Where the Numbers Should Come From

(“Draw your own conclusion.”)

The judge’s most important task is to judge to the same standards all the time —first ride to last ride, famous rider to unknown— and to get the placings in the right order. And that’s just the beginning.

The numbers must be right—that means having a good eye. The comments must reflect what the numbers stand for. “ Resistant and lacks energy — 7” makes absolutely no sense to the rider or to her coach when she brings him the test afterwards.

Over the years I have sat with many other judges. Most I greatly respect and try to emulate. A couple of weird things crop up from time to time. One is the “laser judge” who spies every little thing that’s wrong, weighs them all equally, and uses any one of them to drop the score to a 5. In our training we are taught to recognize fundamental faults, major ones, and minor ones. The former, obviously, are significant and count a great deal. A minor flaw in a movement may tip the score if the judge is wavering between two numbers or may even be ignored if it is brief or happens only once.

An odd subset of this situation is the judge who cares immensely about one particular facet of the horse’s way of going to the exclusion of other things .I remember sitting with an S judge years ago, watching a medium trot on the diagonal. To me the horse appeared to get flat, brace on the hand, and stiffen his back.

The judge gave an 8. I politely mentioned what I had observed and she agreed. “But the horse had such a nice rhythm,” she said. “I wanted to reward that.” Draw your own conclusion.

My point is aside from accurately seeing what’s in front of you, a good judge must understand what’s important in the horse’s development and score (and comment) in a way which will lead the rider along that correct path.