Katie Jerram-Hunnable: ‘We’re in a judging crisis’ *H&H Plus*


  • We’re desperately in need of new judges, warns Katie Jerram-Hunnable

    KEEPING everyone safe in the show ring has meant changes in the way classes are run. In some cases, this means riders warming up in the ring itself to avoid having to share small collecting rings – and I hope this change is here to stay, at least for novice horse classes. Being able to ride a young horse around the ring to acclimatise him to his surroundings is a win for everyone. Show horses must have good manners, but they aren’t police horses.

    While most judges make allowances for novice moments, this gives riders the chance to start from a level playing field. After all, showing is the only discipline where horses are expected to go into a strange environment and perform straight away. In dressage, you get the chance to ride around the outside of the arena before entering to ride your test and in showjumping, you have time to switch on your horse’s concentration and confidence before starting the course.

    Bigger shows have had start times for classes to avoid congestion on the showgrounds. Can we please keep this system, too? Knowing what time a class starts is a bonus, especially when competing young horses, because you don’t have to risk getting them out too early and their energy levels flagging.

    “No one can go on forever”

    NOVICE judges need as much support as novice horses. Last year, organisers of the few shows that went ahead could not have probationary judges in the ring and judges’ training days were also put on hold because of Covid-19. That means most societies have no new blood coming through.

    It was a problem before the pandemic – looking back, we columnists have often encouraged young showing enthusiasts to train as judges and stewards – but now it’s a crisis. Much as we value the experience and dedication of our senior judges, no one can go on forever!

    Ride judges are back in action for qualifying classes, but many shows are delaying their return for classes that are not qualifiers. I’ve always felt that ride judges have a vital role, because although a good judge can tell how a horse should ride from its conformation and way of going, nothing beats the actual experience.

    However, I think it’s a good idea that ride judging for novice classes should be put on hold for this season. With the best will in the world, none of us have had the chance to prepare young horses in the usual way, taking them to clinics and other events to try out the sights and sounds away from home.

    As a result, we’re throwing them in at the deep end, no matter how much we’ve tried to introduce them to new experiences. And that increases the risk for ride judges, no matter how experienced.

    If you’re entering classes that have a ride judge, how long is it since your horse has had someone other than you in the saddle? Don’t take it for granted that your horse will behave: as long as you can do it within the rules, find a competent test rider to remind him what it’s about.


    RIDERS are being sensible, well-behaved and mannerly, which I believe is partly due to us being allowed to ride in the ring before the class starts, and we’re all enjoying being out and about again. Even social media is staying on the sunny side. I’ve noticed that moans are rare and instead we’re seeing posts along the lines of, “My horse didn’t do as well as I hoped, but we did our best and I had a lovely day meeting up with friends.”

    Horses are going well and despite the surge in grass growth, most I’ve seen are in correct condition. Laminitis is a huge risk and it’s worth getting advice from your feed company or independent nutritionist about how to give essential nutrients without excess calories.

    This report can also be read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale date 24 June 2021

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