Despite going to Young Event Horse/Future Event Horse symposiums and courses and clinics for a few years now, I only became involved as a competitor starting last year. Presto went to two FEH shows in 2018 – one qualifier judged by Peter Gray, and then Championships judged by Peter Gray and Robin Walker. I had really good experiences at both shows with both judges, and agreed pretty much 100% with all 3 score sheets we got and the comments on them.
The main complaint I’ve heard over the years regarding the FEH program has been the judging, particularly with regards to inconsistency. It was one of the reasons I wanted to learn so much about how they’re supposed to judge, what they’re looking for, how it works, etc before I got involved. And last year, I had very positive and consistent experiences. I came away from both shows feeling like I got completely appropriate feedback. The scores were fair and so were the assessments. Peter and Robin disagreed a little on a couple minor things at Championships, as is to be expected from one person to the next, but overall I felt the judging was quite good and accurate and very consistent. This time was a little different.
First off – I have to say the show itself was great. I’m so grateful to have more FEH classes available to us down here, especially ones that are held on the weekend so I don’t have to take a day off of work and drive 4 hours each way to a recognized HT just to show a baby on the line. I’ll be honest, I probably wouldn’t show FEH at all if that was my only option. This venue, a new one to me, was beautiful and the show ran well. No complaints there at all. But the feedback I got from the judge was very… confusing. Some of it really had me scratching my head completely. This judge was totally new to me, I’ve never shown under her or met her before, and overall it was a very different experience than what I got last year under the other judges, for several reasons.
I debated about how much of this I should even say here because I definitely don’t want it to sound like I’m complaining. Like I said above, the show was super, and my horse got his qualifying score, so… I’m 0% mad or upset at anyone. I want to be totally clear on that. I’m only saying any of this because I like the FEH program and believe in what it’s trying to do, and I think that we have to be willing to speak up when we care about something and want it to be better. I also think it’s worth talking about this experience and how it compares to past ones, for people who might not be as familiar with FEH. I want to caveat this by saying I know that wildly differing opinions are just a part of subjective judging and horse showing. But consistency is one of the big goals with all judging, dressage or in-hand or otherwise. I also think it’s important to be willing to say the same things in public that you’re saying in private, especially when giving feedback about stuff that can be improved or made more clear. That’s what this is about, and the much more succinct version of my feedback has already been sent through the official pipeline.
All of that said, my issues were thus:
1. The judge asked how Presto was bred. This was a huge point of contention at the FEH symposium we went to in Ocala in February, because Maxime Livio thought it was important to consider as part of the judging, but the founders and heads of FEH strongly disagreed. They thought it was important for the judges to evaluate the horse that was in front of them, totally without bias, and it was stated unequivocally that the judges are definitely NOT supposed to seek out that information prior to judging. It threw me for a loop when she asked me, enough to where I asked for clarification “His breed registry, or his breeding?” and she said “his breeding”. I told her, but it was weird considering I know they aren’t supposed to ask.
2. She never looked at him square from the front or the rear. They are supposed to travel around the horse (one side, front, other side, back) to fully assess the conformation, and the handler should square up the front and hind feet as the judge travels around so they can see the straightness of the limbs. That didn’t happen.
3. She only used half marks on the score sheet, like you would for dressage scoring. FEH is supposed to use the full scale, ie scores of 6.8 or 7.2 or whatever. They REALLY encourage the judges to use those extra tenths, because it can make a definite difference in the overall score, given how every category is multiplied and weighted. I will say that obviously I didn’t see every sheet, but all four of the ones I did see had nothing but .0 or .5 marks.
4. Scores and comments didn’t match up. For his Type, which has always been Presto’s best score (never been below an 8) the comment said excellent athletic refined type with a score of… 7. I admittedly don’t quite understand how that comment matches up with a score of 7.
Those are my official observations. As for the completely personal opinion side of things, I disagreed with a few comments. Especially the ones saying that his neck is tied in low and that his pasterns/shoulder are upright. I don’t see those things AT ALL. I went back and stood next to him at the trailer and looked again, still nope. He’s never gotten comments remotely like that before. A judge doesn’t have to like my horse or score him well, but I do want to be able to at least understand what the judge is seeing. If you said his pasterns are a little long? Yup, I agree with that. Toes out on the RF? Yup, also true. Neither of those things were mentioned, but upright was. I respectfully disagree, which is fine, it’s just weird to hear things that no one else has ever said and that I can’t see myself.
After we trotted the triangle she spent a while discussing how she was surprised that he has a big stride considering how upright his shoulder is, and that he moves uphill considering how low his neck is set. I mean… his shoulder is maybe a touch straight, but the stride length comes much more from the humerus, and his is quite long and sloped. His stride is huge because of that (for real, you should see him gallop, the kid can cover some ground). The “low set neck” was a little confusing too, since I do have a horse with a low set neck and this one is not it. I think his movement matches his conformation, personally – good and bad. It’s big and he travels slightly uphill, but he’s not naturally very active or underneath himself behind. That’s the weakest part of his movement (and has always been mentioned at his other FEH classes and his breed inspection) but it wasn’t mentioned at all. His trot was his best score, actually (an 8).
So it was just very different from my other experiences, and one that left me scratching my head a bit. I will say that I do appreciate that she took her time and was more conversational, something I know they aren’t really supposed to do but I did kind of like. I might not have agreed with all of it, but I liked having additional words and explanations aside from just whatever fits in the comment box on the scoresheet.
In the end we DID get our qualifying score for Championships, so mission accomplished, and no harm no foul. That was really why we went. I’m still on board with the FEH program and in full support of it’s purpose. I already know who the judges will be for Championships, and I’ve had good experiences with them. Hopefully by then Presto’s current growth spurt will slow down and he’ll look a little less weedy! And, uh… maybe Henry will stop taking huge chunks out of his hide. I’m excited for the opportunity to represent Willow Tree Warmbloods at the Central Championships again, and see some friends and their babies!