Fair Hill Part 2: Brainsplosion

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.

Rusticus and Will Coleman

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.

So, ya know… just a FEW things to look for here…

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.

Landmark’s Apollo and Lauren Kieffer, taking a little tour before they begin

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.


good luck reading that, but like yesterday my scores are the big ones and Marilyn’s are the small ones in parentheses. Usually everyone was fairly close.

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.

5yo TB Coffee and Donuts

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.


wheeeee I gallop now!

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!

28 thoughts on “Fair Hill Part 2: Brainsplosion

  1. uh yea wow that’s a lot of info haha. kinda glad we mere mortals don’t get judged on all that at our own events…. also. fun fact. despite dan chiding adult ammies for wanting ‘disney style’ connections with their horses, he’s basically totally smitten with that horse Stash (Galileo). it’s actually kind of adorable. hope they had a good showing!


      1. yea that sounds about right. i think dan imported him earlier this summer and took him to his first stateside event in july or august (which i believe he won)


  2. I know the girl that owns Coffee and Donuts! Thats so neat she’s on here 🙂 Dunkin is a cool horse.

    That is a TON of info to look at and think of, holy cow.


  3. That Coffee and Donuts horse is adorable.

    So, I got a little overwhelmed going through that comments sheet above … have “they” (don’t know who puts these things together) considered organizing it into categories, like desirable, undesirable, rider issue, horse issue, etc … because just listing a bunch of things with no organizing principle is perhaps less instructive than it could be. I see it’s obv more organized on the score sheets. Even so, what a freaking valuable experience! (I am in librarian mode already this morning, sorry.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those particular papers are meant to be a “suggested comments” sheet for the judges, to give them ideas of what to look for/say for each section. There’s also a “cheat sheet” which is where all my scores are written (keeping the horses side by side so you can keep track of your scores and score the horses in comparison with each other), and then the official score sheet.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ok…complete newbie question here, but what is the end goal of the YEH program? It sounds like such a fantastic thing for everyone involved – rides, horses and judges. Do the riders/owners take these comments and scores and help determine what the horse’s future in eventing will be? This sounds like such a great database to have for research purposes – do the scores reflected at these events at 4 and 5 yo actually reflect what the horse ends up doing later in life? Do those who don’t show well through the YEH end up getting rehomed in other careers or do they go on in eventing and show everyone up? Those with great results – do they continue to perfrom that way troughout their career? Ok…no more questions.


    1. The real end goal is finding horses that have potential for the 3* and 4* level. But, keep in mind, many of these horses will be sold before they ever get to that point. A nice, attractive, rideable young horse is very marketable, and most people don’t turn down a good offer. Most of them will likely end up with amateurs or juniors, or in the h/j ring. The road these horses take after the YEH really depends on the people that own it and ride it. But although the program is relatively new, it’s already produced some upper level horses.

      I think the implementation of the Turner-Holkamp grant (I’ll put the link to info at the bottom of this post) will really help to raise the quality of horse that is brought to the YEH competitions, and according to Marilyn Payne, it already has. Riders want that grant, and they want to find horses that are good enough to win it.

      It’s also important to remember that these scores are just one day in a horse’s life. Some won’t show well, or some will show exceptionally better than they normally are. Thus, some horses will not have scores reflecting their true potential, and that’s something that owners should keep in mind. They are green horses, after all. For the most part though, I think they will sort themselves out and the program will just keep getting better. Overall I was encouraged by what I saw and by the direction the program is taking.



    1. It was so neat. Highly recommend, if they do more of these! Whether you’re a breeder or not, or a rider or not, or have young horses or not… it’s really valuable information for any horse person.


  5. Man even if you aren’t planning to buy a baby event horse, this kind of education can only be helpful for anyone who is horse shopping. It’s easy to be blinded by square knees or a cute face. Being able to really see the whole picture and what it all means is super useful. I would love if they started something like this with the pre-green incentives or something.


  6. This write up was so fabulous! I heard from a West coast eventer that the YEH championships placings end up being a little unintentionally political — did you see any of that in the ending placings at all? Obviously with such top notch riders and horses it’s going to be a tough field no matter what!


    1. I saw a couple of things that raises my eyebrows… horses placing perhaps a bit higher than they should have. Nothing super major though… for the most part the horses ended up in a fair order. I do think the scores overall were generously high, for everyone.


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