Just for reference, for future members who click into this thread because of the title (and honestly, because some of the attitudes expressed here about hunters irritated me and I can't let go), here's a terrific reference on judging hunters -
A judge’s insights demystify seemingly subjective hunter rounds.
By Cindy Hale
“The judge just doesn’t like my horse.” Unfortunately that’s a common rationalization when a rider is perplexed about her horse’s lack of a ribbon in a hunter class. However, a prejudicial judge isn’t usually the problem. Instead, it’s often a lack of understanding about how hunters are evaluated and how the judge actually keeps score.
Most competitors can recite the basic traits of a successful show hunter, which mirror the qualities originally found in field hunters ridden with hounds. The most important is the manner in which the horse jumps the fences. Anything that detracts from a smooth, safe trip around the course will lower the horse’s score. For example, poor jumping form such as loose or dangling front legs is heavily penalized because it could result in a dropped rail. Each fence should also be jumped from a consistent take-off distance. A tiny stride added at the base of the jump—known as a “chip”—interrupts the flow of the performance. The horse’s pace is also important, as it is a reflection both of manners and ability. A horse that is rambunctiously raring to go is not representative of a pleasant mount to ride. And if a hunter cannot make it through the lines on a course in the prescribed number of strides without launching into warp drive, he probably doesn’t possess the long, ground-covering step that is sought after in show-ring competition.
With so much going into evaluating a show hunter’s performance, it seems like there should be a wealth of information jotted down on the judge’s scorecard.
“I’ve had classes with 110 hunters, each one needing a score. There isn’t time to write a chapter of comments for each horse. It’s impossible! As soon as one horse finishes the last fence, the next horse comes into the arena,” explains Meredith Kistler, a United States Equestrian Federation hunter judge since 1981.
As a result, hunter judges develop their own shorthand: a collection of cryptic slashes, dots, acronyms and hieroglyphics that mean something just to them. That way, they can quickly make their notations as the horse goes around the course. At a glance, they can decipher how they arrived at that horse’s score, if an exhibitor should ask. Being forced to ask the judge to untangle the web of mysterious markings has a benefit, Meredith says.
“I know that at the bigger shows, riders are not really able to approach the judge. But I think that at smaller shows, as long as they go through the show manager or the steward, competitors should take the opportunity to ask the judge what they might do better next time. It helps them become educated competitors. I can explain my marks in a way that isn’t offensive. As a judge, I never want to insult the exhibitor. It costs a lot of money to walk into the arena and ride in front of me. The last thing I want to do is come off as condescending.” Hence, Meredith focuses on noting positive things about each horse. “One comment I might make for a hunter is, ‘rider tense/horse still soft’ because it reminds me that even though, for example, a novice rider seemed a little scared or apprehensive, the horse did his job quietly and took care of his rider. That’s a great quality in a hunter for that level of rider.”
Meredith believes that as exhibitors become more educated, they’ll cease resorting to excuses like their belief that the judge has something against their horses. “Oh, I’ve overheard comments, such as ‘She doesn’t like my horse because he’s gray; she doesn’t like gray horses.’ That’s not true. I owned a wonderful gray hunter. I love grays. But the rider still has to come into the arena and put in a decent trip.” Meredith even offered how sometimes she sits in the judge’s booth and can’t help but quietly ride along with the exhibitor. “Sure, I’ll see a horse come in, start on course, and think, ‘Oh, I like him.’ And then the rider will get him to a horrible take-off spot. Or he’ll look at a jump and stick off the ground, and I’ll think, ‘Oh, don’t do that!’ ”
So it’s not favoritism that decides the ribbons in a hunter class. More often, it’s ability.
Meredith offers a glimpse at a typical hunter scorecard. Along the far side is a spot to note the exhibitor’s number. Next to that is a row of boxes where she scribbles marks signifying how the horse jumped each fence. Following that is a blank space where she has a chance to record anything particularly noteworthy about that horse’s performance. All of this information results in a numerical grade, which is placed in the last row of boxes beneath the appropriate column of potential scores. Although it seems that the numerical score is subjective, it really isn’t.
The hunter round is being awarded a holistic score based on the overall impression, with 100 being the perfect score. In fact, there have been a few scores of 100 at major hunter competitions, although they are very rare.
“There are automatic scores for major faults,” Meredith says. “There may be a discrepancy between judges of a few points, but basically we all score major faults the same. A rail down in a hunter class is an automatic 55. If a horse breaks the canter and trots on course, it’s a 50. A refusal gets you a 30.”
All of these scores are analogous to getting a D or an F on a test in school signifying that you need to study harder because you aren’t making the honor roll. Meredith says that there are “little things” that also keep a hunter out of the ribbons in a large class.
“While a baby green hunter might be forgiven for skipping through a lead change, where they take a step behind at the trot to catch up onto the correct lead, in any other hunter class that would be seen as trotting on course, and be scored as a 50.”
Another lead change problem that might go unnoticed by a rider? “A horse that swaps his lead in front of the jump,” Meredith explains. “That’s hard for most riders to feel. They think they’ve put in this wonderful round, and can’t understand why they didn’t pin, but unless they had someone knowledgeable on the rail watching their round, they won’t know what I saw.”
That scenario leads to one of Meredith’s pet peeves, echoed by other judges. “Unless educated exhibitors have a good understanding of how their horses performed, and then saw every other round in the class, they really can’t make disparaging comments about the judging.” Each horse is, after all, judged against an ideal standard, “but ultimately each horse is being compared to the other horses in that particular class.”
Now, I don't use exactly the same notation as used on this card, but I understood this judge's notations pretty quickly after reading the card, and before reading the article. The half moon vs. a straight line vs. a ^ notation for the arc of the horse's jump is pretty much universal, as is the X for refusal. Other notations may be more idiosyncractic to the individual judge. For instance, I usually left the blocks at 1 and 10 open to score my overall impression and the beginning and ending hunter circle and scored the fences in blocks 2 - 9. I also marked blown or missed changes, or half changes on the line between the blocks.
Last edited by maura; 02-18-2012 at 12:11 PM.