It’s amazing how quickly accidents can happen, and how things can turn from calm to chaos in a split second. This happened to me at the Doha CDI in March when my horse Rubins Nite (Squeaks) took fright and bolted while I was being interviewed. He had bad skin burns and swelling from where he fell on the rubber matting, but has now been given the all-clear to return to work.
I don’t want to relive it, but I can’t help wondering how we could have prevented it, and thinking what I would do without my top horse. You just never know what can happen with horses; you live and learn from episodes like this and thankfully we will dance again.
Having to take time off with him, especially at this time of year, has been very frustrating with European selection getting closer. But on the plus side, my lovely youngsters have had more of my time and focus. Being able to take them out competing and to other venues has really improved them. It’s all about trying to stay positive — it will be gutting to miss competing at Royal Windsor, but Sqeaks’ health and fitness are a priority.
An influential system
I found it interesting to compete at Doha without the degree of difficulty system that is now used on the World Cup circuit for the freestyle, in which this mark is calculated in advance of the test. I’ve created my freestyle to score 9.8 to 10 for difficulty, but despite no mistakes, it was only given seven and 7.5 in Doha.
It made me realise how much the degree of difficulty system has an influence — judges don’t have to give you the full score, but it gives them a guide as to what your floorplan is worth if performed correctly.
I also think seeing it written on a sheet in advance makes it easier to identify how difficult some of the movement combinations are. When they’re being ridden — and hopefully being made to look easy — the test might not always appear to be as hard as it actually is.
Grassroots riders are so important
Recently, a social media post has come to my attention in which a rider has reached out regarding a test sheet with negative judges’ comments that were rather more personal than constructive. It had made this particular rider feel depressed and that she didn’t want to compete, and it’s heartbreaking to hear of people feeling this way — grassroots riders are so important for our sport.
As a trainer, I try to give positive and constructive criticism, and although I appreciate judges have a tough job, some positivity wouldn’t go amiss in certain cases.
Saying that, on social media you also get people commenting who have never seen the rider or horse, let alone the test in question, and that doesn’t help a rider to progress either. I advise always videoing your tests where possible, and then discussing it with your trainer along with your sheet. Social media can be great, but it can also result in a lot of unhelpful advice and “judge bashing”, too.
A lot of riders aren’t confident enough to talk to the judge after the test, but we should encourage more communication. It would be great if judges could wait for a short time after a class, within reason, to speak to riders who would like feedback, and for riders to feel able to ask for it.
Ref Horse & Hound; 9 May 2019