I don’t do the hunters anymore. I gave up on that world a long time ago and moved to jumpers.
I happen to have a nice jumper-bred mare who decided to be a hunter that my trainer wanted to show. She knew my hesitation, but we agreed to give it another shot. My mind has not been changed with the return—in fact, I think it’s actually worse.
I really have very little skin in the game, so I feel like I can say some things about fairness in general, and it won’t affect me as much. And since it’s a sport I still care about, I want to raise awareness and offer some suggestions for improvement.
At a recent premier show, a well-known rider bounced two rails in the cups, dragged a lead change, trotted around the end of the arena, and spurred the horse into a run to chase down the next jump and scored a 78. They beat a horse with a nice round other than three light rubs and wound up third in a competitive class.
I raised my concern over the judging to a steward and show manager, who were both supportive. However I was told, due to USEF rules, I could speak to the judge about my horse’s rounds only, which I didn’t have a problem with, or pay to file a complaint against the judge.
Why is it that when I agree with how my horse is pinned, I can’t raise concern over a different horse’s score? Why can’t we discuss these concerns? How will we fix issues if we can’t talk about them? The scorecard should be public record, and we should be able to talk about it. Why are we hiding the judging that backs up the score? Silencing those with concerns is how we keep doing the same wrong thing over and over.
Many people do not want to say anything due to fear of retaliation. Luckily that’s not as much of an issue for me, but I do worry about the fallout for my one horse and my trainer. Will we be blacklisted, as others fear? Why should that even be a question? This is supposed to be fun. And it’s supposed to be fair. If it can’t be either, we should do away with this sport, especially with what we pay to participate.
I’ve heard big name people essentially apologizing for winning or placing well when they knew they shouldn’t. I’ve heard an owner say they won’t clap because the round was so bad, but they still get an undeserved good score. Do you think they enjoy being rewarded when they shouldn’t? Maybe. But I hope and believe most have more class and self-respect than that. Athletes can step up and do the right thing. My husband is a big hockey fan and pointed out a professional player who recently missed a shot, and the referees called hooking on the defender. The player had the decency to step up and say he wasn’t hooked, and the penalty was waived. We need more of that. We need better sportsmanship.
It’s a problem when “in-gate judge” is a well-known term. For those unaware, it means when a big name rider or trainer shows up at the gate, they essentially start with the upper hand. Their mistakes often appear to be overlooked. The perception is that the judges already have an idea of how they are going to score the round and the class.
What is the future of the sport? Personally, I’m disenfranchised. I know many others are as well. Do we want to grow the sport? If so, having an uneven playing field, or even just the perception of one, will not help that. So I say it’s time for a change. It’s time for an overhaul.
Here are my suggestions that I submitted to USEF and their responses sent via a spokesperson:
• Make scoring even more objective. Instead of 10-point buckets, let’s say it’s X points for a rub. It’s X points for dragging a lead; it’s X points for a swap in the line.
USEF: There are generic standardized scores for some faults. For example, a refusal is 40, but judges can go up or down slightly to address two horses that both had a refusal. One refusal may have been less offensive, so that refusal might receive a 42 (if all other factors are considered equal). This allows judges to avoid giving the same score to two horses.
• Post scorecards after the class. Everyone should be able to see why they got the score they did and how it compares to others in the class. It happens in reining. It happened when my daughter figure skated. Why can’t it happen here?
USEF: Hunter and equitation judges typically use symbols to mark the positives and negatives of a competitor’s ride, which may make it difficult for competitors to read. Not all judges use the exact same scoring methods, so the symbol use and meanings may vary from judge to judge. Additionally, a stagger method is often utilized, and all of the competitor’s scores are on a single card for each class. Individual scorecards are not used.
• Utilize scribes so there is no excuse for “I didn’t see that.” I’ve scribed in reining. It’s usually a volunteer position to learn from judges what they’re looking for; therefore, little to no additional cost.
USEF: Scribes could be difficult to use for hunter and equitation classes because of the scoring methods used. As mentioned above, symbols are used on scorecards to remind judges of positive and negatives for each round, and the scribes may not know the method that the judge uses. This could make it difficult for the judge when officiating in large classes or when management asks for the cards to be open for three to four classes at a time.
Amand Lorinc advocates that hunter scoring be standardized and made public. Mollie Bailey Photo
• Utilize multiple judges due to subjective scoring. USEF Pony Finals and USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships do this. Look at what other subjectively scored sports do. If one judge misses it (due to angle, distraction or whatever reason), the other should catch it.
USEF: Multiple judges must be used during certain times. For example, according to GR1008.3, “Rated Hunter sections at Premier competitions must be judged by two Registered (R) judges.” Please refer to GR1008 and GR1009 of the USEF rulebook for all of the situations requiring multiple judges.
• Video review. This could at least start in money classes. Most shows have the ability to do this. Judges can review aspects they are not certain about. Also, others in the class could challenge a score like in other sports. Figure skating, gymnastics and a multitude of other sports have implemented video review, so I’m sure this could be done. It may not have every detail, but it would be better than nothing.
USEF: Video review in divisions that are subjective, such as the hunter division, may become complicated since everyone watching may have a different opinion of a round, or the recording may be from a different viewpoint than the judge. The jumper division may use video review, but not for timing purposes.
• Remove cell phones. The National Labor Relations Board has taken the position that employees have a presumptive right, in most instances, under the National Labor Relations Act to use personal phones during breaks and other non-working times. That does not mean they can use them while working, aka judging. If they don’t want them removed, there should be a better way to monitor. Scribes could help monitor this activity as well.
USEF: GR1033.3 states, “Except in the discharge of their official duty, the use of cellular phones or other similar communication devices, including computers, by judges while in the ring (including center ring), judges’ box, judges’ stand or on any part of a course during a competition is strictly prohibited.” If you see a judge using their cell phone inappropriately while judging, please report it by submitting a negative confidential evaluation of the judge online. Please note, however, that some judges may be taking photos of their scorecards at the end of each class to send via text or email rather than handing them off, so that contact is reduced as a result of COVID-19 precautions. Also, judges may use their phone or tablet to check on a rule, and that would be permitted according to GR1033.3.
The USEF representative suggested I pass my concerns on to USHJA “as they are responsible for developing the continuing education curriculum for hunter/jumper officials.” I will do that next.
I want this industry to thrive. I want people to show up with the hope that their little horse can compete with the big dogs in the industry. I don’t want people to keep their horse home (as I have) when they see who the judge will be. Let’s make this sport fair and fun again.
Amanda Lorinc is the owner of Harpeth Meadow Stables, a training, boarding, breeding and sales facility in Nashville, Tennessee, established in 2013. Harpeth Meadow breeds Dutch Warmblood hunter/jumpers and stands two stallions. They breed and develop horses for the highest levels of competition.