A couple times a year I judge dressage at an Arabian show, and it can be a very different experience from a straight dressage show. It will include “sport horse” classes. These are not usually judged by Arabian judges but by open hunter or dressage judges, although they are run under rules for the Arabian division. I am not licensed as a Sport Horse judge, so the only time I judge on the triangle is at breed-specific shows that don’t require that license.
The Arabian Sport Horse divisions include both group (aka rail or under-saddle) and in-hand classes that are judged on a triangle like open sport horse classes. I was at the Canadian National Arabian Championships last week in Manitoba, and I was amazed how far many of the competitors had come, from California, Texas, and New England, as well as from throughout Canada. After traveling all that distance, the horse will go in maybe one or two dressage classes, a rail class or two, and also in maybe a couple in-hand classes (open and amateur-handler), for the opportunity to be named national champion in several categories.
What really interested me, though, was seeing horses on the triangle after I had judged them in straight dressage a day or two before. I usually don’t pay much attention to names or bridle numbers, so I couldn’t track most of the horses when I saw them later on the triangle. And the handler there could be a different person from the rider, although again, I might not recognize someone now dressed in pants, sport shirt and sneakers from before in a helmet and boots.
These championships (both for purebred Arabians and cross-bred) used two judges for the triangle, me and a hunter judge. The horse being presented could thus be entered in either “hunter-type” or “dressage-type” or both, possibly going for two championships with one trip around the triangle (well, two trips, really— one for walk and one for trot). I found it interesting how often the horses I picked as winners were also the pick of the hunter judge—a potentially good sport horse should be useful for either discipline. One of our favorites turned out to be an Arabian/Saddlebred cross . . . the mare didn’t look either Arabian or Saddlebred. We’d been trying to guess some of the crosses and were completely fooled on that one. She was beautifully put together.
But, the other fun thing for me to see was how well (or not) some of the horses stood up for the triangle who had also done well in the dressage performance classes. It emphasized to me all over again that the quality of the riding is as important as the quality of the horse for success in the dressage ring, if not more so.