A clinic for horse show judges took place Feb. 12-13 during a break in the competition at the HITS Tucson hunter and jumper show in Arizona. The clinic, which is part of required continuing education for “carded” judges, included classroom testing, discussion forums led by esteemed officials and observance of a mock horse show, where attendees compared their notes and scorecards with a panel of senior judges.
One of the most interesting discussions revolved around a move to allow more lenient judging of downed rails in equitation over fences and medal classes. Rather than the old standard of awarding an automatic score of 50-60 points for a round with only one dropped rail, the consensus was that perhaps the scoring should be more holistic. What should be important is whether the dropped rail was the fault of a poor approach to the jump on the rider’s part, or merely bad luck on the part of the horse’s style. While it won’t necessarily become a hard and fast rule, judges were encouraged to take a different approach in their scoring. Rather than focusing on the dropped rail, judges are now to score the round as if the knockdown didn’t occur. However, they are to then deduct 4 points from the overall score.
Sound confusing? Here’s a hypothetical situation: A medal class rider is having a nice go until she grabs the reins at the base of a jump and forces her horse to chip and pull a rail. The poor approach itself would garner a low score. However, now 4 more points come off her score due to the dropped rail. Conversely, if another medal class rider was enjoying an otherwise stellar performance, yet her horse was a bit sloppy and pulled a rail, she would still receive a high score, but 4 points would still be deducted for the dropped rail. This rider could still conceivably win the medal class because her overall round was better than her competitors.
However, don’t assume that a flurry of dropped rails will still get you a medal win. A succession of 4-point deductions can add up quickly. It’s just nice to know that you might still be a prize winner in medal and equitation events if you put in a great round, but have a bit of bad luck at one fence.