Most equine competitions that are judged on the subjective view of judging experts involve a critical analysis of the performance of a horse and/or rider either through the execution of specific movements or the negotiation of a pre-determined course.
Every governing body of any horse sport promotes ethical training as well as the best practices that benefit both the horse and ensures peak performance. It is included in every mission statement and nearly all the promotional material. I believe most of it is sincere but some are purely for to make the sport look ethical.
Yet, despite these good intentions so many horse sports are riddled with widespread poor practices. Heavy-handed and sometimes abusive training methods are so often used with the intent to produce soft and energetic performances in the competition ring that it has become an epidemic. We all know this. We’ve seen the headlines and the debates and witnessed it with our own eyes.
So when Laura Dickerson and I were talking around the breakfast table a few days ago and she made such a common-sense proposal, my insides shouted a loud YES.
To paraphrase Laura she asked me, “Why don’t they include marks for the warm-up into the final marks?”
I had heard this suggestion many years ago on a horse forum but didn’t give it much thought at the time. However, the more I think about it the more I think it is an excellent idea.
If we as a horse-loving community truly want to improve both the plight of horses and the value of our sports, then we have to take more seriously the training process that goes into our favourite discipline. We judge the end result and satisfy ourselves that the road taken to get there is less important. But that mindset has given us things like hyperflexion, crank nosebands, draw reins, jump poles wrapped in barb wire, chemical blistering of legs, drugs and so on.
It’s obvious that official judging of a horses warm-up is not going to eradicate all the misdeeds that horses suffer during training, but if you have been a frequenter of watching horses being warmed-up before any event you have likely seen over tightened nosebands which are later loosened prior to an event or see-sawing of the reins or hyperflexion or over spurring or overuse of whips and other anti-good horsemanship practices; all this for the sake of warming up and tuning up a horse to make a good impression when the judges are actually judging.
I would even suggest judging during the warm-up session for objective events like jumping or barrel racing or campdrafting or eventing etc where penalties could be added or deducted from a horse’s score or times.
I see no downside to judging the warm-up session. I know many competitors will complain, but if we consider the practice of good horsemanship and horse welfare to be our main priority in all horse sports, it’s hard to argue against the idea of having the warm-up session count towards the final result.
Photo: This was taken during the warm-up of a Grand Prix dressage test. I believe this is the type of practice that would pay a high penalty if the warm-up sessions were scrutinized and counted towards a horse’s final score.