Saturday, February 27, 2010

Reflections on Showmanship

While watching riders at the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show, I saw some common behaviors that bothered me. I am far from understanding the culture of Arabian horse showing and cannot for the life of me figure out how classes are judged. However, I did have some observations as a spectator that I'd like to voice.

I found those riders who sat up straight in a relaxed manner and looked where they were going to be the most attractive to watch. Unfortunately, I saw too many riders glaring at the back of their horses' heads as if daring them to break from frame and headset. The anger in their eyes made me feel pity for their horses.

Other riders behaved more like spectators. They were so busy looking around the arena and gawking at other riders and horses that they completely forgot that they were part of the show. If you are there to ride, ride. If you are there to watch, watch. If you are there to judge, judge. But don't try to watch and be a judge if you are riding.

The other behavior that I felt exhibited poor showmanship was to constantly be checking to see if the judges are watching you. I saw one rider get so frustrated over the judges not watching her that she turned her horse right in front of them and circled dangerously close to them, blocking their view of other riders. She succeeded in getting their attention, because they had to take a step back to avoid getting run over.

I find it interesting that right after I wrote the draft of this post, Horse & Rider magazine came out with an article that talked about show judges' pet peeves, and one of them was being stared at by the riders. This was in the article "Inside Judges' Minds" by Patty Brumley in the March 2010 issue. She writes...

Staring at the judge. Especially common in Western pleasure classes -- a fad started by a "famous trainer" to make sure the judges knew just who he/she was. "It's offensive," says Rod Safty. Adds Sullivan: "Just look forward and show."

Perhaps what bothered me the most was unnecessary bit-bumping. Riders jerk the reins to cue their horses to stay in a collected frame and keep their head set properly. One woman kept looking at the judges every two-seconds and then as soon as she'd turn her attention back to her horse, she'd automatically jerk the reins. That horse did not move out of its frame one iota, so there was no reason for the rider to be yanking on its mouth. I felt that, if anything, she needed to have some reins attached to her own mouth yanked every two seconds to keep her attention on where she was going.

I also didn't care for the riders who seemed to ignore the gait and directional change requests from the judges. I know that sometimes riders have to maneuver around the arena to avoid other horses that may be causing them problems, but if it takes a rider more than 20 seconds to respond to a gait or directional change request, it appears as if he or she is being stubborn or rebellious. The message I read into it is, "I'll get around to it in my own sweet time when I feel like it."

Lastly, riders need to remember to breathe. This was mentioned by clinician Bob Leary. Riding with a purple face from holding one's breath is not pretty. If you are going to spend thousands of dollars to gussy yourself up for a horse show, at least try to look pretty and smile. After all, isn't horseback riding supposed to be a fun activity?


Sydney said...

I know what you mean about riders looking at the judge. I honestly don't want to know if the judge is looking at me. I just want to ride (or drive) my horse.

I think as far s setting a horse in a frame if we made them go bitless they would be brought to the light. A lot of riders do not truely collect their horses because they are relying on the pain of a bit to force their head in a frame but they are still strung out in the hind end.

fernvalley01 said...

Very good observations! I wonder about alot of the same things ,the competition must be so ovewhelming ,also large classes.I sadly would be the purple person holding my breath out of sheer nervousness

JeniQ said...

Oh man NuzzMuzz -- your whole "watch the judge" comment brought back memories of when I was young (teens) and competing Western Pleasure. That whole system was drilled into me by my club leader.

"always watch the judge" "Don't take your eye off the judge" ugh. I'm sorry but it's extremely hard if not impossible to ride a horse that is not push button or nervous if you are not relaxed and focused on what you practiced. I for one did not practice staring at the middle of the arena where the judge should be!

The one and only blue ribbon I won riding my Egyptian Arabian, Sassy, those many years ago. I'd had enough of doing things "the way I was told". I had been fighting with my mom, our club leader, etc as I did not want to do another Western Pleasure class. So I went in with the "I'm going to ride the way I want" attitude. Judge was stuck trying to give blue to me or someone on really nice looking QH. It boiled down to who could mount/dismount correctly. Which was me!

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

People do the strangest things when they are showing.

I may glance over at the judge once in a while...just to get an idea of what he/she is doing...some judges pick a spot and only judge what is going on in that spot. Some try to watch the whole arena. Some seem to get a pretty quick idea of who they are going to place and watch those horses.

But other than that, I just focus on where I'm going, what my horse is doing and listen for who is coming up behind me. I don't smile like a loon, but I do try to look relaxed and like I am enjoying myself...even if my horse is acting like a poop-LOL.

Obviously, I have never shown at this level, but having observed many shows...I'm not sure if I want to. It sure doesn't look like much fun does it?

sue said...

that was a very good blog and I have to agree with what you saw. I don't show horses, but I do show dogs and it's much the same. Work as team, appreacate the wonderful animal at the other end of the lead (rein) and look for a judge's opinion of how you are doing... by the way, another blog that I am a fan of is (was) at the show too, and had many great photos.. between the two of you, I was "almost" there as well.....

Mikey said...

Wow, very interesting. I can't believe people do look at the judge. Best I get to do is a glance, usually after I've blown a lead, lol, I check to see if they saw it.

I swear to you, I once won a class simply because I went in smiling, and I WAS quite happy to be riding my horse, even though he was green and a nutcase at his first show. But I love riding him, he's just so much fun, and when they announced the placings, they said (it was a W/T class for novice horses) that it was hard to judge W/T and they basically went with whoever was having the most fun riding their horse. That would be me!! I didn't think my smile could get any bigger, but it did.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. HORSES SHOULD BE FUN!!! Otherwise why even bother?
Excellent post. Like what you said about that woman needing a pair of reins for her mouth. Amen, sister, Amen.

Katharine Swan said...

I love your observations, NM. You are very observant and make some good points. I have never been to a show, but I can see many of these issues -- anxious or angry riders, bit-jerking, distracted & sloppy riding, staring at the judges, etc. -- bugging me too. Good for you for being observant. :o)

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Mikey - Your comment reminded me of the time when I was helping my friend ride western pleasure at a small local show, and when they moved up to the lope, my friend leaned over each shoulder of her horse looking down, then exclaimed (very loudly), "OH SHOOT! I'M ON THE WRONG LEAD!"

Of course, the judges immediately turned around and looked at her and then burst out into laughter. Everyone in the audience started laughing too, and before you knew it all the riders were smiling and giggling. Of course, she didn't place in the class, but she lightened up the mood, which is as good as winning.