Pammy Hutton: ‘Judges’ remarks can destroy confidence’ *H&H Plus*

  • In her exclusive H&H column, Pammy Hutton reflect on the importance of attention to detail, asks whether standardisation of judges’ comments would improve the sport and thanks those going to extra efforts to hold shows in these challenging times

    FIFTY years ago, and long before Bridget Jones, I opened a new diary and pencilled in my weight daily. It started when I rode an event horse for whom I had to be exactly the right weight; seven pounds over and he ran less well. Then I had to have the right equipment; soft yet strong boots, gloves that didn’t slip if it rained, immaculate tack, hairnet in place and, of course, no bling.

    Recently I’ve been reminded of the importance of attention to detail to achieve some success. Having dieted away eight pounds, ridden more without stirrups and straightened myself up as much as humanly possible, a win locally in a tiny grand prix might be little to crow about. But it was how I rode, how my horse tried, and the promise of more marks to be had, that was so satisfying.

    It was also the culmination of a battle between trying to ride better or giving up. And this small victory told me it’s definitely not time to quit just yet. Anyway, I have two lovely young mares for next year…

    Focus on causes, not symptoms

    AT 68, I’m not vying for Olympic selection. But I enjoy competing and it gives me an idea of how my horses are progressing, or not. And, in turn, that depends on the judge hitting the nail on the head in a positive way.

    The “to go or not to go” dilemma before a show makes me feel like a lamb to the slaughter, and reminds me of how terrifying it is to be judged. Will I forget my test? Will I get him on the bit? Don’t laugh, but a well-known judge commented my horse was “not on the bit.”

    Remarks such as “at your age” and “tried hard” may be the truth, but I find them hurtful. It was the latter that nearly made me quit, but I and no one else will decide if and when. Anyway, darn it, I still enjoy going out with my horses.

    Once upon a time, when I was 18, I attracted “will gain more marks when has a deeper seat.” In many ways, little has changed, with some judges, despite trying to be helpful, actually destroying confidence.

    Although criticism is useful, it should always be constructive. Currently, there’s talk of standardisation of remarks available for judges’ use. Let’s hope that doesn’t lead to a series of generic comments covering a multitude of sins.

    Take “needs to be more connected”. To what exactly? The saddle, the horse’s mouth, the horse’s sides via one’s legs – or the mobile in your pocket?

    The dreaded “tried hard” should definitely be excluded from ready-made phrases at judges’ disposal. We all try hard; the rider, the horses probably try even harder, and the trainer, parents, groom have all tried extremely hard, too.

    Friends who judge at high level tell me that comments should identify the cause and not the symptom. Too often, a remark at the lower levels sends a rider away to work at masking the symptoms rather than addressing the cause.

    Equally frustrating is inconsistency. When a pupil of mine got 68%, then 58% half an hour later, I watched the videos. Now I may not be the best judge in the world, however horse and rider did almost identical tests. So maybe, in some respects, we do need more standardisation?

    A big thank you

    AUGUST and September felt like a last hurrah as everyone rushed to shows to make up for lost time and opportunity. Indeed, British Dressage (BD) reported more starters – 22,000 horses going down the centre line – during those two months than in the same timeframe last year.

    Now, as we brace ourselves for more Covid restrictions, we must remember to thank those making this summer and autumn’s BD shows possible.

    Organisers and their teams have much more work to do to make shows safe and compliant.

    Maybe the various disciplines need a liaison officer to ensure unified advice is given to help us all abide by the rules as we enter the next difficult phase of the Covid crisis, tiers and all?

    H&H 29 October 2020


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