I have never been described as quiet and I am sure my mother will tell you that I am never short of something to say; I started talking quite late so maybe I am making up for lost time. However, whilst competing is not the time to be chatty. It is a time to focus and be professional. It is amazing though, as a judge, how much you hear. I am not saying the ring is a no talk zone but there are things to say and things not to say. Here are 5 key offenders:
The equine pep talk: good boy, steady, trot on….. Or on one occasion I even heard a full blown conversation “Now, we are just going to do what we’ve practiced. Ok? You remember about the halting? And we can nail the trot section.” I wasn’t 100% sure whether the handler was hearing the horse answer or whether this was some inner dialogue that she was accidentally voicing. I am pretty sure she was conversing with the horse though. Showing is not like dressage where talking is strictly prohibited but it needs to be limited. It’s lovely to see someone enjoying themselves and loving their horse but subtly is needed with the chitchat. The only exception to this in my opinion is the lead rein class – I have no objections to a little jockey having some little pointers, directions and encouragement. Although still there is a limit.
The X Factor sob story: I can’t sing that well but my dead grandma who rescued kittens wanted me to sing after I left an abusive relationship and overcame cancer. After you hear these stories you so want the person to do well but if they aren’t good enough they simply shouldn’t win. Brutal but true. It is the same if your horse is a rescue – it is wonderful when a horse with a difficult backstory does well but telling the judge isn’t really on. It shouldn’t be a factor in judging a class and so the judge should not be told. Do you really want to win because the judge feels sorry for you? Or do you want to win because the horse you rescued has become a star?
The pre-performance excuse: “How old is your horse?”, “He is 16 but this is is first outdoor show for several years, and we got held up in traffic so didn’t do a proper warm up, and I twisted my elbow last week so can’t handle him as I’d like…” You’re not doing yourself any favours. It’s a bit like a bad workman blaming his tools. Apologising before you start doesn’t really set the scene for a winner. Don’t make the excuse, do the best job you can and that’s enough.
The sales pitch: a horse’s breeding, previous results and interesting stories are fantastic for journalists and interesting for the judge but like the sob story, only suitable for after the class.
The line up banter: Chatting in the line up is acceptable – in a big class there is a lot of waiting about – but it needs to be kept discrete. If loud, it can be distracting for the judge and disrespectful for other competitors. Plus be careful what you say, the judge doesn’t need to half overhear that your horse has been lame for weeks, needed lungeing for 4 hours or that you are hungover.
Objectivity is hard – even the most honest judge can be influenced almost subconsciously by something. All this talk just takes away from your performance. It is either something the judge needs to ignore, a little annoyance or just a bit rude. Showing is about presenting the best image possible. Let the horses’ amazing performance do the talking and keep your stories for the press after your lap of honour.
I will admit I have probably at one stage committed all five of these – when Pie was younger (and dare I say, not quite as perfect as he is now) I definitely played the sob story card and threw an excuse in on occasion but it wasn’t a good shout. And on one occasion, I really messed up an approach to a jump and involuntarily apologised to my horse so loudly that the judged heard. Thankfully she found it amusing! Anyone willing to admit their vocal faux pas?