May 26, 2018
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Going to a horse show

By Cassie Elia, Special to the BDN

Competitions for equestrians are abound in this state. There is a diverse universe of horse-based events throughout Maine; so many, that if I were to write a column about each of them, I’d have ammunition for dozens of articles.

To begin, I will try to explain the ubiquitous, all-encompassing horse show. This is the type of competition that has multiple disciplines, may or may not be breed-specific, and occurs when it is either 90 degrees and humid or 50 degrees and raining. Other than weather issues, the horse show can be daunting or boring (all horse show competitors have emitted an audible gasp) if the spectator is unaware of the reason behind the judging.

At a horse show, there are individual classes with names like Halter Horse, Road Hack and Western Equitation. Each is judged differently with different criteria.

A horse that wins the Road Hack may do poorly in Western Equitation because the judge is looking for distinct aspects to each class. In some classes, the judge is more concerned with the horse’s performance. In others, the emphasis is on the rider. Of course, one cannot manage without the other. A rider who is sloppy or inexperienced cannot ride a horse to its potential, so the best horse, ridden poorly, will not do well in the class.

It is not enough that a rider merely fulfill the requirements of a class. For a particular class, all entered horses may be required to walk, trot and canter in both directions (clockwise and counterclockwise around the ring) as requested by the judge.

The average person can see that every horse in the class did what was needed. However, Horse A did everything smoother, with more finesse and more promptly than Horses B, C and D. Maybe Horse B fulfilled all obligations but did it with a sour expression and reluctance. Maybe Horse C completed the tasks but was crooked and faltering. Maybe Horse D adequately performed but with too much exuberance and mistakenly thought there would be extra points for speed.

It’s about quality of the performance. I might, with a few weeks of practice, be able to dunk a basketball. In a basketball dunking contest, however, Michael Jordan would easily get the blue ribbon for panache. Although, if he were a horse, he would get points taken off for having his mouth open.

To confound things even more, a Horse A can then go to a different venue and perform exactly the same, but place lower. Some judges are looking for more flash, some for more mellowness and some for strict obedience. That’s the judge’s prerogative; we all have preferences. Let’s not have sour grapes too.

To dispel one last conundrum, horses have different names at horse shows. An unsuspecting grandpa may go to watch his granddaughter at her first horse show expecting to find her riding Horse A. He will be surprised to find that at horse shows, Horse A has become Fandango’s Magic Arrow for no good reason other than it’s fancier.

At horse shows, we strive for fancy; with hoof polish, braided manes and tails and extra-glamorous names for our horses. Even more fun and glamorous would be if we, the riders, also had show names. Maybe I’ll start a movement and register myself at my next show as Michael Jordan’s Magic Arrow.

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