USEF Suspension of Competition

While horse shows are on hold, I’m keeping up with my judge’s education online. It is great to have a library of past horse shows online. I keep a judges card in front of my while I watch on the computer monitor and score like I would if I was watching the class live.

I’m also watching BALMORAL TV on YouTube. They have featured episodes with different ‘R’ judges remarking on things they notice or appreciate while judging shows. It is great insight and I’m so appreciate of the content.

I’m reading more. I get very into the content that I’m focussing on so having the break from horse shows and the traveling allows me to get very deep into the books I’m reading by ‘R’ judges, past and present.

Judging HITS Ocala

I knew I wanted to learner judges at HITS Ocala because it is my homebase, but it was harder to organize that I anticipated. Originally I got permission from Kristin Vale and HITS management to learner at the December HITS, thinking I’d be more comfortable with a less-busy horse show and be able to check off some of my equitation requirements. I ended up not going to December shows because the weather that week was crummy so the show was consolidated into three days instead of four, and because my mom was showing, which puts me at a conflict of interest in the judge’s box.

I managed to reschedule to judge HITS 7. A much bigger and more competitive week, meaning a bigger challenge for a learner like me. On Wednesday, I judged the conformation division with Patrick Dodson and Christina Schulsemeyer, both veterans and great mentors. Over the weekend, I sat with Carole O’Brien and Kerry Kocher. I ended of judging the Amateur Adult hunters with both of them on separate days and it was fascinating to hear both their similar as well as unique perspectives. What I think riders and competitors would find interesting is from perspective, the horse/rider combinations in the Adult hunter division were significantly varied from one day to the next. The clear winner and show-stopper one day, could be completely out of the ribbons the next. There were a lot of low scores in that division, and it was so rewarding to give a horse rider a score in the high 80s. The judges really are rooting for the riders to have a great performance. I was listening to a recent interview with Archie Cox where he said that when he gets excited about watching a good round, he will radio to the ingate to say “That was a score of 90. 9. 0.” even if it is not a class that is being scored, just because he want the rider and trainer at the gate to know how please he was with the performance. It is definitely something I will keep with me as a I go forward.

Even though HITS Ocala was a big show, I feel like I managed organizing my cards well and keeping the scores fair and consistent with my mentors. It was a great experience.

The first show: Tampa CFHJA

Keeping this blog was harder than I expected! I’m staying very busy in the barn rather than on my computer so I’m well-overdue for an update!

I love judging! In September I judged the Tampa CFHJA fall show, which is run by Phil Devita. I sat with Melissa Bark and Jimmy Clapperton and learned so much. For one- judging is much more relaxed than I expected, and therefore, I felt much more confident about how I was keeping my cards organized and scoring the classes. I spent three days judging, and even had the privilege to judge a USHJA Hunter derby with both Melissa and Jimmy. Their feedback and encouragement was amazing. I learned more about how to sort the class results and to really watch each round as a performance, rather than to watch each round to score the mistakes. The alone is such an important concept. For certain classes, it is easy to get caught up in trying to find the winner by having a horse/rider that makes the least amount of faults, but to be able watch and score the hunters and equitation riders for brilliance that they show in the ring is what it is all about.

Another thing I learned, is that even though the horse show might a few entries one day, you should always plan on judging an entire day. The show started at 8am each day, and finished around 5, even when there was not a lot of trips scheduled to show. This is because of late adds, trainers and riders showing in other rings at the same time, drag breaks, and everything else we know that causes us to “hurry up and wait”. The evening of the derby, we had about 30minutes to wait for the other hunter rings to finish before the class of about 40 began. We scored two rounds of the derby and left well after dark. But I was not impatient — it is exciting to see people celebrating their victories at the end of a big class like a derby.

I had fun, I learned a lot from both the judges as well as the horse show management staff, and came away inspired to continue pursuing my card.

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 ….