Recently I was out with a bunch of amateur ladies discussing everything from fashion and travel to trying to solve the problems of horse show life. We all participate in the sport in various capacities and at different levels at this point but one thought resonated throughout. The scores given in the hunter ring are arbitrary. We all want to bring back the leader board which caused much excitement at the ring to see where your round had placed you.
Hunters are a wildly subjective sport. With no real guidelines about how to judge except that a refusal is 40, conventionally (but not in the rulebook) a rail is 45, and trotting is 55 points, it stands to reason that the scores are also wildly subjective. Judging is not like a multiple choice test where the correct answer earns a point and a wrong answer earns nothing, thus resulting in a score with mathematical efficacy. My round worthy of 80 points is not someone else’s and thus people stand at the ring confused by the scoring or outraged that they didn’t get a higher score. In reality, the numerical number is irrelevant; the placing is the important part. If you win a class with an 82 or a 92 does it really matter? You still won.
There is chatter flying around the country about the scores at WEF being inflated. Allegedly, competitors were complaining to management and the stewards that they weren’t receiving scores that were high enough. I’m not even going to discuss, if that’s true, how deplorable it is that management played into this. I am only going to address the fact that people need to stop whining. How about this instead; Do you want a better score? Work harder to do better!
What is it teaching people to give extra points just so they can feel good about themselves? Or has the culture of sports in the United States changed so drastically from actual competition to an emphasis on participation trophies? If the latter is the case then there is no need for people to buy horses at the absurd 6-figure prices they are, because any sound animal that can do the job will do for a ‘participation trophy’.
All of this circles right back to getting rid of scores. Competitors will always complain about the judging—that happens in all sports which are judged. If we instead had the leaderboard, you would see the back numbers of the top 6-8 in the class and it would create some excitement around the placings as people watched numbers moving around on the board. Now that most shows no longer jog, that ringside comradery amongst riders could be maintained with people hanging around to watch the leaderboard and see if they are still winning or have been bumped down. The leaderboard would also decrease the angst and anxiety around the actual scores and keep people from feeling entitled to a higher score.
The initial premise of announcing scores was a good one, to try and get people to understand how the class was being judged. But in fact, it left more questions than answers for most. One of the ladies at dinner shared a fond memory at Harrisburg where she found her number atop the leaderboard after her round. Every few trips she would nervously run back to the in-gate to see if her number was still at the top and then excitedly she would run back to her horse. She ended up 3rd, but the memory of that experience she will cherish forever.
The opposing experience is going around the very best that you and your horse can, earning an 86, which we are told is a fabulous score and not getting a ribbon because you listened as one horse after another beat your score. If you didn’t know that you got an 86, you still would have been beat. Did knowing the score help you go home and say ‘I got 86 but it still wasn’t good enough’ or is that more depressing because you earned a high score and still received no accolades? Conversely, if something happens and you trot on course do you really want them announcing a score of 55?
This is in no way a poor sport comment. I will be the first to admit I was highly rewarded in rounds where I did not deserve it. I find it embarrassing knowing I received a high score that I did not deserve. I do not however, find it embarrassing to win a class even if it wasn’t my best performance because that day, with that group of competitors, it might have been the best round out there. The score that I earned whether it was high or low was still the best one.
There are arguments for and against both sides. This is purely something to think about as we continue to try and move the sport forward. There will always be aspects of the sport that need to change and improve as society evolves but be open-minded to change, and sometimes those changes can be bringing back an old idea in a new and improved way.
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