Our columnist considers the opportunities to learn more—from clinics to books to just some careful observation.
I’ve had the opportunity lately to do a bit more judging. I call this an opportunity because, as a professional, I feel that other than from the horses themselves, I’ve learned the most about horses and riding from judging.
As a judge, you’re put in a position to sit and watch horses and riders all day. You see horses of all different quality, riders with different skills and style, and all the different styles and trends across the country. It gives you a chance to compare rounds and decide which things are the most important to you. But the crucial piece is that you’re in a position to really watch and study the art of riding horses.
Reflecting on this, I realized that it’s becoming more and more difficult to create the time to really study what it is that we’re doing. We have so many shows, finals and other special events that it’s almost impossible to create the time to step back and learn more. While it is hard, I’d like to encourage people to look at various options for learning. This holds true for professionals, amateurs and juniors alike. When you take the time to do something a little different, it replenishes you and allows you to go back to what you would normally be doing with a bit more enthusiasm and interest. This in turn will often produce better results on all levels.
The very best way to learn is to watch. One of the reasons all of us in the hunter industry are working so hard at the moment to keep the professional divisions alive is because we all need to watch these great professional riders and learn from them how to ride and show hunters well. They are truly amazing at what they can do, and we can all profit from watching them school and show their hunters. We need to study them. They give us daily riding lessons, free for the taking.
This also pertains to all the different divisions at the horse show. Our top jumper riders, whether they are professionals, young riders, juniors or amateurs, are truly incredible with what they’re able to do. Anytime there’s an opportunity to watch these people ride, show or school their horses it’s an opportunity not to be missed. The equitation division is no exception.
At most of the top shows across the country we have the very best riders and their teachers available to us. Very often these riders and trainers are working in the early mornings at the horse shows, and this presents an easy way to get all the information you would ever need. These people are at the top of their sport, and if we ever want to reach that level, then watching them would be the place to start. It’s worth waking up for.
I’ve also learned from judging that it’s useful to get out of your own area. Many parts of the country are better than others at particular things, and getting out a bit will enlighten you more than you would expect. Whenever possible try to schedule some time to go to a major event just to study how things are done at the top of the sport. This could be something like the Gene Mische American Invitational grand prix, the USHJA International Hunter Derby Finals, or the Pessoa/USEF Medal or ASPCA Maclay Finals. Watching any event like this can be educational as well as inspirational.
The next tool that is available to all of us is reading. There are so many books out there that it’s ludicrous that we don’t take better advantage of them. A complete library, telling us anything we would ever need to know about riding and jumping, exists between Gordon Wright and George Morris alone. Add to that all the other great books written by the likes of Anne Kursinski and Linda Allen, to name just a few, and we have all the information we could ever use.
The information that we can glean from books is timeless. Although our sport has changed a great deal over the years, the horses have not, so just about anything you read about riding and training horses will hold true today. There are also countless videos, DVDs and websites designed to help us better understand what we do. These delve into all different aspects of our sport and can be very educational.
We also have many different types of clinics, seminars and programs available to us. These are always a great learning experience for riders and teachers alike and should be utilized more. Now, there are “Ask the Judges” clinics that are very informative for riders as well as parents. These are a great place for judges to help exhibitors understand their job and what we’re looking for both in the hunter and equitation rings.
Both the U.S. Equestrian Federation and the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association are involved in clinics across the country. One of the best programs available for professionals is the USHJA’s Trainer Certification Program. Although this can be difficult for trainers to fit into their schedules, the clinics and symposiums, as well as the handbook, are great ways for us to learn new things and freshen up our jobs. The USHJA’s Emerging Athletes Program is also a great opportunity, not only for the young riders, but also for their trainers. The very best teachers are available to us in these clinics, which are just two examples of what’s available if we choose to take advantage of it.
I know it’s difficult to find time to do things with our horses and our riding other than compete, but when I’m able to fit some new things into my schedule I get “re-energized” and go back to the competition armed with new knowledge and more energy and interest. In the long run I think it’s also better for our horses and our sport.