Opinion

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My focus of the month is the safety of our ride judges. We have all been guilty of “back-seat judging” and giving our opinion outside the ring as to how a certain horse should be ridden.

Ride judges have very limited time to assess how best to ride that animal. Believe me, it isn’t an easy task and the last thing you want is to make a fool of yourself or get hurt. It’s easy when sat outside the ring to say, “That horse needs a kick,” or, “Get your reins more,” but the ride judge doesn’t know that horse’s temperament and they are not there to school it.

Obviously, allowances and more assistance are needed for the novice rides. The best ride judges give clear messages and ride forward and confidently. We’ve got some brilliant ride judges who seem to get a tune out of most horses, but they can be taken advantage of by people bringing horses forward that are not prepared or simply naughty.

As a competitor you have to ask yourself: “Is this animal safe?” If it is not going well enough for you in the warm-up or the go-round, it needs to come out of the ring. It isn’t acceptable to put a ride judge at risk.

It’s also infuriating to hear spectator comments in jest saying, “I can’t wait to see the judge ride this,” or, “This is entertaining.” These people clearly don’t have a conscience.

Problems at smaller shows

It is ultimately the steward’s job to control the ring. A good steward sees what’s going on behind the judge and should inform them of any dangerous behaviour and then dismiss them after the judges say so if it continues.

At large and championship shows we have teams of highly trained stewards who are well prepped and have pre-meetings to discuss safety issues. The problem occurs at smaller shows, where stewards are quite often volunteers with no prior experience.

I think the steward’s job is highly underestimated — they’re not just there to hold a clipboard and shout, “Trot on”. Well-known steward Phillip Judge is very passionate about the training of stewards and advises shows to give as much attention to them as they do the judges. Most shows look after their judges and stewards very well, but it is little wonder sometimes why there is a shortage of volunteers.

My solution to this? Perhaps, sadly, it’s time for a yellow and red card system for repeat offenders. This would have to be discussed, though, with the disciplinary committees of the societies and the judge involved.

It’s not always an offence if the judge has a fall. There have been occasions where ride judges have hit the deck through a non-malicious spook due to a stray balloon or an untimely umbrella going up in the crowd. Each case would have to be carefully assessed.

Perhaps, if a red card were to be issued, a timed ban would ensue and then, on its potential return to the ring, it would be monitored.

Ref Horse & Hound; 30 August 2018