Book Excerpt: The Judge Tells All

Photo © ES EQUINE PHOTOGRAPHY || EVELYN SZCZEPANEK

By Randy G. Roy 
Reprinted with permission from the author

From Chapter 3: Hunters

Q: What is the best way to enter the ring for an over fences hunter class?

A: It depends on your horse. If he is quiet and relaxed with a good trot, then trot into the ring and show it off—briefly. You should then calmly break into a canter and immediately get to the first jump. If your horse is tense or nervous, walk him a moment and let him look around, take a breath, and then ease into a canter to start. Should your horse be a bit spooky, go immediately to a trot and go by the first jump, allowing him to see it. You then pick up a canter and proceed nicely to the first jump. This isn’t an equitation class, but I do understand that the longer approach to the first jump often sets a more relaxed and smooth start, which is what hunter performance is all about. You need to do what you think will present your horse the best.

Q: What do you think about “training” a hunter in the ring while the show is in progress?

A: Once competitors enter a recognized show, we would hope that their horses are prepared because their homework has been done at home. Unfortunately, horses sometimes find a way of making riders look unprepared, and often it is necessary to reprimand a horse in the ring. It is crucial, however, that all disciplining be done in a professional manner without abuse. Tight horse show schedules do not allow time for “training” in the ring, so if you have a more serious problem it should be taken to the warm-up ring, not dealt with in the show ring. I might add that training a hunter in the ring often leaves the judge a poor impression of horse and rider.

Q: How much do you penalize a horse that plays on course?

A: This depends on the “playing.” If a horse swishes his tail or pins his ears during a lead change, or simply throws his head, it may be slightly forgiven depending on the quality of the class. Playing in the form of bucking or extensive shying is not acceptable behaviour, as danger comes into play.

Q: What is the highest score you ever gave? 

A: I gave Rox Dene a score of 98 at the Washington International Horse Show. In hindsight, I could probably have given her 100. My judge’s card had no other notations on it other than perfect jumps!

Q: At the end of a good round, how important is it to get the lead change to finish? Can I just go back to the trot, turn in the direction of the lead I land on, or just pull up?

A: It is just as important to finish on the correct lead as it is at the start of your round. None of the alternatives you describe are acceptable. If you have had a good round, don’t cheat at the finish line…I’m watching!

Q: How serious is it when a horse or pony switches a lead before a fence?

A: It depends on where you are not just at which show, but also where you are in the course. If you are in Palm Beach or indoors with the best of the best, it could put you right out of the ribbons, but if you are at a small show, you could still be the winner. As it relates to the course, it would depend on the distance the switch was made from the jump: too far out from the jump it becomes obvious and will be heavily penalized. It would also depend on whether the horse goes too hard right or left to switch. Some horses will be gentlemen (as I call them) about it and will silently step off the lead only one stride out from the fence and make a good and centered jump that is not obvious at all.

Photo © ES EQUINE PHOTOGRAPHY || EVELYN SZCZEPANEK

Q: When judging children on ponies, do you take suitability into account?

A: In the US, suitability is a requirement and since I have judged for so many years in the States, I naturally consider suitability when judging Canadian shows as well – although it is not a requirement in Canada. When a rider is too large for a pony, it doesn’t look appropriate, and it will be reflected in my placement. When a rider is too small for a pony, it seems to be less serious, but it still doesn’t look correct and there could also be a safety issue to consider here as well.

Q: How do you feel about schooling, high-low, and prep classes on the same day as the rated classes?

A: Do your practice at home, the day before, or in another ring. I really feel that on show days you need to just go for real. At finals and indoors there are no get-ready classes, and as a judge I appreciate you showing your horse when it really counts. As both a judge and an exhibitor, I don’t like waiting to show after hours of schooling. 


*This story was originally published in the March 2023 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!

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