Updated: Jul 18, 2021
Me aboard my jumper Molly Brown in a classic at WEF circa 2008
I wear a lot of hats at the farm: rider, coach, trainer, groom, stall cleaner and treat dispenser, among others. In the winter I have the privilege of being a student both online through the University of Guelph and on horseback at Oasis Show Stables in Wellington, Florida, and year round I'm an unabashed “horse nerd” and enthusiastic student of the sport. While there is much to be learned about horses from books and blogs and I have certainly done a lot of learning this way (especially over the past year), a side effect of the pandemic for equestrians has been the limited in-person learning opportunities available via lessons, attending clinics, or sitting ringside at the horse show.
Last month, I was starting to feel somewhat burnt out from the demands of running the farm in the absence of tangible events to look forward to like going to a horse show, hauling into Winnipeg for a lesson, or taking the horses off property to school. While a lot of people might find themselves in the reverse situation of heading to the barn to combat their burnout from all-day virtual meetings, when I got an email from the Manitoba Horse Council about an upcoming online jumper judging clinic, I decided to challenge my own feelings of monotony by changing up my routine and registering for the all-day course on zoom.
I have always had an interest in judging (just ask me how many times I’ve read Randy Roy’s books, or sat ringside with my students “pinning” a hack to compare our rankings to the judge’s) but a drawback of living somewhere remote is that a lot of conventional continuing education events are geographically out of reach. This is something I communicated at length to Equestrian Canada a few years ago when they announced their plans for a new coaching certification program, so I was happy to have an opportunity to participate in professional development from home (or in my case, from the office at my in-laws' house in town, since I can only dream of having the kind of internet connection that sustains an all day virtual meeting). Although my interest lies primarily in hunter judging, a jumper judging clinic seemed like a good way to get my foot in the door and explore my interest in becoming a licensed official in one capacity or another. “How hard can it be?” I thought. Having competed in the jumper ring for the first time more than fifteen years ago, I am embarrassed by the extent to which I underestimated the vast and complex responsibilities of the jumper judge. In fact, as a competitor I don’t know that it ever truly occurred to me that the jumper judge was an actual person watching every round and keeping score by hand. I have ridden many jumper rounds where I looked up at the scoreboard and saw that I had a clear round, a time fault or a rail down, but I suppose I naively assumed that the responsibility of tabulating my score was somehow within the jurisdiction of the jump crew, the in-gate person, or a computer.
My scorecard from judging a virtual class. As a competitor, I certainly underestimated the effort and detail that goes into judging each jumper round.
The clinic provided an excellent opportunity to refresh myself on the rulebook, which has been revised many times since I last competed for a full show season in 2010, and I gained a better understanding of the behind the scenes procedures involved in daily processes like determining the time allowed, establishing the order of go, enforcing regulations and resolving conflicts at the horse show.
It also gave me an occasion to confront my latent imposter syndrome, something that I suspect plagues most young professionals from time to time and definitely rose to the surface for me when I signed into the zoom meeting expecting to be joined by other horse enthusiasts with a casual interest in judging and instead found myself virtually face to face with well-established officials from all across Canada who were taking the course as a means of maintaining their certification as senior licensed officials.
The clinic was led by Manitoba’s resident Senior Jumper Judge and recorded Hunter, Hack and Equitation Judge (another person wearing a lot of hats) and the format was so cohesive and easy to follow that I never would have guessed it was the first time running the program online. In addition to the presentation, which featured an FEI licensed official as a guest speaker, the clinic included a virtual class to judge via video on a proper scorecard and a series of case studies that allowed us to collaborate with other participants and flex our good judgment and knowledge of the rules. A self-proclaimed “rules person”, I greatly enjoyed delving into rulebook in further detail than I am accustomed to, and would highly recommend the clinic to anyone participating in hunter/jumper sports as a coach, rider, or spectator.
I’m a lifelong academic keener/overachiever so perhaps the most thrilling part of the clinic was the twenty-question exam I got to complete and submit after the clinic -- stay tuned for the results of the exam to find out if I truly have a future in horse show judging!