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Horse Judging Team 2004

FOO Chronicles: Horse Judging Team

As a youth I was heavily involved in 4-H, and while it began as a venue for me to show horses it eventually evolved into much more. I credit a lot of my early life lessons, as well as my success in horses to the knowledge I gained while participating in local 4-H, as well as the people I met through the various programs. One such program was the Horse Judging Team. The Ohio 4-H Horse Program actually has several different avenues for horseless competition, including demonstration contests, speaking contests, a skillathon and horse judging teams. I can’t remember exactly how I first got involved with the Horse Judging Team, but the program in my county was in its infancy when I joined; and I loved it. Not familiar with the concept? Here’s a quick rundown of what it’s all about:

What is Competitive Horse Judging and How Does it Work?

4-H programs, as well as numerous agricultural colleges, all have horse judging teams who travel to various competitions held at State Fairs, as well as major breed shows including Arabian Nationals and Quarter Horse Congress. In a single competition, there are two phases: judging and oral reasons. In the first phase [judging] participants actually judge various classes made up of four horses and place them. There are a mix of conformation halter classes [such as Stock Type Mares or Two Year Old Arabian Geldings], as well as under saddle classes [such as Western Pleasure or English Equitation].

Scoring for this section is a bit complicated, but it goes like this: participants placings are compared to a panel of licensed judge’s official placings for each class. Participants then receive so many points for each class, depending on how closely they placed the class compared to the official placings. The panel of licensed judges, in addition to an official placing, also determine “cuts” for each pair to give a weighted penalty for misalignment of horses. Each class is worth 50 points [always], so you deduct penalties from 50.

In the second phase [oral reasons] you give a short memorized speech about why you placed a chosen class the way you did to one of the official judges and you get scored on how well you explain it all. There’s a typical format you follow, and you get some extra points for how polished your public speaking skills are. That’s competitive horse judging teams in a nutshell!

Horse Judging Team Contest

My Horse Judging Team Experience

So now that you know more than you ever needed to about competitive horse judging, I’ll tell you about my personal experience on the local horse judging team. The first year I joined the horse judging team [2001] I learned a lot; we practiced at our coach’s farm [who was a local trainer and licensed 4-H judge herself] and we talked about conformation, muscling and quality of movement. Our first competition was the Ohio State Fair, and I’d never even been to the fairgrounds before. I was excited, because I’d just tried to qualify to show my horse and while I didn’t make it I was very eager to see what the show was all about. That first hour on the fairgrounds is really all I remember about my first horse judging team competition because I was devastated. Every horse there looked like Hershey, the horse that won every class in my county and I was convinced I’d never be able to compete on that level. So I cried. A lot.

Horse Judging Team 2001
My first time at the Ohio State Fair in 2001 [I’m the one on the far left]
But I soldiered on [both riding and on the horse judging team] and I began to really enjoy the somewhat more level-playing field of judging competitions, and since I was a quick learner I experienced success and satin early on. In 2003 I was paired with two older girls and our team placed 4th overall at State Fair, and I was even in the top 10 for the oral reasons section. In 2006 our team was Reserve Champion Overall and we earned a chance to compete at Arabian Nationals the last year the show was held in Kentucky before moving to Arizona. Arabians were not our forte, but we placed 7th Overall out of some 20-odd teams!

My final year of 4-H eligibility was a clusterfuck, and soured me on the entire program, unfortunately. It was my freshman year of college and I took a Horse Judging class in the fall as an elective ran by one of the 4-H Program Directors; my BFF was majoring in equestrian studies at a different university and also took a horse judging class [which was required]. That summer, we went to State Fair feeling really confident. We went through the entire competition [which lasted several hours] and I even gave my oral reasons presentation to my horse judging class professor. Hours later, I was disqualified because buried in the general livestock 4-H judging rules [not the horse judging rules] was a clause that stated you couldn’t take a collegiate level horse judging class and maintain eligibility. My BFF was not disqualified because she went to a different school and the organizers [aka the 4-H Program Directors and my Professor] didn’t bother to look it up.

Horse Judging Team 2003
Winning satin for correcting judging horses circa 2003 [I’m on the right]
I was really upset, and overall the entire thing was handled very poorly. The professor had seen me at competitions years prior — why didn’t she say anything during the class? She watched me compete — why didn’t she say anything then? And at the end of the day, when I asked to see my scores, she pointed to the trash can and said “You’re welcome to go dumpster diving for them.” Yeah, that was very not awesome. But I did get my revenge the following year when she ran a Judging Competition at Equine Affaire. Because my college didn’t have a horse judging team, I was free to compile one as long as members didn’t come from schools that did have a team. So I scrounged up my BFF and an old member of my 4-H team and even though we hadn’t practiced in a year, we went balls to the wall against some of the biggest Agricultural College teams in the country like Texas A&M.

Horse Judging Team at 2006 Arabian Nationals
Horse Judging Team at 2006 Arabian Nationals [I’m third from the left]
And you know what? I beat them all. I was Grand Champion Individual and placed first or second in every division. Watching my old professor’s face as she read the placings was priceless!

But in the end, despite the drama, I’m really glad I joined the Horse Judging Team. I learned a lot about horsemanship, sportsmanship and gained a lot of respect for judges in general. Everything I learned helped me both in the saddle and out of it; and it was an awesome way to make some lifelong friends.

Miles Cantering

What Did I Expect?

Miles had his training lesson last night… and overall it was quite uneventful. The weather kept us inside, so there weren’t any scary jumps [like the coop that Miles flung me over] but he did several courses up to 2’6″-2’9″ and was just like usual. He took some longer spots and played once, which was quickly corrected, and made some short distances work. He really only made one actual effort over the 2’9″ oxer the first time around [probably because he was a bit surprised by it] but it was pretty cool to watch: his knees snapped up and he really used his neck. Trainer’s response was “Well, I was never worried about scope with him.”

Afterwards, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the lesson, and I’m not sure I’ve figured it out yet. What was I expecting? Fireworks? Refusals all over the place? Miles was just Miles: fussy when N made him work really hard, but as soon as she said “No, I really mean it” he complied and was a perfect gentleman. But did I really expect anything else? They made 2’6″ look easy, and while N always makes that height look like ground poles, I was a bit surprised that it looked so easy for Miles too. In a way, it makes me feel a little bit better about the height; he obviously isn’t putting in any more effort over 2’6″ than he was at 2′.

I guess my take-aways from the lesson are that I need to get over it. I need to put the stop behind me because it was obviously a fluke; I need to get over my anxiety of showing at 2’6″ because Miles does. not. care; I need to give myself a little bit of credit because even though N is 100x the rider I am, I still ride Miles well because he likes to be left alone and I can do that. Despite what anyone says, consciously deciding to not change anything between fences is hard but it is a skill I have. And Miles is happy — maybe I don’t always bring out the best in him, but he enjoys going over courses with him and flatting like a boss. And in the end, that’s what I do expect: to have a happy horse whose having a good time.

Miles Cantering

Sorry for the lack of photo/video from the lesson; I am not a good enough photographer to get action shots indoors!

Hugs for Miles

Back in the Saddle

A week after Miles dumped me unceremoniously on my ass, I finally felt good enough to get back in the saddle. It was a pretty leisurely ride, including the first 15 minutes where we stood around and chatted, but I did eventually trot and canter. My right hip, which took the brunt of my fall, was stiff to start out with, but the more I rode, the looser it got. By the end I felt relatively normal, albeit out of shape; it’s amazing how much fitness you lose in just seven days! Miles felt fantastic, which is really a tribute to my BFF, the working student, who has been riding Miles while I recovered. She said they’d been working on Miles’ “listening ears” and I could certainly tell! His transitions were snappy, and we went to work right away… which tells me I’ve been lazy and that my horse is capable of much more. Maybe I need to go to flatwork boot camp too, LOL.

After our ride I gave Miles a medicated bath. I’m still trying to clear up some Rain Rot, but overall his skin and coat are looking much, much better! The spots on his back are healing quite nicely and already have a good amount of hair growing back. The only spots left are on his stifles [which look way worse than they actually are because Miles is ticklish and won’t let me pick the scabs off very much] and the backs of his gaskins. But he stood like a gentleman for his bath and happily ate his cookies afterwards.

Miles Bath

Tomorrow Miles is taking a lesson with my BFF and they’re going to jump all the scary jumps. I’ll take lots of video and pictures to share; this will be the first time I’ve seen someone else jump Miles, so I’m actually pretty excited!


Samshield Shadowmatt Helmet Review

Product Review: Samshield Shadowmatt Helmet

Samshield Shadowmatt HelmetProduct Details

Samshield Shadowmatt Helmet
Retail Price: $410
What I Paid: $328
Purchased: April 2014

The Review

After a fall I decided I needed to replace my trusty IRH ATH SSV helmet, and I went for broke and purchased two: one for schooling and one for showing. I used IRH’s replacement policy to snap up another IRH ATH SSV, but I knew I wanted something a bit nicer for the show ring. I went to a local tack store and tried on ALL THE HELMETS. Charles Owen’s just sat on top of my head, and fit absolutely horribly; My trainer detests the GPA Speed Air vents for amateur hunters so… that didn’t leave me very many options. I was skeptical about the Samshield brand at first, since at the time it was still relatively new to the scene, but it had all the features I was looking for: plastic or leather (not velvet), subtle air vents and a removable/washable liner. As soon as I put it on, I was in love; this helmet fit me perfectly. (more…)