The South region tournament of 2010 has come to a conclusion. This was one of the largest tournaments in the entire country with massive agenda from morning till dawn. Therefore, there was great pressure on the judges and fortunately many of the most experienced judges of the country were at work.
My reason for writing about the tournament and the judicatory is the fact that quite many experienced judges were at work at the tournament. Therefore I decided to sit down and write a few lines about the tournament and the judicatory itself. More specifically the question is, what exactly the message is coming from all these experienced judges towards the riders of the tournament. I fully expect that these professionals will appreciate criticism of their work and will not take it personally. The following judges were working at this tournament: Hulda Geirsdóttir, Gylfi Geirsson, Þórir Örn Grétarsson, Kristinn Skúlason, Tómas Snorrason, Hallgrímur Birkisson and Sandra Poul.
As I enjoy watching tournaments like this one I watched about 90% of the shows which were presented during the weekend,. There were diverse presentations with many different horses. But after having watched all these shows, I have to admit that I am having trouble realizing what the judges are looking for.
But the messages I did get were the following:
1. LEG ACTION!! This is a matter number 1, 2 and 3. If the horse has good leg action then it does not matter how trotty or pacey the horse is. And the more leg action the better, no matter whether the horse is rigid or not, whether some adjustments are lacking or the implementation is impossible. For example, at the finals of this tournament, there were horses with great leg action but their tölt constantly had a trotty beat to it. And this kind of high leg action wobble gave them a score of 6.5-7.0 while clean tölt with good leg action gave a score of 6.0. So if you intend to get good results in the sports competition, then the main issue is great leg action. Clean gaits, rhythm and calibration… this is irrelevant. Of course there were horses which had both great leg action and clean gaits, but way too many trotty and pacey horses were receiving high scores. This especially applied to the younger classes and those with less experience.
2. SPEED and more SPEED. It is more likely to be successful to ride full speed with breakaways and broken tempo, rather than to ride without failures. Performance where the rider speeds up the canter, the gæðinga trot and fast tölt with failing tempo here and there always receives higher scores than when the rider performs with security and shows classy riding. I did not quite understand this, because in the instructions it says for example that both trot and canter should be shown “slow to medium speed”! Great portion of the horses at the South Region Tournament should be successful in competition where canter and trot is ridden full speed, because if this was medium speed, I would have liked to see them ride full speed!! Like mentioned before there is no penalty for changing gaits and in the finals it seemed to be sufficient to ride a part of the track trotting or canter in order to receive a full score.
3. RIDING. This is irrelevant. All these clinics and training lessons people are attending is not necessary and just a waste of money to spend on such things. Although it says in the instructions that a judge has permission to give 0.5 points for exemplary riding as a prize, but this is not something that is practiced. Performance without failures, conflict and breakaways….is usually classified as “dull” and therefore no need to be emphasizing that. Riders who have rehearsed asking the horse to canter from standstill, riders who ride/help the horses through corners, riders who ride canter and trot at a correct speed etc…are not rewarded. Well, perhaps the judges sometimes use the 0.5 points for equitation but it seems to be appropriate only when someone goes at a really fast speed tölt (failing tempo allowable!!!) In any case the fact is that the performance of fast tölt receives a score of 1.0-2.0 higher points than a great show at canter, walk or trot does.
4. WHAT IS YOUR NAME AND WHOM DO YOU KNOW. When I was young I became extremely glad when I received a VIP card for entrance into places like Casablanca and Ingolfscafé. Then I got to pass the crowd in the line and felt like an important guy. It was especially handy to know one of the doormen, because then I got to go directly inside, no matter how late in the evening it was. This seems also to be the case in horsemanship, that there are so called VIP cards in circulation and some members and their closest friends always get to pass and to ahead of the line, no matter how poor the presentation is.
This is the content of the message that I got at the South Region Tournament and I have to admit that this is not what I felt that sports competition should revolve around. Many of those who made it into the finals presented a show like I have described here above and unfortunately there are examples of horses in the top seats of the finals, that were not showing clean gaits and therefore their presentations was worthless!
Soon the Íslandsmót in horse sports will be held and I understand that some of the judges that were at work in the South Region Tournament will also be at work in the Íslandsmót. I am hoping that their emphasis and concentration will be better this time because the judicatory at the South Region Tournament was not good. In addition to the issues I mentioned here earlier I would like to mention that the judges are extremely mediocre oriented and the spectators on the slopes (cars) had great fun seeing scores like 6.0 and 6.5 appear at the finals. And the funny part was that it did not seem to make any difference how the show turned out. Therefore it did not come as a surprise that in many cases there were a few riders that had a tie, and in one case there were a total of three riders in the top seat. I overheard a judge saying that all the horses were quite alike and even, but I would like to protest that. I especially want to put emphasis on the fact that for shows that were full of flaws there was no penalty and those with flawless shows were not rewarded for that.
Examples of what I am talking about:
Riders who had to spend a whole round in order to get the horse to canter correctly.
Riders who did not manage to get the horse to trot immediately or they lost their horses into trot for an entire long side of the track
Riders who do not ride with the horse when cantering.
Riders to “sit during walk” and to not ride it.
Getting the horse into a pace and slowing down again.
Broken beat, trotty or pacey.
I think it is very important that riders and judges give these things some thought. Judges have to realize that their judicatory is giving a clear message to the riders. Messages like the ones I mentioned earlier are in my mind not correct and not in coordination with the sports event. But these messages make the riders arrange their shows in a different manner and the sports shows of today resemble the gæðinga shows even more, which is a shame. It is the judges in the sports events who are responsible for this development because they reward shows which are full of flaws with speedy and high leg movements.
I wonder whether some of the judges are misunderstanding their role in a bad way. Sometimes one has the feeling that they think of themselves as the stars of the tournament instead being “servants” for the riders, so to speak. Their role is to assess the show with the guidelines at hand and follow those prerequisites in every respect. They are not supposed to be taking a personal power trip or being a neutral passenger with the other four judges. Judges have power and this is accompanied with responsibility. It is important for all judges to realize their responsibility and take their work seriously. If a presentation is not successful, it should be addressed, no matter which horse or rider is on the track and also a good show should be rewarded for no matter who is on the track.
I have to admit that I had to think long and hard about this matter before putting it down on a piece of paper. This is because many times before I have given the work of judges some thought and written about it in the Eiðfaxi magazine. After that, it became clear that many judges are quite sensitive and intolerant to criticism. That fact that I dare criticize their work came down on those who are most dear to me, and I regret that.
I would like to congratulate the judges in the Íslandsmót for the opportunity to work at this grand event and certainly hope that their message to the riders will be clear and in accordance with the emphasis of the sports competition.