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Boys in the show ring

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    Boys in the show ring

    I know that boys in the Hunter/Jumper arena are few and far between. My 11-year-old son only ran into one or at most two other boys (not men...I'm talking about kids who are elementary/middle/young high school age) at last season's shows. Sometimes the judges seemed predisposed to the "cute" factor of girls with braids and bows...even if their pony couldn't get a lead change or a jump was refused.

    Well as he has progressed past the short stirrup arena, I'm wondering if we're going to have to wait for him to complete puberty to expect him not to be penalized for not being a girl. Riding is his sport of choice, and he usually doesn't show his frustration with judges decisions. He did well and his wall is lined with ribbons, but there were occasional shows that were frustrating. This doesn't just go for boys, either. Another member of our show team is the same age, but is just a big, tall girl who rides a 17 h. Oldenburg. She didn't fit the cute-braids-and-bows-on-a-pony mold either.

    We're attending a judge's clinic at a show next weekend. If there is an opportunity to ask a question, I want to ask about how boys are perceived in the ring. What's your take? Any other Moms of boys, or a-typical girls, out there?

    Keep riding and keep showing. If he loves it for the sport he will stick with it. At the local level boys are rare but in the A/AA show world they are common in the hunter/equitation rings and probably the majority in the upper level jumpers.


      I've always found the exact opposite. In my experience boys always seem to get bonus points!

      But really I'm kidding. He's not getting penalized for being a boy. There are a million things that make a judge pin one pair over another. If he's getting beaten by girls on ponies who have refusals and he hasn't had a refusal that's just plain bad judging. Are these rated shows? Because i promise you trips with refusals aren't getting pinned over clear trips at rated shows.

      If he likes it have him keep going and teach him that it's a subjective sport. I hope you haven't been telling him he's not pinning because he's a boy.

      Or try the jumpers. No subjectivity at all in that ring!


        Ive actually always thought the opposite. That they favor the boys over girls. Its probably not the judges but the fellow riders I'm thinking about.


          Growing up, there was a young boy at my barn (a couple of years younger than I was) and he CLEANED UP in everything from short stirrup to the pony hunters and beyond.

          Not because he was a boy. Because he had cute ponies and put together some really solid trips. I don't think he was ever penalized for not having bows bouncing out the back of his helmet.


            I've observed a few male judges who seem to favor boys over girls when most other things are fairly equal.

            Since you say your son has done well overall and that his frustration has been mainly at selected shows, it may be that the judges at those shows didn't care for his horse rather than it being about him being male.

            At rated h/j shows at short stirrup level, my observation is that the suitability of the horse/rider pair - to the class and to each other - seems to be an important factor in placings - again, when other things are fairly equal. The judge has a picture in mind of what the winner looks like, and the packer with perfect manners and a compliant demeanor is usually going to pin higher than a more challenging ride. Just wondering if that might be a factor in what may be happening with your son and the other member of the show team who rides in the 17 hand horse.

            Of course, if refusals and missed changes are being pinned higher than clean trips with more minor errors - that is bad judging, as someone said upthread. Hope that isn't happening at rated shows - if so, calling it to management's attention would not be out of line. Judges are human and do miss things from time to time, but missing a refusal... yikes. I recall a class my daughter was in at schooling show where the judge (who came from Arab breed show world) pinned a horse with run-outs over my daughter's trip - daughter had no major errors, but her trip was kind of erratic in terms of pace. Class was also at the end of a very long, very cold day for the judge so he may have been frozen and brain-fried at that point. We resolved to never again pay for that particular judge's opinion in an over fences class.


              I am not a boy, but I have a couple of guy friends who ride.
              Most guys I know do just as well as the girls, provided they are adequately mounted and turnt-out. That said, I did attend a judge's clinic where a very esteemed judge admitted he tried to encourage young male riders from quitting the sport "through his pinnings". Those were his words, who knows what he exactly meant by them.

              I think this is an age-old logical fallacy. When you do not get a result you expect, you rationalize it by attributing some reason as to why you did not receive the intended result. I knew a girl who was CONVINCED that the judge could see her electric red hair tucked above her ears from their booth, which is why she did not place as well as she thought she could. Was it true? Maybe, but probably not! The problem with competing in a subjective class is that it is exactly that. One person's opinion on one day.

              Even if there is some prejudice, I would encourage the achievement of personal goals. A lot of my best rounds have been ones where progress was made with my horse. Some days you step away with a ribbon to reward this progress, some days you don't. I truly hope your son keeps riding and does not get discouraged! We need more male representation in this sport. He could always dabble in jumpers once he has a solid foundation if the "subjectivity" is getting to him.


                Originally posted by SweetIndulgence View Post
                Ive actually always thought the opposite. That they favor the boys over girls. Its probably not the judges but the fellow riders I'm thinking about.
                They call it "penis points." Yes, it is the judges who award them.
                BLACK LIVES MATTER


                  I have three boys that ride. I have never felt that there was a perception issue related to judging--I've never felt that my boys were either penalized or given an unfair advantage. Honestly, kids on ponies with jackets and helmets on all look pretty much the same. Obviously my son wears a tie (and lacks bows), but I don't feel like there is some big appearance or presentation difference.

                  What I do find is an issue for the kids is the fact that hunters and equitation are judged subjectively and in sometimes the results may seem arbitrary to a kid who did a fantastic job but may not have awareness of the trips other kids had. Also results are heavily dependent on the quality, training and preparation of the pony--things that the kids don't really have any control over.

                  And yes, the show ring also is about "fitting the mold" as you describe it, and sometimes kids and the mounts best suited for them simply don't fit the mold. So, show ribbons often really don't adequately reflect effort and learning which can be frustrating for kids.

                  Oh, and one other thing... My boys are ages 8-10 and let me just say that those growth spurts are really a challenge. We had one year where I felt like one son needed to learn how to ride all over in his new, lanky body.

                  Anyway, to keep my sons from focusing excessively on ribbons (and the frustrations that can ensue) we have chosen to keep the horse showing as a smaller part of their riding for the moment. We keep things fun with foxhunting and do pony club (including tetrathlon, show jumping, dressage, etc.).

                  My suggestions are to consider doing a few horse activities outside of showing, and to make sure that you yourself do what you can to de-emphasize the importance of "ribbon winning" and try and get the priority back on his learning and development as a horseman and rider.


                    I would say since boys are relatively rare at the smaller shows, they stand out a bit more, and might be more memorable to a judge for that reason. Which can be a good thing, or a bad thing, depending on the rider's ability.

                    It's like showing a horse or pony of an unusual color. It will stand out, whether it's good or bad.

                    It's also important to remember that at the smaller, unrecognized shows, the judge may be less experienced, and thus more likely to make mistakes, both in comparing performances and keeping track of things.


                      "That said, I did attend a judge's clinic where a very esteemed judge admitted he tried to encourage young male riders from quitting the sport "through his pinnings"."

                      This. It would definitely seem to me as if there is a "concern" that (horrors!) there aren't enough boys in the sport! I'm not sure why that should be a concern? But at any rate, I've not seen lots of boys out there (and the couple I have seen both had moms who were knowledgeable and had the means to put them on the best horses available), but it did seem they were getting boosts from optimal catch rides on nice horses to extra points and attention from local male trainers, owners, and judges. End result, in my experience, the boys had many advantages and used it to develop their reputations. Everyone else just has to ride well. C'est la vie in the hj world. To figure out what is really going on with your son's rounds I would advise educating yourself as much as possible as to what a good round looks like. That takes some time but it's the only way to figure out when you are having winner's luck and when you really earned the ribbon.


                        I don't think your child's sex has anything to do with his horse show results and hopefully you are not telling him that. ?? perhaps as his mother you are not as objective as you think.


                          we call it "boy points" and it is a real thing
                          "You can't really debate with someone who has a prescient invisible friend"


                            Do you really think a judge is going to come out and say "Why yes I do pin small girls with ribbons in their hair higher because they are cuter"?! I doubt it.

                            There are so many threads that follow the "the judge prefers X so I didn't place as well" theme - insert X with the colour of my horse, the brand of my saddle, the name of my trainer, the breed of my pony, the bit my horse uses etc (etc etc etc...).

                            If you are showing hunters you are asking for 1 person's opinion on 1 particular day. If you feel that your son is being discriminated (assuming it is actually happening) I'd just look for other shows as another poster has suggested.

                            Continue to celebrate his personal successes - teaching a child to be happy with his successes (and also acknowledging what can be improved upon for the future) regardless of his official placing will be a valuable lesson that will last him a lifetime.


                              I have a boy and he has probably gotten some "boy points" in the pony hunters before. Not that he's ever had a really bad trip that pinned over someone else's nice trip, but when all other things seemed equal he may have gotten a point or two bump.

                              I think sometimes the boys stand out in a sea of bows and possibly they stick in the judges' minds. Kind of like a horse or pony with unique markings or coloring...if they do have a nice trip the judges really remember them, especially in a large class. But they also have to put in a good round or it doesn't matter.

                              There have been many days when my son had great rounds and the girls whipped his butt in every class. The girls (and their ponies) were just better than him that day, and the couple of extra "boy points" didn't help him at all.

                              Honestly, it's just horse win some and you lose some, whether you're a boy or a girl!


                                Original Poster

                                I certainly didn't expect so many replies...guess that's what happens when you rant a little.

                                Our son loves to ride, he would sleep in the stall with his pony if he could. We're coming to the end of our lease of a beautiful, but older, pony who had been to pony finals in an earlier life. She saved his butt on several occasions...she knew what she had to do, if only he would get out of her way. Typical guy, he always has to do something different to try and fix things. Ribbons and shows aren't a priority, but we aren't on the A/AA curcuit, and there have been times when the judging has been a little odd at all levels. It's a learning experience. We go to have fun, cheer on our team mates, and hopefully do well. It's more about developing as a rider, doing your best, and challenging yourself.


                                  Original Poster

                                  Originally posted by 2foals View Post
                                  And yes, the show ring also is about "fitting the mold" as you describe it, and sometimes kids and the mounts best suited for them simply don't fit the mold. So, show ribbons often really don't adequately reflect effort and learning which can be frustrating for kids.

                                  Oh, and one other thing... My boys are ages 8-10 and let me just say that those growth spurts are really a challenge. We had one year where I felt like one son needed to learn how to ride all over in his new, lanky body.

                                  Anyway, to keep my sons from focusing excessively on ribbons (and the frustrations that can ensue) we have chosen to keep the horse showing as a smaller part of their riding for the moment. We keep things fun with foxhunting and do pony club (including tetrathlon, show jumping, dressage, etc.).
                                  You're so right...on the day he had his best canter depart ever, the judge seemed to be looking the other way. Still, we cheered that personal best like mad.

                                  Our son would love Pony Club activities or polo, but there isn't the opportunity near our barn and the lease restricts where we can take the pony.

                                  We're getting to the growth spurt territory...I can't imagine how that will be. We were looking to lease a horse, but he's still more comfortable on a pony, thankfully a large pony.


                                    Original Poster

                                    Absolutely not. And as his mother, I'm more on the critical side.


                                      RFOP- I have a boy, a young one and it brought tears to my eyes to hear you describe his love of the pony... he would sleep in his stall... no pressure on my guy, but I sure hope he comes to love horses as much as your guy does.


                                        TBH, this HJ world can drive you crazy! One thing that has helped us is video taping each of DD's rounds. That way she can post and be very proud of the rounds she nailed and share them with her friends and family regardless of the ribbon. The goal is a good round. Nothing better than sharing a flawless round and waiting for the winner to post theirs, raw, unedited footage...unless of course ... they can't, because of that big long spot or the part where they were about to go off course until trainer screaming from rail got their attention. The good, bad, and the ugly on video is often how we learned what made a good round and came to be proud of the objectively good regardless of ribbons.