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The Numbers Don’t Lie

Filed under: Current Articles,Editorial,Education,Featured |     

70, -1, 0, +½, -5, What do all of these numbers mean?

by Chris Crumpler

Why did I score the way I did? Are the rules as objective as they claim to be? When competing in a scored event, these are all questions that may come to mind. Did I ‘plus’ that last maneuver? Am I in the deduction area? Did I complete that obstacle correctly? The numbers don’t lie and, in this case, they also judge.

TrailScored events are based on precise maneuvers that are evaluated based on a rating system. When judging, how do you know when to plus a maneuver and when to subtract? To determine a plus or minus score on a given maneuver, you must first know if it is correct according to the description in the Judges Guide. If it is not correct, the maneuver can’t mark a zero or above. If it is correct and has a higher degree of difficulty, i.e. controlled speed, it then becomes credit earning and can be marked with a +½ or above.

A brief overview of how this system works is as follows. Based on a baseline score of 70, a judge has the option to plus an exhibitor or minus an exhibitor to his or her discretion. The score of 70 denotes an average performance. This is based on rules put forth in the respective rulebooks of each major breed association. Each score is derived from the precision of how a maneuver is completed. Judges are allowed to score using a plus and minus scale based on ½ point ratings. Therefore, the numbers mentioned above give the denoted score for a maneuver. In five-judge shows, the high score and the low score are eliminated and the remaining scores are added to make the final score, i.e. 71 + 71½ + 70 = 212½

Once the performance is complete and the judge has assigned value to each maneuver, he or she can begin to determine the overall look of the scored pattern and assess appropriate value to that pattern. Scored events are and will forever be about the way a horse is handled through a pattern. The coordination between an exhibitor and their horse is first and foremost on display. Jim Willoughby wrote the best description of scored events when the current scoring system was developed in the early 1960s.

“To rein a horse is not only to guide him, but also to control his every movement. The best reined horse should be willingly guided or controlled with little or no apparent resistance and dictated to completely. Any movement on his own must be considered a lack of control. All deviations from the exact written pattern must be considered a lack of/or temporary loss of control and therefore a fault that must be marked down according to the severity of deviation. After deducting all faults set here within, against execution of the pattern and the horse’s overall performance, credit should be given for smoothness, finesse, attitude, quickness and authority of performing various maneuvers, while using controlled speed which raises the difficulty level and makes him more exciting and pleasing to watch to an audience.”

This was the beginning of an objective scoring system, forms of which are now being used by many different disciplines in the equine world. While we can never eliminate the human factor, it is as close as we can come to establishing an industry-wide standard. Scored events include Reining, Trail, and Western Riding. All have differences in their need to be judged in specific ways. When preparing to do your best in the show ring, looking at each of these events separately and getting expert opinions on what scores mean is essential.

Beginning with reining, Larry Willard talks about how competitors may be scored in this event and how they may want to look at and analyze the specifics of each pattern. “Judging from a positive standpoint and not seeking out deductions is a good way to begin judging,” explains Willard. The average score of 70 is the score that you should see most often in reining when all maneuvers are done correctly. Willard explains, “One of the things people don’t understand is that you can get to 70 many different ways. Each maneuver is scored from a -1½ to a +1½ in ½ point increments with penalties deducted from the overall score. Each maneuver is scored separately from the others. So, a horse may have one poor maneuver, five average maneuvers, and one good maneuver to mark a 70. A horse may also mark a 72 but may have a 2 point penalty for a score of 70.”

The different ways in which maneuvers are scored are subjective to the judge’s discretion as based on the rules. Willard says in order to determine a plus or minus score on a given maneuver, you must first know if it is correct according to the description in the Judges Guide. “If it is not correct, it can’t mark a zero or above. If it is correct and has a higher degree of difficulty, i.e., controlled speed, it then becomes credit earning and can be marked +½ or above depending on the degree of difficulty.”

Larry (4)In Reining, many different maneuvers combine to make a pattern that flows. Willard describes, “Physically, the stop is thought of as most difficult, but you must consider the whole maneuver. The approach is part of the stop and a rollback may be included as well. From a training standpoint, the most difficult maneuver is the large fast circle [with a] change [of] lead to a small, slow circle. Most people don’t realize how difficult it is to train a horse to do this with smoothness and finesse.”

We look at this finesse when transitioning into the way that Trail and Western Riding are both judged. Trail patterns consist of seven to twelve maneuvers. One thing to be clear about is that a +1½ score doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be excellent. Conversely, it doesn’t have to be the worst possible maneuver to be a -1½; it just has to be extremely poor. Western Riding is similar to Trail in that the scoring follows the same amount of maneuvers. Mike Craig specializes in these events and has been training the kind of finesse it takes for horses to be successful.
Craig enjoys the challenge and finesse of Trail competition. Craig describes Trail as “Playing pick-up sticks without actually touching the sticks.” When judging Trail, he says, “The overall picture is just as important as the score.”

How is Trail judged then? Trail uses the same scoring system in regards to point values. Craig explains, “This class will be judged on the performance of the horse over obstacles, with emphasis on manners and response to the rider and quality of movement.” Each obstacle will receive a score based on many different aspects. Rulebooks explain that credit will be given to horses negotiating the obstacles with style and some degree of speed, providing correctness is not compromised. For Craig, “Horses should receive credit for showing attentiveness to the obstacles and the capability of picking their own way through the course when obstacles are presented to them.” A horse’s willingness to respond to the rider’s cues on more difficult obstacles should also be taken into consideration by a judge.

Craig’s favorite obstacle to judge in Trail is the lope-over. He describes how he judges a lope-over. “When set six to eight feet apart, I first look at the horse’s approaching speed to the obstacle. Next, I look at the path the exhibitor puts his or her horse on. Watching then for consistency in speed and the horse’s willingness and attentiveness, I watch for faults in the execution.” Craig explains, “I listen for hooves hitting the logs. In this case, I score as the rulebook tells me to score. I deduct ½ a point for each hit. If everything goes well, even with some ½ point deductions, I can sometimes give a +1, which can erase two mistakes at the ½ point deduction margin.” Finesse is the finest thing in Trail to pay attention to in this class. Western Riding takes the same approach.

For Western Riding, technique is important, but attention to detail is even more crucial. Western Riding is an event where the horse is judged on the quality of gaits, flying lead changes at the lope, response to the rider, manners, and disposition. The horse should perform with reasonable speed and be sensible, well-mannered, free, and easy-moving. The rulebooks all explain Western Riding in a manner that is consistent with giving credit for and placing an emphasis on smoothness, even cadence of gait throughout the entire pattern, and the horse’s ability to perform flying lead changes precisely, easily, and simultaneously with both hind and front at the center point between markers.

Four different Western Riding patterns are recognized and each has a unique direction to follow. Craig says, “The horse should have a relaxed head carriage showing response to the rider’s hands, with a moderate flexion at the poll. Horses may be ridden with light contact or on a reasonably loose rein.”

Craig explains, “Judging this event is fun, because you have to stay on your toes. Emphasis is placed on designated lead change areas, which are described as being one stride before or after the center of the pattern.” The finesse in Western Riding is incredibly difficult to learn. Craig goes on, “different penalties exist for failure to execute lead changes in the proper areas. One point is to be deducted if the change takes place before or after the one stride region in the center. A three point deduction is taken for anything more than one stride, and a five point deduction [is taken] for failure to change completely.” Craig says Western Riding takes a lot of time to learn for any horse and rider team.

Trail 2Scored events come with many stipulations when it comes to the judge’s card. Detailed rules can be found in all association rulebooks. Both Willard and Craig agree that starting with the rules is the best way to optimize performance. In Reining, the way a horse is controlled and its response to cues are the biggest aspects to pay attention to when judging and competing. When entering the ring to compete in Trail and Western Riding, it is important to remember that an overall picture of finesse and correctness are ultimately pleasing to a judge’s eye.

The judge holds the objectivity of scored events and relies on his or her unique ability to interpret the rules set forth in the rulebooks. For these three events, many different rules exist that make them unique. When judging, a judge has the ability to decide what penalty fits the fault. Therefore, inherently scored events lose some objectivity. Scoring is difficult and judges must be on top of their game to be able to watch and accurately score any event.

When looking back at the numbers, 70, -1, 0, +½, -5, you should now have a better understanding of where these come from and how a judge looks at scored pattern classes. Remember to think!

Click here to read the complete article from the Equine Chronicle November/December 2013 Issue, Vol. 16 Number 7.


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