Our reasons for riding in a competition vary from person to person. It can be something casual, such as a weekend away from home and your regular routine, having the luxury of only having to concentrate on your horse. Others use the competition as a validation of how their training is progressing, using the judge’s comments to indicate where the training is lacking or to confirm that things are progressing as planned. Then there are riders that use competitions as a stepping stone to reach a goal such as the Olympic Games.
When the class is complete and the scores are posted, it is easy to feel successful when you are in the ribbons. But, it also happens sometimes that you feel you had a good ride, but your score doesn’t reflect that. Other times, you feel that you wee on the verge of being out of control, yet you won the class. Or, on Saturday you scored in the mid-’60s with one judge, and on Sunday you couldn’t get out of the ’50s with another judge.
How do you sort through all of the seemingly inconsistent feedback that you get? The first question that you should ask yourself is whether your horse performed as well at the show as he does at home. If he does, that is a great confirmation of your training that he can stay focused even under stressful conditions. The factors that are beyond your control are who the judge is and what other horses you compete against. When you are evaluating your performance, remember that your perspective is comparing the horse to how he used to be and the judge is comparing the horse to their idea of perfection. Personal preference has to enter into anything that is judged on a subjective basis. However, in spite of personal preferences, judges will reward a horse for being well trained and a test accurately ridden, regardless of size, breed or color.
It is important to read the judge’s comments and give them careful consideration. However, as a rider that is dealing with the training issues on a daily basis, you must keep your long-term goal in mind. Training is all about knowing when to compromise and what your order of priorities should be. For instance, if you have the choice of making a wonderful transition two strides early or making a rough transition on the letter, you are going to lose points either way, but for the long term goal, take the smooth transitions because only perfect practice makes perfect. You can perfect when the horse makes the transition easier than re-schooling the bad habit of poor transitions.
Don’t forget that the judge only has a few minutes to make a lot of decisions about where your horse is at that moment. Judges are human too and don’t always make the right choice. Some are more encouraging than others, some are overly generous and some never give any score except 4,5, or 6.
It is imperative to keep all of these factors in mind so that you can put all of the feedback in context. You know your horse better than anyone does and if he gave you his best effort, you must be pleased. Sometimes you win when you know you shouldn’t have and sometimes you think you had the ride of your life and you don’t finish in the ribbons. Know that proper training takes patience and time and you should enjoy your accomplishments every step of the way.