Talk Isn't Cheap

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Riders can talk with the judge directly after their ride at a schooling show, which they can’t do at a USEF-recognized show.

Riders can talk with the judge directly after their ride at a schooling show, which they can’t do at a USEF-recognized show.

I returned to the scene of the crime last weekend, so to speak, where I rode in my first dressage show in 1973.Okay, well, it wasn’t at the exact same property but it was close and with the same organization, Delaware Valley Combined Training Assn. in Chester County PA.And, amazingly, there were several of the same faces smiling back at me from across the decades.The DVCTA members are a dedicated group of horsemen, and they live in a truly beautiful corner of the country.My GPS got me happily lost as I paralleled the Brandywine Creek through gorgeous miles of countryside dotted with the stone bank barns immortalized by Andrew Wyeth paintings.

I was in Chester County for a weekend of clinics centered on the new 2015 dressage tests, including a judge forum and a schooling show.I don’t get a chance to do many schooling shows any more since my weekends are mostly filled with multi-day USEF-recognized shows.I took the opportunity to skip the written summary at the bottom of the tests and give oral comments instead.

The practice of talking to riders at the end of the test is mostly forgotten now, but it used to be the norm 20 years ago, not just at schooling shows but recognized shows as well.I think two things have caused the practice to fall by the wayside in many locales. First, the USEF instituted a rule that judges may not talk to riders in recognized shows at the end of their tests because it constituted “coaching.” So, now many judges are no longer used to the practice.

Schooling show organizers have also opted to completely fill their days with tests and don’t leave enough time between rides for judges to make oral comments.This accomplishes two things for them – they make more money, and they don’t have to turn away riders who might otherwise be wait-listed.What used to be a normal 50-ride day for shows has become a 60-ride (or more) day, although tests are also somewhat shorter that they used to be.

Along the way, the concept of the schooling show has been lost to some degree. Getting that oral feedback right away really helped in making some adjustments for a second ride to become more successful, and thus the show was more of a learning experience.Schooling shows (any show in this country that is not licensed by the USEF or FEI is, by definition, a “schooling show”) also often seem to be more concerned with ribbons and placings than they used to be, as least as I recall from the past, so there is less flexibility in the schooling part, such as riding in the show ring before the first ride.

Because the USEF doesn’t allow judge comments, most judges nowadays simply don’t know how to quickly formulate oral comments, which itself is a bit of an art, just as is the ability to quickly write a useful summary at the bottom of the test.Therefore, if actually given the time to do so at schooling shows, they might not be so inclined.

I would love to see a return to the practice of oral comments at schooling shows when it is feasible.If the issue is income for the show, perhaps charging a bit more per ride and advertising the oral comments as a feature of the show might work.I also think that if a show doesn’t fill then the manager should consider the option of leaving more time per ride -- say 10 minutes instead of the usual 7 or 8 -- that would allow for comments. However, checking first with the judge would be a requirement since, as I noted, many prefer doing written comments over oral ones.

There are other options for oral comments besides traditional scheduling, including Fix-A-Tests.These are usually scheduled in half-hour slots -- the rider does a test, followed by comments from the judge, then re-rides the same test.Another wrinkle is to use 10-minute slots and schedule the riders in an alternating format:Susie Q rides her test at 8 a.m., followed by Jane D at 8:10, then Susie with her same test at 8:20, Jane with her same test at 8:30, and so on.This saves the horse and rider from a second warm-up and gets them done earlier but also allows time for talk with the judge.A lot more horses and riders can get in the event than with a Fix-A-Test.

At schooling shows, as with most everything, time is money.But time spent talking to a judge is usually well-spent.

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