What am I doing? The first steps ..

“I would never have the patience or be organized enough to do that.” “But you just sit there all day.” “You know it costs a lot for all the applications and clinics. Typical U$EF!” Those are some of the responses I get from fellow equestrians when I tell them about how I’m going to get my hunter/ equitation judge’s license. So what am I doing? I’m getting more and more excited about finally obtaining my card!

In all the years at all the shows across all of the U.S., my early morning efforts have never been toward climbing into the drafty judge’s booth to sit with pencil and paper and watch round after round from 8am until …. ? But as a junior rider and professional, I have been mentored by some of the most sought-after judges in the country: Carleton Brooks, Jeff Wirthman, Geoff Teall, among others. So naturally, I’ve been taught to see the horse and rider from the judge’s point of view. Look at the big picture; look at the class as a whole; determine quality based on the competition and specific division. From that teaching, I learned how to prepare the horse for his given division, and developed approaches for training students to be better competitors. Now, I can’t help but be interested in attending horse shows for a different purpose: to officiate classes. And I will confirm the rhetoric– Yes, it is a long process to get your ‘R’. Yes, it costs a lot in the beginning. Yes, it is hard to juggle leaving the barn for a week to go to a show without your horses or customers. But I’m doing it and I’m excited by the process so far!

Like many horse professionals I’m constantly seeking out more information, new ways of training, and new opportunities. Through the USEF Licensed Officials program, I have already learned so much and benefitted as a horsewoman. What have I done so far? Well, I believe it was some time in February I was on the USHJA site and stumbled upon the Licensed Officials calendar page. Curiosity led my hand as I clicked away and saw a clinic offered in Wellington — already sold out. Another clinic schedule in San Juan Capistrano at the Oaks in April. Well, I know those show grounds. I know people I could stay with. Click, click, click, and flights are not that bad if I buy now, and click, click I can use my USEF Member Perks on a car rental, and before I knew it, I had everything booked! And so it began …

The applicant section of the clinic was hosted by Fran Dotoli in a small hotel banquet room right off PCH in Laguna Beach. I hadn’t met Fran before this week, but felt right at ease with the familiar level of professionalism she has as a horsewoman, with genuine respect for the horse, for riders, and the horse show community as a whole. There were approximately 20 professionals in the applicant section with me, mostly from the west coast. A group of all different ages, different backgrounds and levels of experience. In general, my peers and I were all comfortably familiar with a heavy year-round schedule at Premier and National shows, however on this morning, we were all in the same boat. Every one was a bit nervous to some degree: There were hundreds of pages of rules and regulations to memorize. There was to be a test at the end of the clinic. There were open discussion periods. There were lists and lists of requirements, and timelines and protocols that not only were defined by USEF but also USHJA — in different terms and language. In other words, There were so many ways we could each F* this up and end up wasting our time and money. What were we really doing??

And then Fran reminded us: You have all been doing this for a number of years, you probably already know most of what we will be discussing. And she was right. She explained the most important part of the judge’s job is keeping very organized cards. At the end of the day, the judge’s job is to put the horses in the correct order for their given class. Have integrity and organized bookkeeping, know the rules for the equitation divisions, know when to call the steward, and be truthful.

I passed my written exam with 18/20 questions correct. I’m fairly certain that all the applicants passed with a grade of 70% or better, we were well prepared. The following say we had a practical exam at the Blenheim horse show. It was a Tuesday, so there was not a competition going on, just schooling. I saw some familiar friends, horses, and dogs on my way to the sand ring where Fran and Julie Winkel lead us through the proper way to judge conformation models. Marking cards for the conformation was harder than I expected, especially when we had 7-8 horses lined up. After that we watch 5 over fences demonstrations with 5-6 horses in each. Volunteer riders jumped their courses and we were asked to mark our cards and put the horse-rider combinations in order. That part came easier to me. Fran and Julie were also commentating during the “classes”, and answering questions that came up. The final test we had to pass was to show that we could score a class on the judge’s card and turn it in to determine whether or not we seemed to grasp the concept. Ok, last class, with no commenting between clinicians or applicants: I get my card organized and draw the course across the top. As each horse come in, I note the color or markings, and made myself a quality scale of A, B, C, or D. I make a mark at each jump and note lead change errors, but — wait what was that horse’s number? — oh, well I’ll get it at the end. The next horse comes in — crap, well I’ll figure it out, that was the horse Karli rode. Next one — was is 243, or 234? Shoot. Umm, did that one miss a lead-change? I didn’t see it but Jim marked it. Ugh, why isn’t someone telling us the back numbers when they come in the ring?

I lost track of organization. I want the card to look neat and tidy but which bay horse went second? Julie Winkel is collecting everyone’s cards. I do my best to stay calm — thank you, morning meditation — but I’m the last one, trying my best to put the back numbers in order. I trust I’ve shown enough understanding of the concept and hand in my card (even though I was still wondering if I should have marked a missed lead-change that I didn’t see?!) Everyone gets up to leave. I thank Fran, Julie, and the other USHJA staff I met. Exchange some contacts with other professionals.

On April 29, nineteen days after arriving home in Florida, I received the official notification that I passed both the written and practical exam portions of the clinic. Such a relief to have the official news! So what comes after attending the USHJA clinic and receiving passing scores on the exams? I am eligible to submit an application for an “apprentice permit”, which, for a small fee of $170 and 2 -4 weeks processing period, I will be permitted to begin “Apprentice Judging”, better known as learner-judging. By showing that I have passed my exams, that I am in good standing with USEF, that I’m up to date on Safe Sport, and listing a detailed description of my equestrian background, I received my apprentice permit officially on May 31. With that , I simply need to carve out the time to travel to horse shows and begin spending time with ‘R’ judges, developing my own system and working on my organization in real situations.

More of my journey to come ….

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