the judge thinks and sees has remained somewhat of a mystery to exhibitors. The service has become extremely popular much more quickly than we expected.”To learn more about Judge My Round, visit JudgeMyRound.com and follow the service on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.