Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Fifteen USEF judges offer advice to riders at IEA/IHSA National Finals

IEA and IHSA National Finals are coming up, and for this week's blog I asked fifteen USEF judges to share one piece of advice for riders as they prepare for the most prestigious show of their IEA/ IHSA career.

Before we begin, I'd like to say a huge thank you to the judges who contributed to this article for sharing their insight. (also, fyi, I told them their responses would remain anonymous so I haven't included any names).

But enough from me. Here are their responses:

1. Relax and do what you know how to do!

2. Allow me to pin you. If you get a difficult horse, don't make a hard situation worse by overreacting or making a big production. Instead, show me that you are educated and can ride through. I will reward you for it.

3. For over fences: take your time upon entering the ring. Walk. Don't rush picking up the canter, you don't want to make the simple mistake of missing the lead.

4. Turnout is so important. Sometimes riders don't place as high as they could have because of their turnout: hairnets, clean clothes, shirttails tucked in, etc. First impressions are very important!

5. Keep riding and working with that horse, no matter what difficulties you might encounter. Sometimes I don't make up my mind between first and second or some other placings until the very end of the class. A rider keeping her/his cool and riding things out can make the final decision for me.

6. Do your homework. Practice as much as possible. Remember first impressions are critical so have your show clothes and helmet clean and boots so shined I could see my face in them. Read sports psychology books. Have a plan with your coach and sleep enough and eat like an athlete. Most important have fun and ENJOY the ride. You earned it!

7. Taking into account that each rider has qualified for the competition based on prior results - it's a little late to try to change too much in the way a rider will perform INSIDE the arena. I recommend riders plan a strategy and make a game plan starting at the present moment and leading up through to the entire competition weekend for everything OUTSIDE the arena -  I believe many riders miss out on achieving their maximum performance because they let distractions keep them from focusing and getting into "the Zone" - take a minute to mentally visualize and walk through the entire process.

8. Ask yourself questions about the following:

  • Am I in shape mentally and physically?
  • Do my show clothes / boots fit and are they clean and ready?
  • Do I know who the judges are and what is their overall riding / equitation philosophy?
  • What is my schedule for lessons and riding time leading up to the competition?
  • Do I have my entire schedule figured out for each day at the competition?
  • Practice breathing techniques during every lesson and carry it over to your classes!

9. As a judge, I'm looking for a soft sympathetic rider who has a correct design of position and the ability to demonstrate effective, tactful, and efficient use of the aids.  I want to see a following arm, an appropriate release and a secure lower leg. The quality of performance is a reflection of the rider's ability to evaluate the horse and ride it accordingly.  

10. The riders must be impeccably turned out. Don't enter the ring until you are sure that the judge is looking. Younger riders (with braid and bows) should be sure that back numbers are visible. Bling is not cool, it's distracting. Boots cannot be clean enough.

11. I am always telling the kids after the show that for me it's about who makes the horse happy. And for goodness sake, be sharp. Try to read the horse and make the best ride you can...every time!

12. Enter with the confidence that you are the winner! (and very clean boots!)

13. Ride what is under you, not what you think is under you.

14. Ride the horse you draw, not the one you wanted, and trust the judges to see your abilities. Remember you are being judged from the moment you ride through the in-gate until you are excused.

15. Make a good first impression, you've got to have it when you walk in the ring.

So there you go. First hand advice from some of the most talented professionals in the industry. Once again thank you to the judges for taking the time to contribute to this article. 

For my blog readers, a couple things I hope you take away from this post: first, did you notice how similar many of their statements are?  Second, you don't have to be intimidated by the judges. They aren't trying to trap you or set you up to fail. They want to see you succeed. And finally, for goodness sake, clean your boots!



Amanda Garner is an Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA), Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA), and Georgia Hunter Jumper Association (GHJA) steward, schooling show judge, head coach of the University of North Georgia IHSA Equestrian Team, and owner of Epiphany Farm, LLC in Dahlonega, Georgia. She is also a member of the IEA Board of Directors and the author of "A Parent's Guide to the Interscholastic Equestrian Association."

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Thanks!  --Amanda

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