Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fence Judging: It's a Job

Phillip Dutton navigating the second element of my fence

For the sixth year in a row, I had the privilege of being a fence judge at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event. But I’m actually quite the baby; I spoke with at least three folks who’ve been doing this for 20+ years! Last year at WEG I opted to “just” be a competitor and roam from fence to fence; but there is something magical about watching every single rider—the BEST riders in the world—take a single fence, seeing how they navigate it differently.

Being a fence judge, however, isn’t all savoring each ride; it’s making sure that we pay attention to every ride in case of a problem, making sure that each rider has as close to the SAME ride, making sure that the crowd doesn’t interfere, making sure that the jump remains consistent….and sometimes we have minutes, sometimes we have seconds. While I have friends stop by and say hi, I feel bad, but I can’t spend time talking with them. I have a job to do. I have to make sure the riders have a good, consistent, fair experience over MY fence.

My fence this time was #26, the Angled Brushes. I recall a version of this fence from WEG, and I also recall some folks having a wee bit of trouble with the fence, but I wasn’t quite prepared for it to begin so quickly. Our first rider, Allison Springer and Arthur, were in third place and had gone cleanly up to us. Arthur was still “going” and since the approach to our fence was a long downhill gallop, I thought she was having trouble getting her horse back. She got to the first brush fairly flat, then he put in an extra step and launched himself through the brush (scraping his stifle), stumbling on the landing and popping Allison off.

We had several “iffy” rides, mostly from riders slowing down too much and not having enough impulsion to get over the brush and ditch handily. What I learned was that a good, forward, up, consistent ride worked. Every time. Notable was Kim Severson’s ride—she made it look like a series of bounces. Mary King was VERY forward, but also VERY balanced and consistent. Same for Hannah Sue Burnett. Bravo!

Poor Mark Todd was one of those who slowed down a bit too much, and his horse simply said “I can’t do it at this pace—I’m tired!” and ran out of the first element. He circled and took the long route and then finished the course well.

I saw a LOT of tired horses—I mean REALLY, tired, spent horses—and I wonder how the SJ will go tomorrow. The new course designer provided a challenging course, and the fact that the refusals and runouts and falls were spread out throughout the course makes me think that it was a fair course, too. Well done!

After cross country day, I always feel a little bit like the young girl in the ancient “Shake and Bake” commercial: “Mamma made fried chicken—and I helped!”. Once again, we had a successful Rolex cross country—and I helped!

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