Riding a show ring hunter has come a long way from the field hunters of yesteryear. Originally the horses found in the hunter jumper show ring were field hunters that used to be ridden to the hounds. Now-a-days show ring hunters are a breed unto themselves and are required to be superior athletes, easy to ride and sound competitors.
Have you ever wondered how the judge keeps track of the horses they like?
We have all lamented about “the judge just doesn’t like my horse”. Well, that usually isn’t the reason why you placed or didn’t place in the show ring. The judge probably DOES like your horse and is hoping it will put in a good trip. Your horse may not have won because it didn’t perform as well as some of the other competitors –OR- you don’t understand what the judge is looking for.
When I sit in the judges stand I often see a horse come in and think, “ ohh, what a lovely horse. This is going to be great!” Then all of a sudden the rider buries the lovely horse in a bad spot or falls into the trot through a corner. As judges we are looking for the best in your horse and we are rooting for you. If you find a bad take off spot or get a wrong lead, then we will have to penalize you.
Judging Criteria for Show Hunters
People who take their showing seriously know the rules and have an understanding of “what the judge is looking for”. Sometimes, however, people (by people I mean trainers, coaches, riders and parents) overlook what the judge really wants to see (an athletic horse that has good form over it’s fences) and concentrate on whether the leads, striding and braids are good.
Ideally, the judge (that would be me) wants to see a well turned out horse and rider combination come in, with purpose, and jump all the jumps out of stride and in good form. It is important to remember that anything that detracts from a rhythmic, steady round (breaking to a trot, wrong leads, adding and leaving out strides) will cause the score to go down. Major errors such as refusals, nappiness at the gate, bucking, rearing (God Forbid!) and knock downs are heavily penalized.
Usually judges are in the same ball park for major errors. A refusal will be scored in the 30’s. A horse that refuses may have the best form over fences but a refusal should knock it out of the ribbons.
A knock down is also heavily penalized. I score a horse that has a knock down with a front leg more severely than if it hits a fence with a hind leg on the way down. This is from the old field hunter school. If a horse hits with its front legs taking off for the jump, it may have a terrible fall or flip. For this reason I score a rail down with the hind legs less severe than a rail with the front hooves. A knock down is considered a major error and I score a 50 for a rail. If it is a bad jump with a rail down I will note its jumping style and a rail by giving it a score in the low 50’s. If it is a rub that robs a nice horse of a first place finish – I may be generous and score it the highest of knock downs.