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Whoa Podcast About Horses Horsemanship

Nov 12, 2019

Teach Judge Compete with Your Horse


It’s been an interesting couple of months for me.  In 8 weeks I’ve taught some horse owners basic horsemanship, competed in a trail trial, and then judged others competing.

As I went through this unplanned process, I got to see the three phases of competing from several points of view.  There are three components in competition (without a cow), there’s you the rider, the horse, and the judge. To score well, you all have to be in sync.

Our local stable was holding a Halloween arena trail trial.  They would like to see their boarders become more involved with their horses.  Naturally, if the horse owners work and build a better connection with their horses, they’ll enjoy them more, and the result, they will be happier customers for the stables.  It’s interesting and a little sad, how many people who have horses at stables, that lose interest in them.

Anyway, they asked for my help with the trail trial - which it thrilled me to do - and as part of this program, stable management had set up an afternoon of easy horsemanship training class for the people who board their horses.  We were to teach some basic ground maneuvers - side-passing, backup, sending - so the owners could take part in the in-hand portion of the trail trial.

A dozen people showed up with their horses and with three instructors, we broke them up into groups of four.  I was teaching the sending exercise, and we went through the process. There are a lot of ways to teach horses to do different things and I will not go into my technique here.  The fascinating part is how the owners interact with their horse. While there were some very good horsemen out there, there were also quite a variety of techniques. Some people were constantly talking to their horse.  Some were a little timid in how they directed their horse. Some asked their horse to move forward while they stood in front of the horse. It got me to thinking about how I interact with my horses.

It’s hard to remember where I started from.  I think in the beginning I was a little too demanding of my horse.  I wanted to establish dominance and get that horse to do what I wanted.  I hope this has slowly evolved into more of a partnership. One where I can get the horse to think it was his idea to do this and I can get out of his way and let him do it.  I want my horse to be responsible for his own feet and I also want him to know it’s his responsibility to take care of me while I’m in the saddle. I steer him into only places I know are safe and won’t tolerate and bucking, kicking up or spooking.  I don’t talk too much to my horse j- usually two or three-word phrases in a soothing tone. I’m under the impression that the less I say the more he’ll listen when I do say something. Unless it’s singing along with the songs on my iPod while riding, which I never do.... kinda. 


Two weeks after this training session, Ranae and I headed south for an ETI trail trial at Hansen Dam in southern California.  We love these trail trials because they aren’t very expensive; they are usually a good 2-3 hour trail ride through some very fun and interesting trails, and the people are fun to be around.  We realize it’s less about where we place in the group and more about how we compare it to our past rides. Scratch usually starts off a little on the muscle walking fast and on alert even though we got there early to have an extended warm-up in the arena.  Dusty has some issues crossing a tarp or bridge right off the bat. He eventually does it, it the discussion that precedes that costs him points. Having Ranae along is a wonderful asset. We talk about our respective problems and what might work best. Scratch doesn’t want to stand still while waiting his turn for an obstacle, so in between two obstacles that were about half a mile apart we stopped and “simulated” an obstacle.  When he moved from our imaginary staging area, I worked him then asked him to stand quietly. Two or three repetitions and he understood. Ranae worked on keeping her eyes up and across the bridge instead of looking down at Dusty and he improved. It was a beautiful day for a ride in Southern California. Thankfully this was before the fires in late October. BTW, I’ve been wanting to do a story on some of those horses and owners, but I’m not sure how to approach it.  We did a show on emergency preparedness, but I’m certain nothing compares to fear and panic many of those people experienced. I love to tell their story without feeling like I’m intruding on their tragedy. If you have ideas, I’d love to hear them.

So anyway, the third part of the trilogy was acting as a scribe and judge for the Halloween trail trial at the stables.  We attended two judges meetings and learned the criteria. Then I scribed for Ranae. She judged the first half of the in-hand course.  Next, I judged the first five obstacles of the Novice/Youth division, and finally, scribed for another judge in the Open division. 

As judges, we all saw things a bit differently.  When I was the scribe, I pretended to score the contestant, then compare my score with the judges.  It was interesting to see the differences. But the revelation was how much difference the judging can make.  The more one competes, the more important it is to know how severely your judge will score. What do they like to see?  What small detail will they ding you for? As this was a fun show, they gave us a certain criterion. But, if there was money or a buckle on the line, I’m sure the judging would have been a bit stiffer.

Have they have asked you to judge an event?  Did you like it? I love to hear how you felt about judging?

The important thing I learned from these three situations is that I got to see how other horses and their owners reacted.  It taught me a little more about horsemanship. Trying to help people learn how to do a basic maneuver forced me to look back on how I taught my horse something I now take for granted.  Learning to be a judge even at an informal event gave me a little empathy for judges at other types of competitions. It was all about gaining a little more knowledge about horses and horsemanship.

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Thanks for listening,

John & Ranae

Episode #159

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