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Judges Conference 2013

BSPA Judges Conference held at The Holiday Inn Rugby Northamptonshire NN6 7XR on Sunday January 13th 2013

THE BSPA 2013 JUDGES’ CONFERENCE - Lynda Lodge BSPA Chairman
 Opening speech Lynda Lodge British Skewbald and Piebald Chairman. Lynda Lodge Chairman BSPA  pdf

Assessing ride: do’s and don’ts - Paul Cook
 A personal view from Paul Cook, a ride judge with 30 years’ experience. Paul Cook - ride judge  pdf

 A personal view by Jane Nixon MRCVS, British Equestrian Federation non-executive director of equine development, presented at the BSPA 2013 judges’ conference. Jane Nixon MRCVS  pdf

THE WELL-SHOD FOOT – AND WHAT TO LOOK FOR - Mark Watson AWCF MMark is a full-time farrier and consultant; an examiner for the Worshipful Company of Farriers; competitor and rider; gives pointers for judges and owners.  Mark Watson AWCF pdf

THE BSPA 2013 JUDGES’ CONFERENCE - Lynda Lodge BSPA Chairman
 Opening speech Lynda Lodge British Skewbald and Piebald Chairman.   pdf

On this website, you will find reports from a fascinating range of leading speakers. Although the conference was for judges, we are carrying the reports here because much of the information will interest and be of value to owners, riders and handlers.
It will also help those who do not judge appreciate the role and responsibilities of those on our judging panel. This upholds our philosophy that communication with our members and mutual respect between those who compete and those who judge is vital.

Lynda Lodge, BSPA chairman, told delegates that demarcations which may have been made in the past no longer apply. “Whether competitors come first or last, they pay the same entry fees and the same diesel costs to get to a show,” she reminded the audience. “So please don’t ignore competitors at the end of the line – a kind word goes a long way.”
She also drew their attention to changing times and the need to accept change whilst still maintaining standards.
“Today, there are things that we would never have dreamed of a few years ago – types of tack, makeup for horses and so on,” she said. “We must encompass that, but at the same time, it is vital to keep our standards.”
Today’s judges need to be aware that technology is here to stay. “We now have to deal with equipment that can pick up audio from a long way away,” she warned. “No one wants to end up on YouTube or become the subject of an internet chat forum for the wrong reasons!
“Nor do we want monotype judges who always go for their particular favoured types. We want you to know our rules and appreciate and understand all the types registered with the BSPA.”

Sandra Lawrence, BSPA general secretary, picked up on some of these points in her presentation on unusual coat colours and blue eyes.
She said that many members were particularly keen on animals with blue eyes and pointed out some of the myths associated with this feature.
“There is no sight distortion; it is a myth that horses with one or both blue eyes have poor sight,” she said. “Another myth is that they can’t be registered for breeding and can’t be shown.
“In fact, the only society which will not register horses with blue eyes for breeding is the Shire Horse Society.”
So is it true that judges don’t like blue eyes? A vote at the conference showed the unanimous opinion that whilst judges would notice a horse with blue eyes, they would not hold the feature against the animal or allow it to influence their overall assessment – a vote that should encourage and reassure BSPA members.
Minimally marked animals are now being registered and competed with great regularity. If an animal is registered with the BSPA, judges have no problem – they know it has been assessed and found to meet criteria.
Painstaking care is taken to ensure that criteria is met. “If we feel a horse is there or there about but are not quite sure, we pass it over for DNA testing,” said Sandra.
 “Now, we can sometimes use science to help us out of a hole.”

Assessing ride: do’s and don’ts - Paul Cook
 A personal view from Paul Cook, a ride judge with 30 years’ experience.   pdf

Assessing ride: do’s and don’ts -A personal view from Paul Cook, a ride judge with 30 years’ experience.

Being asked to judge is an honour and a privilege. Being asked to ride judge is even more so, because someone is letting you ride a horse that is probably the owner’s pride and joy. It must be fun, for you and the exhibitor. I’ve been ride judging for 30 years and the day I don’t want to take the chance of riding decent horses is probably the day I should be in a box!

Preparation for judging
Work out how long you have to judge your class. Some shows are on a very tight schedule and if you overrun, expect to get grief. It’s much easier to slow down the progress of a class than to speed it up.
Check the ring. Walk it, if possible – and if yours is not the first class, watch another to see how it’s riding. Work out where you are going to ride each horse and how long for, taking into account the size of the ring.
Remember rules relating to hats and insurance. Take a crash hat even if you prefer to ride in a bowler. Ensure you are smart and correctly turned out.
Always be polite and ask every exhibitor if you can ride his or her horse. Obviously you can – or they wouldn’t be there – but it helps build friendly communication. I also think it’s polite to thank your class afterwards, including the back line.
Communication with exhibitors is very important. Times have changed and people expect you to communicate with them!
I like to move each horse three or four feet away from the line before I’m legged up so I’m not asking it to leave its friends, and I always return it to the back of the line.
If you have a probationary judge assigned to you, try and meet your probationer in advance. It’s important to reassure them, as they might be nervous.
When you’re ride judging with a probationer, he or she should ride afterwards. I don’t like the system of the ride judge riding from the top of the line and the probationer from the bottom.

Assessing ride and soundness

It’s important to be consistent and ride every horse in the same way. However, if you notice in the go-round that a horse has a particular pace that isn’t as good as the others, I might assess the one I’m concerned about a bit more. If, for instance, I noticed that a horse did not have a good walk or canter, I might spend more time in that pace without affecting the overall time of my ride or missing out any of the elements.
It’s very important to establish the walk in a horse. I see some less experienced judges go straight into trot – but establishing walk and giving the horse a pat gives him confidence.
We have a wide diversity of people in showing, from professionals with huge experience to amateurs just starting out. I always do a visual assessment of tack as sometimes, you see things such as curb chains adjusted incorrectly and saddles which don’t fit. You must be aware of this and decide whether, for instance, you want to ask the rider to adjust a curb chain before you ride the horse or explain that you don’t think it’s advisable for you to ride a horse because of a saddle-fitting problem.

Badly behaved horses
We ride judges all like to think we can ride anything, of course – and we don’t want to look wussy! But we shouldn’t attempt to be heroes if a horse comes out and stands up, etc. I also think that if we are to retain ride judges, we should be firmer about the horses we ride.
Judges must make sure that they are fit enough to ride – and if you get tipped off, don’t get back on again.

Judges are also there to assess a horse’s soundness, though please refer to Jane Nixon’s talk at this conference, also on the website.
My view is that even if a horse is marginally unlevel, you should ask the rider to leave the class. As the late Roy Triggs put it, ‘I hate being beaten by a camel, but even more, I hate being beaten by a lame camel!’
On the issue of making a noise, you have the opportunity to say that you think that on that day the horse is making a noise and giving the competitor the chance of leaving the ring.

Judging with a co-judge
When you have co-judging, some societies say that the conformation judge is the senior and others don’t. Either way, as a ride judge, you have to respect your co-judge, no matter how good a ride a horse gives you.
If your co-judge says that a horse has a curb or other bad defect, you can’t fight for it. Ask yourself: would I buy this horse?
Equally, if you ride a beautiful horse that gives you a dire ride – perhaps it’s nappy – it’s fair enough to want that horse to go down the line.

Novice animals
I am not too strict about novice horses, because I feel every show horse should have a bit of something about it. If it skips about a bit, but is lovely and light in the hand and off the leg, I’m not worried about it.
Although it would not come under a ride judge remit, in pony classes I am very strict on lead reins to 13.2hhs – though I wouldn’t be too strict if a lovely 13.2hh struck off on the wrong leg for two strides and was immediately corrected.
I don’t think ponies should be sharp, though I’m not too strict on intermediates. They are, after all, small horses and riders can be up to 25 years old.

 A personal view by Jane Nixon MRCVS, British Equestrian Federation non-executive director of equine development, presented at the BSPA 2013 judges’ conference.   pdf

Judges hold the key to the welfare of show horses and ponies. A perceived problem, such as a horse which appears to make a noise or to show slight signs of lameness, may be reduced or eliminated by supportive management.
This means that if a judge tells you that in his or her opinion, your horse is not ‘right’ on the day and asks if you would like to take it out of the ring – perhaps seeking the advice of a vet if one is present at the show in an official capacity – it should be regarded as concern for your horse’s welfare. The same applies if a judge does not feel it is appropriate to ride your horse, particularly if this involves galloping the animal, as there may be a risk of a condition which is causing lameness being made worse.
There is no reason why a judge should not ask, in an appropriate way, about the way you manage your horse.

The most common causes of under-performance in horses in the UK are:

  1. Lower airway inflammatory disease
  2. Lameness
  3. Insufficient training for the purpose for which the horse is used.

Lower airway inflammatory disease
Air has a long way to travel from the nostrils to the lungs and follows a tortuous course. Lower respiratory tract disease can occur
Because a horse becomes sensitive to allergens.
Because of disease or infection, i.e. viruses/equine herpes/equine flu. The Animal Health Trust notifies all interested vets of flu outbreaks by county and there have been regular occurrences this winter.
Whatever the cause of lower respiratory tract disease, it will result in reduced air exchange surfaces and excess mucus in the lungs. Preventive management for all animals includes:
Good ventilation.
Feeding from the floor.
When travelling, allow the horse enough freedom to put his head down.
Transit fever/shipping fever is principally caused by the horse not being able to do this, which can lead to pneumonia.

Making a noise?
The horse which makes a respiratory noise presents one of the most controversial subjects of the show ring.

Key points are:
An upper respiratory tract noise is an inspiratory noise, not one which the horse makes on exhalation. As the horse breathes in, something makes the airflow turbulent rather than laminar.
A horse must not continually make an inspiratory noise.
Causes of temporary respiratory noise include:
A sore throat, the cause of which may be bacterial or viral.
Pain from coughing, from lower airway disease.
The horse may be overbent, in a posture which squashes his vocal chords.
Displacement of the soft palate rarely occurs in show horses because they are not doing enough work at fast speed.
High blowing
is caused by vibration of the horse’s nostrils. It is a natural occurrence and as it does not indicate a respiratory problem, the animal should not be penalises.
Whilst a judge may give a competitor the chance to leave the ring/place a horse accordingly if respiratory noise is detected, it should not be assumed that the noise is permanent, for reasons outlined above. If a judge explains that in his or her opinion, your horse makes a noise on that day, the judge is considering your horse’s welfare. The same applies if a judge places your horse lower than you would have hoped and explains that this is the reason.
Judges should all be able to hear to a good standard; if they have poor hearing they should not judge! Vets working at Tattersall’s yearling sales have to undergo a hearing test.
Many show judges have defective hearing. It is well documented that hearing deteriorates with age, and more quickly in men than in women !

People sometimes talk about a horse being ‘unlevel’ as though this is different from a horse being lame. In fact, any horse which is not completely level is lame. It may be that he has trodden on a stone, resulting in temporary lameness; it may be that he has conformation which predisposes him to an occasional lame stride on one or both reins, such as a splint.
Although every situation has to be looked at individually, general advice is that if horse shows any degree of lameness, a judge should decline to ride it. A judge does not know if the horse is going to develop or already has a problem such as a suspensory or check ligament strain and riding a lame horse may make things worse.
To avoid lameness:
Don’t breed from horses with poor conformation.
Don’t buy horses with poor conformation.
Foot balance and shoeing to the horse’s conformation are essential.
Laminitis soon goes from sub-clinical to clinical, so owners should take preventive measures and judges and owners should be aware of early warning signs.
Ensure musculo-skeletal fitness, especially in core muscles of horse and rider. Riders and judges need to be fit!

When assessing conformation, things that judges and owners should bear in mind include: A good competition horse in any discipline should be well balanced, fill the eye and have conformation that gives balance and performance.
Straight hindlegs are less able to come under the horse, so he will not find it easy to work correctly from behind.
An acute hock angle means the horse is less able to carry weight.
Sickle hocks predispose a horse to curbs. The official AHT definition of a curb is ‘a complex of soft tissue injuries on the back of the hock joints.’
Overdeveloped forearm muscles may indicate weakness/lameness behind.
Be aware that conformation problems or conditions can cause multifactorial problems. For instance, jaw joint pain can lead to a horse being one-sided; tilting his head; developing uneven back muscles – which will cause problems with saddle fit and affect his use of his hindlegs.

Insufficient training
It is vital to build up core muscle strength, in horse and rider. A horse’s core muscles are huge and fittening work must be done on a steadily increasing basis.
Take extreme care when asking for extended trot on a young and/or weak horse. He will be using his back muscles, but does not have strong enough abdominal muscles to give support and so can develop back pain.
Work overload in a young, weak horse leads to everything from splints to joint problems. A horse who is overbent smacks of a producer cutting corners/rider inability, especially the lack of an independent seat.
Don’t forget the importance of empathy. Charlotte Dujardin won her gold medals partly because of her huge empathy and harmony with Valegro.

How we can all prevent and manage problems
Don’t breed from or buy a horse with poor conformation because it is cheap. It costs as much to produce a bad horse as a good one.
Don’t use poorly ventilated stables or transport because you are too lazy to keep them clean.
Don’t take short cuts in fittening work, especially with young horses.
Don’t get a horse overbent or too fat.
Get your horse fit for the work he has to do and feed for the work done.

Last thoughts
Judges are the leaders and have the responsibility for horse welfare. The rest will follow! Judges should be active, firm and pro-active. A horse is usually his owner’s pride and joy, so judges should make pro-active and constructive comments.
We have made huge headway on the issue of fat horses. The showing fraternity has led the way in getting horses less fat, but fitter and this must continue.
Any animals with ‘laminitis areas’ of hard fat should be put at the end of the line and an explanation given as to why this has been done. If you breed from an animal who has suffered laminitis, be aware that it is statistically proven that its youngstock is more likely to develop it.

THE WELL-SHOD FOOT – AND WHAT TO LOOK FOR - Mark Watson AWCF MMark is a full-time farrier and consultant; an examiner for the Worshipful Company of Farriers; competitor and rider; gives pointers for judges and owners.   pdf

  • A well-shod foot is the result of co-operation between the owner/rider/trainer, the farrier and the vet. The owner or whoever is responsible for the horse is responsible for the horse’s behaviour.

  • AAs a farrier, I’m looking to enhance the function of the foot, not inhibit it.

  • The angle of the shoulder should match the angle of the hoof/pastern axis (HPA). In the front foot, this is about 50-55 degrees and in the hind foot, about 60-65 degrees, though breed or type has an influence on this.

  • A horse must be shod according to the job he is are doing. For instance, a hunter will be shod to minimise interference.

  • Nailing should be done no less than a third of the way up the hoof wall. Things that can influence nail placing include the quality of the hoof wall.

  • A shoe should be fixed to the foot with as few nails as possible.

  • In my opinion, the frog needs to be left intact. It is there for weight-bearing and if it does not function properly, the foot contracts. 

  • For the show ring, there are certain things farriers can do to make faults less noticeable. For instance, single toe clips draw the eye to the centre of the foot, which may not always be ideal.

  • Very few horses have pairs of feet that are symmetrical. It has been asked: is asymmetry normal?

  • In a 2009 Royal Veterinary College study, Prof Alan Wilson MRCVS found that asymmetry occurs most notably in the height of the offside shoulder and in the case of young TB horses, the right hoof is often larger.