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View from the Judge's Booth: Judging the Washington Equitation Finals

Oct. 26, 2009

By Kim Ablon Whitney

It was my great pleasure and quite an honor to judge the Washington Equitation Finals.  Unlike the other finals where you have to slog through hundreds of rounds, the Washington invites only the top 30 in the point standings throughout the qualifying period to compete in the final, which includes a hunter phase, a jumper phase, and a final work-off.

The Washington Eq Class is a special class in the way it was designed with the different phases.  I don’t know who came up with the idea but my guess would be that they wanted judges to examine the equitation rider for his/her competence in the hunter realm and the jumper realm.  Some eq riders do tend to be more oriented to the hunter-style of riding and others to the jumper-style, given their various backgrounds.


Hunter Phase

In the hunter phase of the Final, what we judges wanted to see was a beautiful hunter trip ridden with equitation style.  A smooth, soft, subtle ride.  Stiffness in the rider, not following the horse’s mouth over the jumps, or too erect positions were faulted.

The class sorted itself out pretty naturally into three groups.  There were the top 4-6 riders who scored in the high 80s.  These were the beautiful rounds by riders with impeccable style and form.

Then there was a larger clump of riders with scores in the low 80s and high 70s.  Either these riders had a slightly imperfect distance to a jump or some of the style faults mentioned above.  Finally there was a smaller number of riders who scored rather low due to bigger faults of performance or style.

We judged the class in three pairs.  I sat with Timmy Kees, a fabulous judge and a legendary equitation trainer.  The other panels were similarly qualified and accomplished judges, Sue Ashe and Kim Dorfman, and Tammy Provost and Phil DeVita.  The three pairs were positioned at different viewpoints around the ring.  For the hunter phase Timmy and I were in “one of the corners” which learned was not the optimal viewpoint of the ring.  From the corner it was harder to see some of the jumps at the far end of the ring.  (For the jumper phase and work-off Timmy and I got to sit in the middle position and it was much easier to see all the jumps from there.)

Each panel gave its score without hearing the other scores.  Timmy and I were always right on the same page in determining a score and mostly we just discussed whether a score should be a point or two higher or lower.  When all the scores were posted to the board, it was our first time seeing them too.  Generally we were all right on track.  I noticed that if anything Timmy and I seemed to score a little bit higher than the other panels but because there are three panels and because we scored higher consistently throughout the class, it all worked out.

Only a few times were there larger differentials between the panels.  When we convened after the class to discuss how it went, it became clear there were issues where one panel either saw or did not see something the others did.  Usually it was a jump that looked worse given the panel’s position in the ring.  Another example of this was Jessica Springsteen’s few strides of cross-cantering around the corner of the ring.  Timmy and I thought we saw this but weren’t positive and as a judge you never want to penalize a rider too harshly for something you aren’t sure you saw—that is the equivalent to sending someone to jail for minimal evidence.  It’s always better to let them go free!  We gave Jessica an 81 for some other faults on the course with the cross canter our score should have lower.  This is where having the three panels is so wonderful—if a panel misses something the others catch it.  The two other lower scores kept Jessica out of the running for a top prize in that phase.

In the end, all six judges were very pleased with the results.  Samantha Schaefer won the phase with a beautiful hunter trip—soft, smooth, and subtle with incredible style and position.

Our only criticism of the hunter phase was that the horses were sent into the ring a little too quickly.  Oftentimes a horse was starting its trip when the scores hadn’t been called in.  The result was that we felt slightly rushed and Timmy and I agreed we wished we had a moment or two more to discuss each trip.  We talked to the manager of the show, David Distler, and he promised this would be rectified for round two.  David is always true to his word and the issue was resolved for the jumper phase.

Jumper Phase

The jumper phase was in the late afternoon and I got all dressed up in a nice suit and blew out my hair so that I’d look my best.  Of course halfway on the walk over to the Verizon center from the hotel the skies opened up and started pouring!  I was walking over with Timmy’s wife, Jenny Belknap (herself a former Washington Best Child Rider on a horse winner) and neither of us had a coat or an umbrella.  Thinking on our feet, we saw some city workers with large garbage cans picking up trash and I asked if they had any extra garbage bags.  They were nice enough to lend us two bags and we poked a hole in the top for our heads.  We must have been quite a sight walking down the street wearing out garbage-bag-rain-ponchos!  But in the end I was only soaking wet from my knees down!  So much for my vanity!

The course for the jumper phase was fairly straightforward.  The second to last line proved to be the biggest test.  It was a bending line oxer-oxer-skinny vertical.  Most riders did a quiet five to a quiet five, which in our minds was the right choice.  A few attempted a four to four.  The trick was to not over-use the bend in the first five but instead to be able to rely on your horse’s elasticity to come back to fit the first five in.  A few riders got lost staying out too much to try to use the bend in the first five and either lost their way and did six, or made the line to the second five more awkward.  Some riders who didn’t set up the line well had the rail at the skinny and we deducted four points for each rail throughout all the phases.  With the top riders separated by fractions of a point, even just a cheap rail could hurt a rider’s chances of being in the top placings.  I don’t love that fact, but that is the way the class is judged.

Again, the rounds separated themselves into three categories.  Chase Boggio rode a breath-taking round to take the lead on our card with Molly Braswell, Samantha Schaefer, Tina DiLandri and Lucy Davis not far behind.  There were certainly the usual few disappointments where someone who had ridden well in the hunter phase came in and made a big mistake.  As a former eq rider myself, I know firsthand how hard that can be!

The Final Ride-Off

The Final Ride-Off in the Washington Class has the top ten riders from the first two phases switch horses and negotiate the same course as the jumper phase.  I’m not exactly sure how the lineup of who rides which horse is chosen but it seemed to be computer-generated and therefore random.  The first placed rider did not necessarily ride the tenth place horse, etc.

It was really fun to see the riders on the different horses.  It’s a hard task to hop on an unknown horse and we were slightly more generous with our scores accordingly.  We saw a lot more missed distances than in the previous rounds, as riders were out of synch with the unknown mounts.  But all in all, everyone rode admirably.  Several times we actually felt a rider looked better position-wise on their new mount!  This was the case for Alexandra Arute, who was in the process of putting in the most spectacular round aboard Taylor Kain’s, mount only to do an unexpected four-to-four in the bending line.

We were impressed by Lucy Davis’s ride on Samantha Schaefer’s horse, which doesn’t look easy to ride.  Lucy was a little deep to one jump but otherwise rode the horse very well.  Samantha drew Lucy’s horse—another horse that didn’t look particularly easy—and also rode it very well.  We had her second on our card. 

One point in front of Samantha on our card was Chase Boggio, who rode a beautiful round on Molly Braswell’s horse.  Perhaps he’s even had the luck of riding this horse before since Chase and Molly both ride with Bob Braswell.  Either way, we thought his round was nearly flawless.  The other two panels had him just below Samantha, which perhaps could be because his horse landed on the wrong lead in the second part of the five-to-the-five line and didn’t swap.  While landing on the correct lead, or swapping, is technically preferable, both Timmy and I agreed that he kept his horse so well balanced that we didn’t mind and that his overall style and look warranted the higher score.

The scores from all the panels were combined throughout the three phases and Samantha came out on top.  She was definitely the most consistent overall throughout the phases and deserved the win with Chase in second.  Tina DiLandri finished third and Lucy Davis in fourth.

For more information about Kim or to contact her, please visit her website

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View from the Judgeís Booth: Judging Rhode Island Finals

Sept. 12, 2009

By Kim Ablon Whitney

I had the pleasure of judging the Rhode Island Medal Finals with Carol Maloney.  What a wonderful Finals from start to finish!  Hats off to the show managers, Hillary Vars Whelan and Mary Charrette, and everyone involved in making this such a top quality regional finals.  One certainly could argue that we have too many regional finals but this final is one worth keeping on the calendar!

To begin with when I checked into my hotel there was a goodie bag waiting for me with bottles of water, energy bars, and other snacks!  How thoughtful!  Judges love to be taken care of and the little things like this matter.  Believe it or not, even just a little bag with snacks is a rare luxury for a judge!  There was also a copy of the program, which was beautifully done.  It was fun to flip through and see the winners of past years.

The Finals were held after a day of non-stop Hurricane-Danny-downpour but you wouldn’t know it arriving at the showgrounds at Glen Farm Sunday morning.  The sand ring was well groomed and the footing looked good.  The jumps were beautiful with lots of bushes and mums all around.  Since I was judging it’s hard to know how the schooling areas were but there seemed to be both outside and indoor schooling, which must have been a plus.  Ed Nowak signaled the beginning of each class with his horn, adding a desired degree of pomp and circumstance.

The show was well run with riders coming in the ring on time and no “empty ring” syndrome, thanks to paddock master, Doug Raucher.  The courses, designed by Tom Hern, were very nice and always appropriate for the class level.

Overall the riding was good throughout the day, especially the top riders in the adult and junior medal classes.  The weakest class was certainly the adult mini medal.  The mini adults actually started the day off well in the open classic class and then waiting around for their medal class probably took its toll on the riders.  Adults are usually best when they don’t have to wait around!

One trouble spot for many riders in all classes was a jump going towards the judge’s booth, which was on an admittedly ugly truck, semi-disguised by a few bushes.  A lot of horses spooked at this jump and while that was a shame it also is what showing is all about.  How you do at each horse show is about preparation but also about the luck of the day and dealing with the issues and obstacles that arise.

Another foible of the day was when the results of the adult medal final were announced wrong, with third and second place switched.  Thank God I noticed the error when the ribbons were being awarded and the mistake was quickly righted.  It’s never fun to have to take away a ribbon from someone but in this case I believe both riders knew where they were to end up given the test and no one was too upset.

At lunch riders and trainers were treated to a buffet of sandwiches and such.  What a nice touch this was!  There was also a silent auction for riders to browse.

The Classics were smartly pinned outside the ring to keep the show moving but the medal classes were given their due and pinned in the ring.  Each rider received beautiful ribbons and sashes and there seemed to be lots of trophies and trainer awards.

I was impressed by how many people lined the ring to watch all day and cheered the riders on.  There seemed to be a wonderful collegial atmosphere throughout the day, with everyone cheering each other on.

Carol and I had a great time together and found ourselves in agreement throughout the day.  The junior medal was probably the most fun to judge because the test, which included counter-cantering a jump, proved to be interesting.  The rider who was on top tried to hold the counter canter but couldn’t; she then executed a simple change. 

The rider behind her rode a flawless test, managing to hold the counter canter.  Carol and I chose to keep the riders the way they were since the first rider had a much stronger first round and because technically she didn’t do anything wrong in the test.  If she had made a mistake the other girl would have certainly moved up but sometimes you can hold your position if you put in a solid, although not stunning, test.  I certainly admire the girl who rode the more stylish test—someday that will win her the class.

All in all, I think everyone—riders, trainers, spectators, and staff—had a great day!  Kudos to everyone involved, especially anyone I’ve overlooked mentioning here!

For more about Kim Ablon Whitney, visit her website:

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View from the Judgeís Booth: Judging in Teams

Aug. 1, 2009

 By Kim Ablon Whitney

I recently was asked to be one of the six judges for the Washington Equitation Classic at the Washington International Horse Show.  In addition to being honored to judge such a prestigious class at one of our country’s top indoor horse shows, I’m especially excited because of the format of the judging for the class.  The six judges sit in pairs, with each “team” producing a numerical score for each round. 

I’m also looking forward to judging the Rhode Island Medal Finals, another Final where I’ll be working as a team with another judge.

When two judges work together, both study each round and then sometimes during, but more often afterwards, discuss the merits and drawbacks of the performance. 

The expression “two heads are better than one” is never more relevant than in this scenario.  It’s ideal to talk over the nuances and to dissect any issues that arise.  Usually the judges agree and easily decide upon a score.  If one judge throws out an 85 and the other judge suggests an 81, we typically settle on an 83.

If there was an issue that arose on course—a quick stutter step off the ground that one judge saw at one jump, for example—there is another pair of eyes who can either say, “yes, I saw that too,” or “nope, didn’t happen.”

Only very rarely do judges who don’t see eye-to-eye sit together.  Most judges are not that far apart in their opinions and show managers also are smart in choosing their teams of judges.  Every judge has a reputation for his/her style, temperament, and likes/dislikes and good show managers don’t put “oil and water” on the same judging team!

So… shouldn’t all classes have two judges, you might ask?  Well, no.  While it’s wonderful to judge with another judge for the big classes or big shows*, for smaller classes it’s often nicer to “just be in your own head.”

When there is an extra judge around for a ring of smaller classes what works well is for the two judges to alternate the classes in a division.  For example, one judge takes the first children’s hunter class and the other judge the second children’s hunter class.  This gives both judges a break and keeps the judging fresh.  The fewer classes you have to judge, the sharper you are as a judge.

For A-rated sections at AA shows, judges can also choose whether to do the classes as a team, or alternate.  If given a preference, I typically prefer doing it together, and if I were competing that’s what I’d want the judges to do too.

*In A-rated sections of AA competitions, the rule is that a minimum of two judges must officiate.  Those two judges can judge the classes together or separately.  One judge, however, can not judge more than 60\% of the classes in a division.

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View from the Judgeís Booth: Iím rooting for you!

July 8, 2009

By Kim Ablon Whitney 

When I was an exhibitor, I used to have this idea that the judges were a mean lot who liked nothing better than to see a rider mess up so that they could announce some horrid score, like 16.  I’m not completely sure why I thought this about judges but I was convinced they were bitter, disgruntled people with no love or joy in their hearts—equestrian versions of the Grinch.

As a judge myself I now see how wrong I was.  Most judges aren’t mean or bitter.  We love horses, we love riders, and believe it or not we love spending all day watching round after round, even if it’s the modified adults.  (Well, maybe not all day of modified adults…)

When each exhibitor enters the ring, I’m hopeful.  If they pick up the canter and I like what I see, I start to get excited.  If the first few jumps go well, I move to the front of my seat and say a quick prayer.  The whole rest of the course I’m rooting for this team to nail it.  What you riders might not know, what I never knew, is that the judge wants you to do well! 

There is no happier thing for a judge than a beautiful round, a clear winner.  The worst feeling I ever have as a judge is when I get a class that has no clear winner.  A class where everyone made mistakes.  It’s those moments when I wish I could simply declare a “do-over” and run the class again, this time hoping for a winner.  But somehow I weigh the mistakes against each other and come out with someone to give the blue to.  As the results are announced, I wish I could add a caveat that says the winner wasn’t really the best, only the best of the worst.

You might think it’s easier to judge classes where people make mistakes or the quality of riding or horses is low.  But it’s much, much harder.  One of the best judges in the country, Brian Lenehan once said to me that his father, Daniel Lenehan, a very famous judge in his own time, had this comparison: “What’s easier, walking into a room of beautiful women and picking the most beautiful, or walking into a room of ugly women and picking the most beautiful?”  Since I’m a woman myself I’ll make the comparison about men—I would find it much easier to walk into a room of gorgeous men and pick the most gorgeous.  

Well, it’s the same for horses.  Judging a class with ten top-notch rounds is much easier.  There’s always one horse and rider who are just that little bit better or appeal just a little bit more to the preferences of the judge.

So next time you walk into the ring and sneak a glance at the judge’s booth, you’ll know that whoever’s in there is on your side.  We’re hoping more than anything you’ll put in the trip of your life!


For more information about Kim, please visit

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Garden State

July 6, 2009

by Sara Green 

Garden State in New Jersey was quite a long show. It rained and was cold and things didn't go so swell! Had some trouble in the equitation and then a lot of my horses were spooky in the hunter ring because we showed late and it was a bit chilly. Some were strong and some helicoptered away from the jumps. THANK GOD I stayed on!

On a funny note I got to show a PONY. I hadn't been on a pony in six years and I got a call before Blue Rock from one of my best friends Evan Colluccio. He asked me to show one of his young large green ponies, Jet Blue, owned by the Mandarinos. It was fun and hilarious! I thought ponies were easy… oh my god was I wrong. I give pony kids a lot of credit, as ponies know every trick in the book! I think we got a third and some other ribbons but I made a little mistake in each class.

On Sunday I decided to show my jumper Cardano Al Campo in the USET. Flat phase went first, which I dreaded because I hadn’t been riding a lot before this horse show (don't tell my trainers)! Miraculously I was called back 5th and in the jumping he was amazing but I had a rail and ended up 5th. I was super proud of him, though… he looked like an authentic equitation horse!! I'm hoping I can do him in some more eq because I think he really likes it (and of course he knows how handsome he is and he loves to show off)!!

Ok, all for now! Next up... Devon!

Posted in Bigeq Guest Bloggers , & Kim Ablon Whitney Partner for Blog Series

June 29, 2009 is pleased to announce a blog partnership with USEF "R" judge Kim Ablon Whitney. As both a successful rider and a top judge, Kim brings her expertise in the hunter/jumper industry to the Bigeq Blog with thoughts on judging as well as insights and opinion on industry trends.

Kim is also an accomplished writer, both within the equestrian world and out. Her novel The Perfect Distance is about a rider striving to win the ASPCA Maclay Finals, and is a popular read for hunter/jumper fans, young and old alike. She has also published two other novels, including her recent release of The Other Half of Life, a historical novel based upon the true story of Jews fleeing Hitler’s Germany on the ship MS St Louis.

For more information about Kim and her novels, please visit:

Stay tuned to the Bigeq Blog for Kim's upcoming blog entries!


Pop Quiz: Name the horse and rider pictured on the cover of Kim's novel, The Perfect Distance:

Post your reply below in the comments section! Good luck!

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Good Times in Tampa

June 22, 2009

by Sara Green

So I didn't fall off in Tampa . It was actually so much fun. The show ended early every day and they had great food in the pavilion (SO important). Emil and I were forced to leave several coursewalks and bee-line to the pavilion for the yummiest omelets ever! He and I are so similar because food comes first on our to-do lists! Anyway (focus, focus), the show was a blast. I won the USET both weeks and was I think 2nd and 3rd in the Washington.

The hunters went great and I was reserve champion one of the weeks. Then in the High Junior Jumper Classic I made it to the jumpoff on Cardano and ended up 5th. I was clear but I always think I’m galloping at supersonic speed but in reality medium ponies could canter past me. I always finish about four seconds slower than everyone else. SO TRUE!

Because the show ended so early each day it allowed time for my friend Amber and I to go have fun! One day we went into Ybor City and spent way too much money at Urban Outfitters. Also, I’ve begun running a lot so the next day while Amber was napping in her camper I decided to go jogging around the horse show. Too many people saw me having a near heart attack running… embarrassing!! That was a bad idea, but whatever!

Then of course, THE INVITATIONAL! Well, let’s just say that was a BLAST and I’ll leave it at that.

Stay tuned for Sara's next blog about Garden State!

Special Thanks to Sean Rogers

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Memories of Ocala

June 11, 2009

By Sara Green

So it's always good to get your year off to a great start in Florida, right?? Well, I somehow managed to fall off four times in three weeks... all in the jumper ring!

Perhaps not riding at all for three months between my last show of '08 (Syracuse) and Ocala wasn’t maybe the best idea I’ve ever had (Senioritis??)… but I won’t let that be my excuse for falling off around a turn OR right after the finishing timers OR through a huge oxer OR tossed like a frisbee onto the ground before I even GOT to a jump.

At the very least I think I was amusing the spectators because even from inside the ring I could even hear the clapping and laughter. You know that long humiliating walk to the ingate every time you fall off? Um yea, I became a pro at that!

Thank God I managed to redeem myself in the equitation & hunter rings. In the eq I won the Medal, Washington and USET a couple of times (and was psyched that my best friend Amber did too)!! In the hunter ring I got to ride different horses about every week and they were all good boys.

I showed horses for a couple of people:

One for Don Stewart (how HILARIOUS is he??) that was champion. The horse even beat Lyle (one of my favorite horses) & Abbey O’Mara, which may sound silly but I consider that to be a major accomplishment.

I also showed a young horse for Emil Spadone, who, by the way, is my new trainer if you didn’t hear. HE’S THE MAN! His horse’s name is Like Wize and just arrived from Europe and started showing this year in Ocala. He’s adorable and I wish I owned him!

Then last but definitely not the least, there’s Jenny Millerrrr. I love showing horses for her because she’s so funny. I have so many stories that I’ll get around to at some point on here. Anyway, I showed two horses for her and each week we had fun adventures. I also showed one of her super fancy junior hunters at Devon (more to come on that later!).

Ocala was also a blast outside of the horse show. My friends and I rented a house together and lived as a family for the six weeks. I lived with Claire Wilson, Andrew Coolen-Koussouris, and Michael Desiderio. Andrew and Mike both ride with Emil in the amateurs, and Claire rides with Chrissie Kear/Bobby Braswell, and she’s my age. We definitely had a blast!!


Up Next: Tampa!
Special Thanks to Sean Rogers

Posted in Bigeq Guest Bloggers , & Sara Green Partner for 2009 Blog Series

June 5, 2009 is pleased to announce a blog partnership with top junior hunter/jumper and equitation rider Sara Green for the 2009 show season. Green, of Sherborn, MA, is one of the premier equitation riders in the United States and is currently in her last year of junior competition.

Green is looking forward to posting about her life on the show circuit, from catch-rides and championships to nasty falls and fun times with friends. A quick note from Sara: "Hey everyone! I’d like to thank for inviting me to scribe a blog. I’ve never blogged before so it should be fun to use this as a journal for my last year as a junior."

Stay tuned to the Bigeq Blog as Sara shares some of her show experiences as she competes from the winter circuits in Florida to the national equitation finals this fall!

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