Saddlebreds: Judging Mini Rail and Tests
© 2005- Kevin Eltringham's own opinion
An Incredibly Useful Horse Article written by Kevin Eltringham, a well-known and successful
trainer of Saddlebreds and their riders.
||This is just to help and to try and get better uniformity among judges as we are getting a lot of criticism. This article is not to tell anybody how a rider should sit because that has been covered in the judge's exam. Maybe it would be a good thing that there should also be a segment on tests, theory and practical.
The ideal is to do a perfect test with impulsion and extreme collection, flexing both ways, and virtually no aids visible to the judges. If it is done in this manner don't say the rider is riding a machine, because the rider makes it look so easy this is the ultimate and what we are all working for, so never show your ignorance by making such a statement.
To me a gag snaffle in an equitation class is a training aid and should not be allowed. Offset stirrups or offset inserts are also training aids. An extra piece of leather under the riders boot to stop the stirrup from sliding should also be banned in equitation. If a horse has a nerve cord on, the trainer should be fined and the horse disqualified from competing even if he is on the team.
Voice aids are fine if not abused, nothing looks worse than a rider clucking every step and their face all distorted. Some riders are talking so loud saying "up boy, steady boy" that you can hear it a mile away, forgetting that a horse has a much better sense of hearing and the rider's and horse's heads are close together. It also keeps the horse's ears turned back listening to the rider. In equitation the ultimate is to give aids so that you can hardly see. Surely somebody talking should not get the same points as the rider who does it quietly and with class.
I think you should judge each segment separately and after the class your steward can add them up. The reason I say this is because if a rider has a bad canter you can score him low and it does not have such a negative effect on the rest of rail work if the rest is good. If you wait till the end and then give him a point, that negative point always overrides all his good points, it is proved by everybody always saying what mistakes the horses had that were placed in front of you.
Points should be given for a rider that picks up his correct diagonal on the first step, even though the rider that changes straight away is not wrong. Surely the one that has practiced for hours and can do it right must get credit. The same goes for the rider that takes his canter on the straight and asks to canter without turning to a 45-degree angle; neither is wrong but gives the first rider credit.
Don't give a rider credit for riding a badly mannered or badly trained horse, that rider must go and school his horse at home. Don't let them bluff you into thinking they are riding the horse, the ultimate is to ride a horse with lots of collection and controllable impulsion, your speed should stay constant. If a horse jumps into or if he takes a step backwards before cantering, deduct points or give the one who does it perfectly credit although neither is a major mistake. That is why you have a mini rail so that you can see the changes of gaits.
If a horse gets a fright and the rider handles that well then give him credit but not for one that jumps into the middle or goes sideways because then the pressure is usually too much for him. He is either one sided or the rider is hurting his mouth and he knows the rider will release pressure on one or both sides of his mouth. The same if a rider stops and the horse steps back - that means the rider took too long to release the pressure in his mouth. Deduct points for these mistakes and give credit to the ones that do it right.
A good test is one that incorporates straight lines as well as curves against and off the rail. Stops and walks are also very important because this shows control. All the riders should be able to do the test, they must be judged on how well they do it.
It just as important that the judge walks the test to pace off the different points. Don't just use the first rider as an indication where the points are, what if his are all wrong? The riders walk the test at least three or four times after learning it - the least the judge can do is to be prepared. It shows when the first rider does his test and he and the judge are trying to keep out of each other's way. How is he supposed to do a decent test? Where a test asks for a stop, your points list should say 5 points, all your other sections should be out of 10 or 20 because you are taught to work out percentages in school. You know 70% of 10 is 7 and times two is out of twenty. If you can tell me quickly what it is out of 25 the one-minute and the next segment is out of 30 then you are a genius and you should not be judging horse shows. Also if a it is out of 5 then 70% of five is three and a half - you work with something which is not easy and practical. Try and keep it simple, so everybody has a fair chance, including your fellow judges.
If the judge's sheet gives points for more than one aspect, eg. Incorrect canter lead and stop, you as the judge surely can't give someone a zero if they cross or take the incorrect lead and do a perfect stop. What about the other factors that should come into play such as the stop rider's seat, horse's collection etc. If the rider does a perfect test and has a poor seat or poor transitions they can't expect the same points.
If there are points given for horsemanship is it fair to give higher points for someone riding a difficult horse? It takes better horsemanship to ride a horse collected and to the best of both's ability than one that is badly trained and doing all the other things wrong as stated in this article.
When trotting, your speed must remain constant, especially when doing circles. When starting to trot a circle, let's say to the left, the horse's head must face slightly left otherwise it takes a few paces before you turn. This is true especially if you don't start the first step on the correct diagonal - then it is not a perfect circle.
If you don't pick up your diagonal on the first step you have already completed a quarter of the circle, the rider must score lower points.
If the horse does not cross over on the starting point that shows the rider is not using his legs.
If the horse is not tracking properly or going around the circle with his head cocked to the outside that is an indication of a rider not using his legs and he must lose points. There is a misconception that a rider must not touch the horse with his calves otherwise he is riding standard seat which is absolute nonsense. Your legs are your first aid used for impulsion and used in conjunction with your hands to turn a horse.
The horse must also stop on the exact point where it started and not do three quarters and then start slowing down too soon, expecting to stop. That shows lack of impulsion and pre-empting a stop so the rider must be penalised.
When a rider asks for a stop and he kicks his feet foreword or stands in the saddle before stopping, these are bad mistakes because the correct way to stop is to sit deeply in the saddle and then pull lightly on both reins, as he stops you release pressure on the reins otherwise he will step back, pull the reins out of your hands and flip his head. If a horse does any of these, then points must be deducted. A horse must stop dead and must stand squarely on all four feet with his head set for three seconds. Some riders don't stop at all or cannot stop; they must get nil points. You cannot say that he tried so we will give him 2 out of 5 that will mean he gets 40% for not stopping! Remember all the riders should be able to do the test. You judge how he does it and should not give points for not getting it right.
A horse starts cantering with his hind leg so if he crosses it is the rider's mistake for not preparing the horse properly - deduct points. If a rider cross canters without realising it, that is a major mistake. If they take the correct lead and stop because they thought they were wrong before taking the correct lead that is also a big mistake. Remember don't give a rider credit for doing it wrong as he should do it correct, it is how it is done that decides the points he is going to get.
If a canter on a straight line is asked on the left lead, then the horse should stop dead, the aid given, wait two seconds for the horse to adjust his weight behind, then step into a canter on the first step with collection from step one and in a straight line tracking straight. If he steps over and stands at an angle, deduct a point because the one that does it right must get credit even though they both took the correct lead. Remember if he is standing at an angle the first part of his line will have a loop on it and he would not track properly. We are judging horses, not crabs. If he jumps into the canter or canters at an angle then these are mistakes.
If you asked for a circle to the left and the rider turns the horses head to the right to make him shift his weight and step over and then canter, firstly his hind quarters are in the circle and his head is outside the circle and only his front legs are right so he is going to make a V shaped piece on the beginning of the circle which is all the rider's fault and is a major mistake. Also a horse that takes a step backwards or jumps into a canter is the rider's fault. If he just gave the aids correctly and waited till the horse was ready, not throwing the reins away and kicking the horse into a canter, this would not have happened.
Back and turns
When asking for a back, the horse must be flexed and then take one step back leading with one back leg then wait for the next command to take another step leading with the other leg then back again, then walk three steps forward keeping in a straight line and stopping.
You often see riders making a horse back by turning his head from side to side - this normally makes the horse step to the side, and not straight back. Remember if a rider turns a horses head left while standing his hindquarters always move in the opposite direction. The horse will also move to the side if he is one sided or the rider does not use his legs. Some horses back, leading only with the one back leg. If the rider does not have the horse collected and he pushes his neck out and runs back it is also wrong. All these are mistakes and must be penalised in varying degrees.
When a turn is asked give credit for those doing a turn on the forehand, which means the horse pivots around his front legs, or a turn on the hind, when he pivots around his hind legs. These turns require good hand leg coordination and are difficult to do. Why give the rider full marks if he just turns the horse's head to one side forcing him to step over, more often than not stepping on himself or stepping past the centre line?
More common mistakes
When a horse is backing out of the bridle, and refusing to take a gait immediately. This you see a lot of when asking for a slow gait. You also see it when asking for a walk and the horse stops or drifts sideways towards the middle.
Horses flipping their heads. This is a sure sign of a horse not being mouthed properly or the rider hanging on the bridle.
Horse not setting means that the horse is not collected. It can be a bad mouth or if a horse's front feet or legs are sore.
Horses flopping a front leg can be caused by lameness, being shod wrong or hitting his elbow. More often than not, it is caused by the rider holding his head skewed or lack of collection.
Lame horses are out. Why do people think that because it is an equitation class it is acceptable to show lame horses? Pull them in and let the rider have another chance on a sound horse. It is cruel to allow a lame horse to carry on riding. What about the public and the SPCA?
A horse pulling the reins out of the rider's hands when he stops.
Remember it is not the judge's job to diagnose a problem, but if he sees it he must discriminate by taking points off.
All the above counts for the gaited horse as well. One of the most common mistakes in these classes are that some of these riders trot at a speed slower than in a three gaited class with little or no collection and nobody is penalising them, after all it is a gaited class. I know some of these horses are older than the riders but that is not the judge's problem. Just because he is old does not mean he must not be collected. Another problem is the horses that are hopping behind. Discriminate because it is usually the rider's fault. If the horse is lame, or one sided, he should not be there in the first place, so don't feel sorry or give him credit for riding a lame or badly trained horse.
If a horse is a bit pacey it effects the rider's seat and leg position so he will lose some points. I don't think he should get a zero because he is not doing one of his gaits. If you are going to be tough on them be consistent and discriminate on the horse that is soft trotting too. (Horses not doing a two beat trot).
When in the test and asked to do a slow gait, the speed should be constant and you should see the difference when they rack, if not, deduct points.
The combination of horse and rider should be that they create the illusion of a perfect combination without seeing any extreme aids and the horse balanced and being in unison with each other.
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