Over the past 20 years, I’ve regularly competed in the hunter divisions on a variety of horses. And I’ve been fortunate to win my fair share, from the smallest local Virginia shows on my baby green mounts, to major AA shows aboard more experienced partners. Although there are many shows that I remember fondly, a special few truly stand out. And it’s not necessarily for the color of the ribbons I received that day, but, instead, it’s the person who was sitting in the judge’s box.
Having a horseman I know and respect–even if he or she is someone I only know through reputation–evaluating my performances creates a much more lasting impression, especially when I have the good fortune to ride well. For instance, at the Middleburg National (Va.), when I was 16 and on a large pony, a veteran Olympian judged that day. I still remember the exact words of encouragement he gave me after my classes when he walked by and noticed me sitting in the grass watching.
Unfortunately, for the past few decades we’ve lost more of our top horsemen and judges–Victor Hugo-Vidal, Daniel P. Lenehan and Sallie Sexton, to name just a few–than the industry has replaced. Fewer of today’s horsemen have taken the opportunity to obtain a U.S. Equestrian Federation Registered (R-rated) judge’s license because, as we all know, the standard process is time consuming and expensive (especially in income lost at home and on the road when learner judging).
But now the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association leaders, in conjunction with the U.S. Equestrian Federation, have developed two programs to give the “younger” generation of horsemen the incentive to take that next step in their careers–the revised fast-track and judge’s mentor programs. The judge’s mentor program is the newest of the three paths to a judge’s card.
Although the details are still being fine-tuned, the premise of the judge’s mentor program is that a prominent R-rated judge in the sport may apply through the USHJA and the USEF to be a mentor. If accepted, that established judge will then choose a horseman whom he believes would be a qualified judge. Together, the pair then applies for acceptance into the program. The applicant will judge with his or her mentor a set number of shows and then can apply to receive R-rated status. The person will in essence skip the lengthy process of obtaining a learner judge’s license and then r-rated (Recorded) status.
“We’ve had a huge problem in this industry; we simply don’t have enough qualified judges,” said Louise Serio, USHJA and USEF Board member and R-rated judge. “This new program will allow prominent professionals to get their judge’s card in a decreased amount of time. If you’re at the top of your level, you should be rewarded.”
While proponents of the program are many, there are some people who oppose these programs and believe that there’s more to judging than simply being a high-profile horseman. Nevertheless, adding these horsemen to the pool of judges doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll jump in with both feet. “It’s important that the people who do this don’t take judging lightly,” cautioned Serio. “You still have to learn the system and take the time to gather know-ledge. This program gives them the opportunity to try it. If they don’t like it, that’s OK too.”
I think it’s fantastic that these eminent horsemen now have additional doors into the judge’s ranks. The Olympian who gave me that fifth-placed ribbon 20-some years ago doesn’t remember that particular day, but I sure do. And I’d bet that many of today’s juniors would cherish a ribbon if Marge Engle or Laura Kraut were presiding over their classes.