Jun 27, 2016

A Day in the Life of a Judge: The One-Day

5:45am -- Alarm goes off.  Not too bad for a show day.  Try not to wake the kids as I get dressed, make a cup of tea in a to-go mug, and throw my big duffel bag with everything in it from sunscreen to hand warmers to galoshes into the car, along with four different jackets.   You never know what to expect.  Rule #1 of Judging: Be prepared for any kind of weather.

7:20am -- Stop at Starbucks.  Buy breakfast and a smattering of snacks for the day.  Rule #2 of Judging: Always bring food!

7:40am -- Arrive at show.  Check in at show office.  Say hi to USEF steward and catch up with other judges.  Get clipboard and walkie-talkie.  Judging the jumper and eq ring.  Drive car out to the ring--going to judge from my car because of cold and predicted rain.  Note location of nearest porta-potti.  Rule #3 of Judging: Always know where your bathroom is.

7:50am -- Set up card, learn course for first class, get stop watch ready.  Make sure walkie-talkie is working and I'm on the right channel.  Course designer comes to say hello and check in.  Also say hi to in-gate crew.

8:00am -- First horse on course.  Love it when a show starts on time!

9:00am -- Quick bathroom break between puddle and training jumpers.

10:10am -- Ring on hold.  Read People Magazine while waiting for last of children's jumpers.  Rule #4 of Judging: Always bring reading material!

10:30am -- Ring drag and course change before eq starts.  Go to the bathroom even though I don't have to go.  Rule #5 of Judging: Always take an opportunity to go to the bathroom.

12:10pm -- Rain starts in earnest.  Very glad I'm not riding!  Opening MHJ and MHC Medals to speed up the day.  MHC Mini Medal is going at the same time in the other ring so make sure not to grab those numbers by mistake when announced over the radio.

Glad I'm in here and not out there!

12:30pm -- Lunch arrives.  Yum!  It cracks me up when my non-horse friends ask if I get a lunch break when I judge.  No, I just eat fast!

1:10pm-- USHJA Jumping Seat Medal, M&S Jr/Am horsemanship and M&S Junior Medals don't fill.  On to the Washington.  Need to pee but now going to wait till after the Washington.

1:22pm -- Really have to pee now.  Ring empty but if I make a run for it the horse schooling will undoubtably rush up to the in-gate.  Make up my test for the Medal.

2:10pm -- Somehow the Medal started right away and I didn't get a chance to go to the bathroom.  Now it's really urgent.  Hold it and judge.

3:05pm -- Pin the Medal and rush to the bathroom.  Relief!  Settle in for the Maclay.

4:20pm -- Show's over.  Early day!  Empty car of discarded wrappers and napkins.  Bring clipboard and last remaining cards up to the office.  Climb in the car to head home!

Kim Ablon Whitney is an 'R' judge in hunters, equitation, and jumpers.

Jun 15, 2016

The 3 Things That Go All Wrong in a Jog

by Kim Ablon Whitney

You've ridden the courses--seemingly the hard part.  The numbers are called and it's time to jog your horse in for soundness.  How does it all go wrong?

1. You can't get your horse to jog.  The rider is clucking, pulling the reins, and looking pleadingly at her horse.  The trainer and other helpful bystanders are flapping their arms at the in-gate.  Still, he won't budge.  Practice at home so your horse knows what's expected of him.

2. You stop jogging halfway into the ring.  What happens next resembles a multi-car pileup on the highway.  Horses risk getting kicked, the judges don't get to see all the horses jog, and the whole thing needs to be done all over again.  Keep going... and then keep going some more.

Photo by Sassy Strides Photography.

4.  You forget to listen to the jog order.  Wait, did I get called third or fifth?   After asking the patient in-gate guy five times when you were called, you jog in where you think you were and figure the judge will sort it out, which causes an unnecessary hold-up.  Next time count where you are in the order and also try to remember who jogs in front of you.

Jun 1, 2016

The Real Horses of a Lifetime

by Kim Ablon Whitney

When some riders talk about a horse of a lifetime, they're talking about a horse that they rode at the most prestigious horse shows to big wins.  With these horses, they won coolers, had their names engraved on trophies, and saw their photographs on the pages of The Chronicle.

But what about the rest of us?  We've had horses of a lifetime too.  They just aren't horses whose names people remember for years to come.  Well, we remember their names.  We always will, because they taught us important lessons about horses--and life--we otherwise might not have learned.

They are:

The horse that never worked out.  He seemed perfect when your trainer matched you with him.  You could envision how far he'd take you.  But for some reason you could never figure out how to ride him.  In the end, he brought only disappointment and eventually you had to part ways.  You learned that partnerships can't be forced.  

The horse that wasn't fancy or careful enough.  He was straightforward and solid and you nearly always put in a good trip on him.  But he just wasn't fancy enough to win the biggest hunter classes, or in the jumpers he always had that one careless rail.  Sometimes it was hard to put in a perfect trip and still finish out of the ribbons.  You learned to care more about how you rode, than what place you got.

The horse that was never sound enough.  He had everything needed to win.  Movement, scope, attitude.  But it was one thing after another and no matter what treatments and training regimen you tried--and you tried everything--he just wouldn't stay sound enough to achieve all those dreams you had in mind for him.  You learned that talent doesn't matter if a horse isn't healthy.

The horse that killed your confidence.  He was a nice horse, when he wasn't spooking or stopping.  Sometimes he'd win for you, then, bang; he'd stop dirty, leaving you in a pile of rails.  You began to doubt your ability as a rider and soon you didn't know who was more worried about a spooky-looking jump, you or your horse.  You learned to be a little less trusting, and to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep on going.

The horse that was too easy.  He was so perfect, it felt like you were just along for the ride.  You didn't have to ask him to swap leads or work to keep him straight down a line.  He was on auto-pilot.  It was fun for the first few shows but then you found yourself getting bored and feeling like he had won the ribbons, not you.  You learned that you like a bit of a challenge or else it doesn't feel like a sport.

The horse who fought you.  You wanted a hunter and thought you'd bought yourself a nice green one that you could bring along.  Only he turned out to be too high-strung for the hunters.  You thought about selling him but you liked him too much.  So you switched rings just for him.  And he loved it although he still wanted to go his way.  After trying to make him do it your way, you decided you needed to be a little flexible to make this work.  You learned that sometimes you have to meet a horse halfway.

The horse you never could let go of.  You didn't mean to keep him forever.  There was a time when you should have sold him.  But for some reason you didn't, and then you'd had him for ten or fifteen or twenty years.  You leased him out but he always came back to you.  He became family and now you're spending more for his retirement than you do on your own groceries.  And it's worth every penny.  You learned that a horse of a lifetime can have many different meanings.

Kim Ablon Whitney has had many different horses of a lifetime, including the one that she had for twenty years.