Saturday, 13 December 2014

Judging horses – stick to the score!

Attending the AQHA judges conference in Dallas – felt like being part of a large orchestra. One of 300 judges, tuning up to be on key with the standard, and in sync with one another. So many experienced, talented horseman,  yet personal preference, interpretation and bias were to be laid aside – a reminder to stick to the music score, without improvising.

We watched video after video dissecting technical faults, penalties… and excellence. We hit the controversial issues head on – everyone heard the same message, reading off the same sheet music.

We were reminded that it’s the judges who are largely responsible for perpetuating certain trends and training techniques that have become distasteful to the general public.

And for the first time in AQHA history, judges were tested to recertify.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

A Horse Show Judge’s Perspective

We’ve all heard it – it’s the attention to details that makes a winner. So over the next few columns, can I share some of the details I see overlooked as I walk across the show grounds or sit in the judge’s booth?

Gotta say, most of these are training oversights. And believe me, years ago I’d have been the first one to ask “Why does it matter?” But I’ve come to learn that every signal I give to my horse means something and requires a response. And with every cue I’m unaware of or don’t follow through on, I’m untraining my horse – yikes!

And it all adds up-every run out at a jump, buck in a flat class, or bulge to the in-gate can be dissected apart to individual cues that the horse didn’t heed.

Mounting manners. Why do we let our horses walk away or wiggle around while we’re climbing aboard? (To be honest, this is a problem I rarely see in the stock horse, western oriented competitors – I tip my hat to them – it’s my observation these competitors just expect more from their horses).

Really, if my horse walks through my hands, backs away from the mounting block or swings his hip into my outside leg, isn’t he more likely to do that inside the ring?

Next post, I’ll offer some tips from an article I wrote on mounting block manners.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Rider Rest: The Night Before the Horse Show

Humans are designed to thrive in a cycle of stress/challenge and recovery/rest. Tomorrows horse show takes care of the stress, but what really counts as R&R to perform at your best?

Is it:
  • Kicking back at the exhibitor party the night before?
  • Braiding, grooming, bathing at the stable with your horse and barn buddies?
  • Staring at the ceiling in the motel for 3 hours, thinking about your classes

Rest can be defined in a variety of ways (leisure, sleep, physical relaxation, etc.) but we will define it here as time you are not thinking about riding or physically exerting effort (or holding tension in your body in any way). So how can you rest when you need it most? Experiment with the following to find the best combinations for you.

Physical Rest

You may not be able to sleep, but these things are the next best thing:
  • a hot shower or bath, 
  • lying down with your feet elevated, 
  • slowly doing range of motion exercises, 
  • gentle stretching etc.

Mental Rest

Taking a true break from thinking about the show, or anything horse related for that matter, is like a trip to the Bahamas for your brain. Spend some down time reading a book or magazine, watching a feel-good movie, doing a cross word, listening to music- anything that is enjoyable and low stress. I like to take a walk before retiring for the evening.

Relaxation Techniques

So you want to relax but you just can't seem to do it. Now what? These can help: long, slow breaths with a focus on exhaling for longer than you inhaled; tensing and then completely releasing all of your major muscle groups, particularly areas where you tend to be tight; or creating mental and physical relaxation by imagining you are on a beach in Hawaii (or some place you associate with resting, relaxing and being at peace).

Tonya Johnston, author and sports psychology consultant, offers these additional tips:

Preparatory Visualization

Realistically, you are going to spend some time thinking about the horse show. It's best if you can harness that time and make it truly productive. When you vividly imagine yourself riding successfully in the show ring, you are in effect teaching your body how to respond to the challenges you will face in competition.

By drawing out some courses for yourself the night before the show you can visit the environment you will be riding in the next day. Keep this brief, ten to fifteen minutes at the most. It is ideal if you have shown at the venue before, or if you have at least been at the show grounds and know the ring you will be in so that you can create a specific and accurate image. If you are at a multi-day show, use some time at night to revisit the best parts of your rides that day to strengthen the aspects of your performance that you want to repeat. (Be disciplined about focusing on your successes and imagining solutions to the things you would have liked to do differently.)


1. Plan ahead: Be realistic about your timing for dinner (yes, be sure to eat dinner!), eating at a reasonable hour can greatly impact your ability to fall asleep and to get going in the morning.

2. Bring healthy snacks from home: Have things on hand that you can use to fill in that last pang of hunger before you go to bed (a candy bar from the vending machine is less than ideal!).

3. Drink water: Staying away from caffeine and sugared beverages at night is hopefully something that has already become of your regular routine before you show. If not, consider changing your habits as you will see a real difference your capacity to settle, calm your mind and get your body into a relaxed state.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Riding on Auto Pilot

Sports psychologist Inga Wolframm conducted a study of 73 U.S. show jumpers and riders.

Upon evaluating gender, competition level, years’ experience, and mental skill, Wolframm found there was a significant difference in automaticity (essentially, the ability to do something without consciously thinking about it) between top-level and amateur riders. She also observed a significant difference in negative thinking between male and female riders: Women tended to think more negatively than men.

Ultimately, Wolframm concluded that the longer you participate in a sport, the better you become at using mental skill. "Your body simply reacts without thinking about it," she explained. "This is important because of how quickly a horse reacts. The better you are, the more automated your skills."

Isn’t that what wisdom is?

A wise rider has ridden enough horses, in enough venues, in enough conditions that they have a “never mind, carry on” default to any interruption.

In life, we all have our automatic responses –defaults. We think, speak and act without planning to.

· Honestly recognizing our counter-productive knee jerk responses

· Interrupting those defaults

· Gradually changing those negative auto pilot patterns into positive ones

“For I know what they are inclined to do even today”… God speaking in the Bible, 
Deuteronomy 31:21