If I was feeling brain dead after all that dressage and conformation stuff on Day 1, my brain had pretty much completely exploded by the end of the jumping phases on Day 2.
In a lot of ways, day 2 was obviously a lot more interesting. Watching horses gallop and jump beats the heck out of endless dressage any day. But on dressage day we were looking for moments of brilliance, whereas on jumping day we had to a) take every single step into account b) figure out what all of it meant to the bigger picture. If a horse had one ugly jump – why was it ugly? If the horse looked underpowered sometimes, was it truly weak or was it because of how it was ridden? If the horse made a mistake, did it learn from it and improve? And so on, and so on. Judging the show jumping and xc were a lot more complicated, really.
At the YEH competitions the riders get a little bit of time before the whistle is blown to trot the horse around, look at the fences, or pass through the water. They aren’t allowed to jump anything, but they’re given a minute or so to let the horse look around and become comfortable in the setting. The course itself was pretty straightforward. The way the jumping portion works is more like a derby format… there is a short showjumping course (in our case it was 6 fences) then the horse proceeds to a short XC course. After completion of the last fence the horse is galloped at speed to the finish so that the open gallop can be judged.
The XC course was, IMO, an appropriate championship level course for these age groups. The 4yo course was very straightforward but asked enough questions to get an idea of the horse’s rideability. The 5yo course (click here for video of one of the 5yo’s competing) was more complicated but still appropriate. The route through the second water was definitely the toughest question on the 5yo course and caught a few horses and riders out. It was a true test of the horse’s bravery, attitude, and desire to keep going forward. A few didn’t want to play, and several of them jumped it quite greenly, but the vast majority jumped it without hesitation none-the-less. This question really helped separate some horses that were otherwise quite close in score.
The scoring for the jumping section of the YEH test is quite important, as it makes up 50% of the final score. The jumping ability, rideability, and general impression scores get a x 2 emphasis as well. A good, safe jumper that is willing and able to do the job is what they’re really looking for. A horse is not necessarily penalized for a refusal or a rail… it depends on why it happened, and what happens afterwards. Did the horse learn from it’s mistakes and get better as it went, or did it continue to pull rails, jump poorly, and be backed off the rider’s aids? That’s where having a good eye and good judgment really came into play.
Overall I thought that the majority of the horses were well-ridden and well-presented. There were a couple who looked perhaps a little bit overfaced here and there, and sometimes there was a rider who would not really allow the horse to gallop between the fences or keep coming forward to jump out of stride… all of those things had a negative impact on the score. For the most part though, the horses visibly gained confidence as they went around and looked quite pleased with themselves at the finish.
One 4yo in particular was presented in a leverage bit and was ever really allowed to come forward, and subsequently it did not have a very good round or get a very good score. While there currently is not a rule requiring snaffles for the YEH competitions (wouldn’t be surprised to see one coming) it definitely weighed on the scores to see the horse presented in such a manner. Good to know: the judges really DO NOT want to see that.
I paid particularly close attention to the 4yo that Phillip Dutton was riding, Miks Master C, since he’s by the same sire as my upcoming 2017 foal. I was happy to see a well developed young horse that looked very rideable and willing, albeit a bit unimpressed with his simple little fences.
Unimpressed horses was really the most challenging part of the practice judging. I know everyone worries about these young horses being rushed, but for horses with this level of natural talent and riders with this much experience, these jumps are quite small and easy. Some of the particularly more unimpressed horses just looked a bit bored and left you thinking “Man, he really looks like he needs a bigger fence.”. Obviously that isn’t an option here due to age, but it made it more challenging to judge those types. You were pretty sure there was a lot more talent and jump lurking in the horse than what they were showing you, but it was tough to really know that for sure when they were just loping over them nonchalantly.
It was a long day, but again I left feeling like the education I gained here was priceless. Even if I choose not to send my horse through the YEH program (I will let the horse decide if it’s ready for that when the time comes) I really got a lot of insight into exactly what they’re looking for, and was able to hone my eye for spotting talent in a young horse. Judging these horses is a tough job, but it was an honor to get to sit there with someone like Marilyn and bounce thoughts and ideas around. I think USEA has a really good thing going here, and I’m interested to see how the YEH program continues to develop. Maybe we’ll be there with a horse someday!