Forgive me, I am an eventer and know zippo about the jumpers (except that it looks like fun...)...
Can a horse have a record consisting of mostly (but not all) DNPs for a benign reason, like he is just not fast enough? Or would this tell you something more serious is wrong?
Imagine that you know nothing about the skill of the riders except that they are mostly not pros. Horse occasionally does place, but not often.
I can think of many reasons that the context of the show record can usually verify:
Horse is an honest jumper, but a consistent 4 faulter (good teacher though!).
Horse is consistently ridden in huge classes.
Horse's jr/am rider always has one mistake that puts them out of ribbons.
Horse is young and trainer is not even trying to be the fastest.
If it's the Low Ch/AA & Ch/AA Jumper classes, rider has no interest in riding the legs off his horse just for a ribbon.
Many very successful big jumpers (that I have known) have had lackluster careers in their younger days simply because the goal was never to win at that level, but to teach the horse the basics it will need for bigger goals with as little risk to injury or confidence as possible.
And it is very hard to get a ribbon in the competitive Jr/AO classes.
HOWEVER, USEF - It would be GREAT if you would list things like FAULTS, STOPPED OUT & OFF-COURSE instead of that damning DNP for every situation.
Record keeping over here is a little different. It will tell you the faults in each of the 2 rounds. Also how many and the time. It gives you much more to base an opinion. A horse may have 100 points. You look that the record and up and find out those points all came in 90cm's and going higher resulted in faults or inconsistency. Or you see a horse with few points but see they are a young horse moving up the levels with an odd fault here and there but are going places. When someone mentions a horse has so many points I like to check just to see what's really going on. Gives you a better perspective of what a horse has been doing.
COTH, keeping popcorn growers in business for years.
"I need your grace to remind me to find my own." Snow Patrol-Chasing Cars. This line reminds me why I have horses.
Asterix, it really is hard to know much about a low-mid level jumper from the placings alone. Dags sums it up pretty well. I think the two most common things are being ridden by an ammy that consistently makes a mistake or two OR, a nice young jumper that is being brought up the levels with an eye for the bigger stuff, so emphasis NOT on whipping around at top speed. And yep, those classes can be huge. Videos are your friend.
Agree with everything that has been said above. Also, when DD started in jumpers she was on a super safe pony that needed lots of 'encouragement' to gallop...and even then he wasn't very fast. Generally speaking when we went to the bigger shows, we didn't place (despite double clear rounds and the ability to turn on a dime).
Exception was on "optimum time" rounds (Table IV). Pony was very optimum.