Robert, Kayleigh and I spent the day Saturday out at Queeny Park in Manchester, Mo. jump judging the cross-country course for the QPEE Horse Trials. We were assigned to the water complex, always an entertaining series of jumps to judge because they involve water and a small pond with a variety of jumps in and out of the complex.
I love jump judging. It's a fun day, you meet tons of great horse people and you get to watch all levels of horse and rider pairs navigate the course.
There are four types of horse/rider combos that come through the water complex. I've noticed this at several events I've jump judged.
1. Water? What water?: This is the experienced pair. The horse has been through water more than a few times and the rider has no question about whether or not the horse will balk at the water. They hit that water at a gallop without a pause, trust not a question in either mind. They are a satisfying pair to watch because you know they are working very well together. They are probably reading each others' minds at this point.
2. Well....okay, if you say so!: This pair is usually an experienced rider on an inexperienced horse. The horse's ears and head come up at the sight of the water and the strides shorten as they approach. The horse is thinking: "Yes? No? Go? Stop?" But the rider feels the balk begin and gives the horse the confidence it needs to hit the water. The horse trusts the rider's command and surges forward into the wet obstacle, often leaping the first 10 feet of water and hitting the deep end with a splash. The horse lifts it's legs high as it goes through, trusting the rider but still a bit unsure about the footing.
3. Come on. Buck up. This easy.: The inexperienced rider on a packer. The horse sights the water, the ears come up. He has done this a few times and knows the drill. He is ready to go. Water is no problem for him. The rider tenses as the complex comes into view, sits up, sits back a bit, not trusting herself or the horse enough to hit the water running. The horse doesn't balk but tries to respond to the rider's conflicting signals: "Go! No wait, I'm nervous. Wait. Go!" He KNOWS what he's supposed to do but the rider is confusing him. They hit the water at a trot, not because the horse is worried, but because the rider is worried and the rider's worry transfers to her mount. Most of these riders go to the crop unnecessarily because they are worried. They get through, slowly, and you can almost always see the rider relax and heave a sigh of relief when the reach the other side and take off at a gallop again. You can almost sense the horse thinking: "Trust me, okay? I know what I'm doing."
4. OH MY GOD! NO! HORSE-EATING MONSTER AHEAD!: Ahh...green on green. The most entertaining of the group to watch. Many of these result in a refusal or an unintended dismount. We had two unintended dismounts at the complex Saturday. Not a bad percentage considering the number of green on green that came through. No one was hurt, thankfully. Horse and rider approach the water. Horse slows...slows...slows....STOPS! at the edge, and says "NO NO NO!" the rider says "Ummm...go?" The horse crabs back and forth at the edge, thinking, thinking, thinking, and the rider is still asking "GO?" There is very little trust between the two. The horse doesn't trust the rider won't put him into a dangerous situation...the rider doesn't trust the horse to get her through. Eventually, the horse puts a toe in, tests the water, then LEAPS into it and either walks through, weaving back and forth, not trusting, or trots through very, very fast to get out of the horse eating monster as quickly as possible. Worse case scenario the horse says "NO! puts on the brakes and the rider goes into the water alone. Green on green = black and blue.