Lovely Young Horses

I had a particularly interesting time judging a young-horse class at the Memorial Day show run by ESDCTA in New Jersey a couple weeks ago.? I was paired with Peter Holler, an FEI-I judge from Germany and one Europe?s top judges of young horses. ?I might judge 60 ?young horses? in a year while he’ll do 60 in a day at a championship.? So, I was very intrigued to be working with him for this class. The show held a young-horse test-of-choice class each day, with a mixture of 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds.? There was a different two-judge panel each day.? There is a clear emphasis in this class toward the quality of the horse’s balance, and this is placed in the box under submission ? in other words the horse’s ability and willingness for self-carriage, even at a early stage in his training.? In watching horse after horse with Holler, I began to pay even more attention than usual to self-carriage. Each of the age groups uses a different test, equivalent to an ?easy? First Level test for the 4-year-olds, a ?hard? First Level test for the 5-year-olds and a ?hard? Third Level test for the 6-year-olds.? The 4-year-old test used in the U.S. is actually our familiar old First 1, just in reverse (turn right at C rather than left), so it includes trot lengthenings.? Holler was looking for a real lengthening here, with clear ability to bend the joints in the hindquarters, not just the ?quickening? that we often see at First Level. After judging this young-horse class in the morning, I spent much of the afternoon judging a regular First Level class. I had a lot of food for thought in the trot lengthenings as I watched horses more advanced in their training but often without some of the natural ability shown by those in the young-horse class.? There are so many factors involved, not the least of which is the quality of riding and the ability of riders to properly prepare their horses to lengthen in the preceding corner.? It wasn?t always a lack of talent in the horse that resulted in a low score for the lengthening but more the help that the rider gave the horse. The young-horse classes are judged in a completely different manner than regular tests even though the rider is performing what looks like a regular test.? What the judge is looking for is ?potential,? what the horse can do in the future, as opposed to what He’s doing ?right now.? Baby horse stuff, like some tension and shying, is generally ignored.? The score sheet is very different, with only five boxes for Trot, Walk, Canter, Submissiveness and General Impression (potential as dressage horse).? A judge gives the scores and brief comments immediately after the test, so that the rider knows immediately how they’ve done. These classes aim to identify special young horses, those that may have a clear future to perform with brilliance at the FEI levels.? they’re mostly held in the spring so that the horses can qualify for championships held in the summer. They usually have two (or even three!) judges sitting together and deciding the five scores as they discuss the ride.? Then one of the judges gives the commentary.? If the judges don’t agree on something and have strong feelings about it, the discussion can be very lively even though they also have to quickly agree on a score.