The gate opened and in came the first horse/rider combination. The horse was a post-prime Arabian, trotting quickly with her nose out. She was groomed to a shine, with a braid in her mane already beginning to fray. The rider was a tiny girl in jeans, rubber tall-boots and a scuffed helmet. I think she was wearing her very best school sweater.
I had been enlisted to judge a year-end show at a friend’s barn. Nothing too elite here, the riders in her program were thrilled to ride lesson horses.
The rest of the class entered, similar riders on similar horses and I went to work. At first glance you could think these riders were kind of pathetically cute- compared to the real horse show world.
But the air was tense, and these riders were very serious. They sat tall and centered in their saddles with heels down and focus up. They deserved my full attention, and if I made any of these girls cry, I would have to kill myself.
Disclaimer: I’m not a judge. I do use my perception to train and I believe that judgment is an art. I was always taught that it was a cheap shot (and the lowest measure of intellect) to look for faults, especially from a seat in the stands. Identifying failure is easy, but that means rating mistakes to eventually reward the least bad ride. Instead, I was taught, “Look for what you like.” Affirming moments of brilliance takes the adversarial edge out of judgment.
We all worked hard, and by mid-afternoon, we were all exhausted, especially a certain chestnut horse who had been shared by two riders. He was just done; now he resisted every cue and tossed in a few bucks for spice. His rider held her position, and soldiered on, red faced with effort and embarrassment. It was a really rough ride- the kind that builds more character than ego. And I had to pin them last.
I caught this rider’s eye as she rode out of the arena. She stopped, still sitting tall. I congratulated her on the best ride of the day and for the first time, big tears fell. (Just kill me.) But I watched her ride out and by the time she got to her mother, she was smiling and chattering. She bounced off, and hugged her horse.
Lots of folks hate competition and it’s complicated to explain why I value it so much, but some of it involves little girls crying.
Anna Blake, www.AnnaBlakeTraining.com