From a judge’s perspective (literally!)
I have done a fair bit of judging this month as we had 3 Sea Games Qualifiers in October. Sometimes I judge alone, which is quite nice as there is no one to disagree with but other times, I have co-judges which may mean there is a difference in marks. I would like to explain briefly why that happens.
The judge that sits at C will have a similar view to the judge at H or M. They can see straightness and the correctness of angle / bend in lateral movements. In the extensions across the diagonal, it can be hard to see how much difference in length of stride the horse is showing and what the contact is like.
Example below :When a horse trots up the centre line, the judge can see how straight it is.
The E or B judge can see the side profile – whether the horse is uphill or on the forehand, how good is the contact and connection, whether the horse is really showing difference in length of strides, and how accurate the rider is when halting at X or doing circles in the middle for example.
Example below : That same horse trotting up the centre line may have been straight but did not halt at X and was not square behind. The marks from both judges will then be different for those reasons.
Often too you will hear “that judge gave me really low marks compared to so and so”. As judges, we want to be encouraging and develop the sport but at the same time, we have to be realistic and try to help the rider improve. It is often a fine line but generally, the higher up the levels you go, the more critical or less accepting the judge would be of certain faults.
The judges are encouraged to give comments when they mark 6 and below. 6 is satisfactory and 7 is fairly good. As a rider, you want to be scoring 6 and above! Take time to read the comments and if you have videoed your test, compare it to the comments.
So after doing your test and the official results have been announced, it would be beneficial if you collected your test sheet(s) so that you can read the judge’s comments and hopefully improve on your subsequent tests. If you are at a 3 day show, do not wait till the last day to pick up your sheets. It is too late by then!
Whether there is or is not a discrepancy in marks, you can take your test sheet to the judges and ask how to improve your test or what the judge thought were the main issues you need to work on. Try not to be defensive and to take their comments on with an open mind. You may not always agree but give it a chance. The judge may have seen something that you have not noticed or realised. Below is an article that talks about what to do when there is a discrepancy in marks.
There are a couple more areas in which riders can improve their score.. the judges do get frustrated when these easy marks get thrown away.
At the lower levels, sometimes all the difference that is needed for a 6 / 7 is between sitting and rising trot. Some riders insist on doing sitting trot when it is not required and if done well, that is good… but when done badly or with a tense horse, the sitting trot does nothing for the horse or rider. Show the judges that you are a thinking rider. Even if you started your Preliminary test in sitting trot and your horse started getting tense halfway through, switch to rising trot, which will encourage your horse to relax his back again and hopefully work better.
Then, let’s talk about the walk. In medium walk, there should be activity and a clear 4 beat. The horse needs to be “over the back” and keep his back soft whilst he walks into a soft connection with the hand.
In the free walk, in very simple terms, the horse has to show over track (hind legs stepping in front of the hoof prints of the front legs), remain active with purpose, and stretch his neck down with his nose in front of the vertical. The horse should show a clear 4 beat walk and remain swinging over the back.
In the stretch down circle at Preliminary and Novice level where the rider goes into rising trot and encourages the horse to stretch down into the contact on a 20m circle, the horse needs to keep the same rhythm, and follow his rider’s hand down with his neck and head, and not curl his nose into his chest.
In the test, it says to shorten the reins before you end the circle. The judge is looking for a smooth pick up and to see how well the horse accepts the rein connection again. A number of riders just leave their reins long and floppy and carry on to the next movement.
As a competitor, it is beneficial to scribe for the judges. You start to pick up what the judge is looking for and see it from a different perspective. So when you have spare time, ask the competition organisers if you can scribe for one of the judges. That is one of the best ways to learn.
Good luck for the next competition! I hope this helps. Below are two more articles that are worth reading.