Comments on yesterday’s post have me curious: how tough do you think a judge should be at the local, unrated schooling level?

On one hand, you don’t want to hire a judge who will inflate everyone’s scores. Competitors will be elated to receive a high score, but will be disappointed when another judge scores them considerably lower. They may also be lulled into a false sense of security; if they’re scoring high, they might not feel inclined to work as hard, or might move up to a new level before they’re ready. And if the judging at the schooling level is too soft, riders will be surprised when the judging is harsher at a rated show.

On the other hand, schooling shows are different from rated shows. They’re a less formal environment, often used to expose green horses and riders to the sport. They’re an opportunity for riders looking to move up to the next level to test the waters, or for new horse and rider pairs to get acquainted. If competitors are scored low, they could feel discouraged and disinclined to continue their participation in the show series, the organization, or the sport.

I imagine it’s a difficult line to walk as a judge. How do you balance the need for fair and accurate scores with the need for a generally positive, encouraging attitude?

Personally, I prefer a slightly softer judge at schooling shows. I don’t want to be judged by someone who will default to giving me an undeserved 8 on every movement, but I don’t know if it’s fair to expect schooling shows to be ridden at the same level as rated ones. You could argue that “perfect practice makes perfect”, but where should riders get that perfect practice? Only at home?

What do you think? I’m interested to hear from my H/J friends on this, too, though I know your judging is different from dressage!