In this age of social media, I’ve seen a lot of public judge bashing and judge bullying, in which I will not participate. You know who’s going to be judging before you get to the horse show; it’s printed in the prize list. If an individual is judging that you don’t care for, you have the option to not compete at the horse show. If you show up to the show, you have to be respectful of the opinion in the ring.
Judging is often an equalizer. It’s fair to say that everyone has won a class that they maybe shouldn’t have as well as received a result below what they had hoped for or were expecting. The system corrects itself.
In these times, if you’re not confident in your own skill set, perhaps judging is not the right career for you. Judges have to have a thick skin. With bullying, you have to be secure in your own decisions. In my 35 years of bringing students to the ring, I’ve had discussions with judges, but I’ve never challenged them. In a judged sport, you have to be okay with the outcome; it’s part of the process. You can only control your own preparation and performance.
For those that challenge a result, I follow-up with questions: Did you watch all of the rounds? Did you sit in the same vantage point? Were you in the booth with the judge? A lot of rounds are scored nowadays, and it provides some transparency and helps provide a sort of order for the judges and those in attendance. Sometimes, scores can be low, because they are being scored relatively. Whether you win with an 85 versus a 95, you still won the class.
I often hear a lot of cheering, applause and various sounds or “whooping” at the ingate. Applause, on some level, becomes a factor in judged sports. Human nature is that if someone has a very good round and there’s dead silence, you’d have to think, I missed something. You might be apprehensive to throw up a 90. On the other side of the spectrum, if you’re new to the game and you hear exuberant applause at the conclusion of a round, you’re likely thinking that the round was executed at a high level. I think that the applause meter needs to represent the round.
For sure, people feel that they can sway the judging a bit by strong-arming the applause-meter, but I’m not cheering my head off for an average round. I want to show respect to the person judging. At the end of the day, it’s the judge’s opinion. A lot of how one judges has to do with their background—how they were raised and how they were trained. Coming from a different background can frequently lead to having a contrasting opinion.
When a rider of mine puts in a stellar round, I’m absolutely going to cheer, clap, hoot and holler. But just like the result, good applause needs to be earned.
Andre Dignelli is the owner and head trainer at Heritage Farm, a New York based institution that has produced national hunter, jumper and equitation champions for nearly three decades. In his junior years, he won the 1985 USET finals and later went on to win the bronze medal at the 1991 Pan Am Games. Since then, Andre has coached numerous equitation, hunter and jumper champions at the nation’s top shows. His program has helped develop top riders including Kent Farrington, Kirsten Coe, Maggie McAlary, Reed Kessler, Lillie Keenan and many others.