“You only have one chance to make a good first impression” is just as important going into the show ring as it is going into a professional job interview. Remember in the hunter ring the horse is being judged from the time it enters the ring to the time it exits the ring. Although a young horse may have a little more leeway in a Baby Green class than a Working Hunter, the judging begins as soon as the horse steps into the ring.
With that in mind, the judge can usually size up the competition before the first jump is completed. These are some red flags that will take marks away from the performance.
- Horses misbehaving – bucking, rearing, shying, bolting or general ‘nappiness’ near the in-gate will detract from the performance and will mark you down.
- Picking up the incorrect lead on prep circle – When approaching the first jump, make sure that the correct lead is obtained. Picking up the wrong lead will drop the performance way down.
- Not being prepared – Some competitors come into the ring and then realize that they have not memorized the course. This leads to much discussion of ‘single, toward home, outside, diagonal in 6, side, side diagonal”. Please… do everyone a favor… know your course before getting into the ring.
- Unnecessary preparation circle – This is unnecessary if the jump is coming toward home and riders have to make a complete circuit of the ring to get to the first fence. Be ‘on task’ when entering the ring and go promptly to the first fence. If the first fence is near the in-gate going ‘away’ then a circle may be necessary. Help keep the show on schedule and be prepared to go promptly to the first jump.
- Horse not ‘turned out’ – A clean shiny horse, sparkling tack and well attired rider makes for a good first impression. Horses that are not braided or poorly braided and horse coat with sweat stains on it tarnish the rest of the horse’s performance. If it is warm out and the horse sweats then between classes sponge off the horse with some fresh water and liniment. It will make the horse refreshed and give his coat a chance to release some of the sweat.
- Rider not ‘turned out’ – The rider’s appearance should match the horse’s turnout. It looks out of place if the horse is sparkling clean and the rider is not turned out nicely. This includes neat hair and hair net if necessary, gloves, properly fitted clean boots (not too short/tall), gloves, shirt (long sleeved if jackets are excused in hot weather) and helmet that fits correctly.
- Dirty Tack – Clean tack and shiny bits and buckles all add to a superior performance. Dull tack and grass stained bits detract from the overall appearance of the performance.
- Wrong tack or inappropriate tack – There is nothing in the rules that says kimberwicks are not allowed; they are a red flag that maybe the horse is a bit too strong.
- Not being prompt to the first fence – This is something beyond the preparation circle. This is the rider that walks in, on a loose rein walks the horse aimlessly around casually showing jumps to the horse. I agree that some horses require a bit more time to settle in the ring but have a plan and if possible do that in the warm up round of the program. This will help keep the show on schedule.
These are a few of the things that judges look for even before the competitor has completed the first fence. Keep these things in mind before entering the show ring.