Insider talk on top judges tips for what she wants to see in a riding horse and the way it goes, how it looks and most importantly (especially for the judge) how it rides.
- When watching the ‘go round’ judges look for a horse which is walking with a long and easy stride, covering the ground well, swinging its shoulder freely and tracking up well. They want to see a longer rein walk, not a horse pulled in with its head scrunched up to its chest. The horse should be swinging its head slightly in time to the walk and have its head in front of the perpendicular, ears pricked and a happy, calm look.
- At the trot they look again for a long swinging stride, the tail carried easily and swinging from side to side – the sign of a relaxed, swinging, working back – and a comfortable easy head carriage, with the bit held quietly in a wet mouth, no open mouths or grinding teeth – a particular hate. The head should be straight and in line with the direction, not tilted or crooked. They look especially for a steady rhythm or cadence, showing that the horse is working from behind and is carrying itself – not having its nose pulled in by the reins and kicked along all the time.
- At canter it’s much the same. Judges look for a smooth slowish, steady canter which gives the impression the rider is totally at ease and the pair could swing along all day in superb comfort.
- When gallop is shown ideally the horse only needs to show some definite lengthening of the stride and lowering along the long side of the ring, sliding into an easy gallop and out without fuss. Sadly this is not often seen; quite often they rush about with fast short strides. Galloping is not about racing or jumping off the corner as in a gymkhana, but showing lowering and lengthening – (this used to be called ventre-a-terre) in just half a dozen strides and a calm return to slower paces.
- Riding horses are not usually required to do shows but they can be and when this is done Judges prefer to see a simple, short show well done, rather than complicated manoeuvres which fail miserably. However, a Riding Horse should be able to rein back easily and happily, change leg at canter in a straight line and slide on to extend and back without fighting.
- The purpose of a Riding Horse is to take one riding for pleasure and therefore it is expected to carry a rider with very light and easy aids and to be soft and gentle on the hand. Judges do not want a horse that is jumping out of its skin, but alternatively they really don’t want something that needs pushing round the ring – imaging having to ride twenty all needing shovelling along, exhausting!!
- Many consider that the most important thing is the quality of its movement, a young green horse can give an infinitely better ride than an old well schooled, beautifully mannered but stiff and stilted moving horse, if its paces are on another plane, if it moves across the ring on a well oiled easy stride, long and flowing and soft off the ground. A horse must be supple and easy round its corners, bending whichever way it’s going. Very often horses are marked down because they lie heavily on one rein and are stiff on one side. This is usually the fault of poor training and results in a most unsatisfactory ride.
- No-one likes riding horses that spook and jump about so they must be relaxed and able to cope with the (sometimes ridiculous) distractions that surround the rings at today’s horse shows. When judges come to sit on the horse they need to feel their legs taken up by its sides, and to have a good length of rein in front of them, not just neck, but shoulder as well, and to feel, literally that they are in the middle of a comfortable well fitting “seat”.
If you are looking for a horse to do well as a riding horse in the show ring take a look at the Horse Scout Horses for Sale pages. There are some fabulous prospect there.