Earlier this week, I traveled to New Jersey for a USEF Judges Clinic. To maintain my judge certification, I have to attend a clinic every three years. I left early Monday morning and stopped in Whiting, New Jersey to visit my grandmother, who will be turning 97 this month. She was in good spirits, and only slightly disappointed that I didn’t have my 14 month old daughter with me. We had a chance to catch up, then I was off again to finish the drive to North Jersey to Centenary College for the start of the clinic. It began with registration and dinner, followed by a seminar that included videos and photos for the group to discuss. The highlight was a fantastic video narrated by the great Rodney Jenkins, filmed in the 1980’s that included Olin Armstrong on The Wizard, Mary Lisa Nicholson (now Leffler) on Wintarra Ring, and Sue Andrisani (now Lyman) on Simbalu. What fabulous horses and riders. It included great information on conformation, way of going and style for the Hunter divisions. We also discussed great versus good versus not-so-good form of hunter and equitation riders and had a chance to watch a Handy Hunter class from the Blowing Rock Horse Show last year.

The next day, as I was signing in, a name on the check-in list caught my eye: George Morris. He has his judges card and he was attending the clinic to maintain his certification. He arrived during the breakfast and a few people stopped to chat with him. The morning session began and those who already had judges cards sat in a classroom setting with Chrystine Tauber to discuss new rules, the equitation judge’s manual, issues affecting judges, and current trends in horse show judging. It was a lively discussion and George often had something to add.

When the session was complete, I made my way outside to return a few phone calls, and when I returned to the lunch buffet, I noticed that most of the tables were full, but George Morris was sitting alone. I wanted a chance to sit next to one of our country’s most notable equestrians – he literally wrote the book on our style of riding (although he is quick to say that he merely copied the great teachers who came before him: Gordon Wright, Bert deNemethy and others). If you haven’t read “Hunter Seat Equitation” written by George Morris, do it now!

George was polite and easy to chat with. He asked where I’m from, and I mentioned that I had ridden in a few of his clinics at Morven Park, as some of my students had as well. I asked about his recent judging jobs and about his Horsemastership Clinic in January, where the top equitation riders in the country learn about becoming professional riders. He spoke very highly of the attendees. The soundbites from those clinics always sound so harsh, but you can tell how passionately he cares about the riders and their education. Then the clinicians, Fran Dotoli and Chrystine Tauber, sat down with us, and they shared some funny stories about riders and trainers from the past, including showing at Madison Square Garden and I soaked in as much as I could. What great horsemen and -women, it was a treat to learn more about their backgrounds.

Back to the clinic: our afternoon session consisted of live practice judging. Centenary College ran a mini horse show for us to judge, including hunter over fences and under saddle, handy hunter, equitation over fences and flat, and a model. The horses and riders were lovely – Centenary College has a very robust program with great donation horses. We had in-depth discussions on the merits of each horse/rider and their rounds. It was a great learning experience. I had the chance to peer over George Morris’ shoulder at his card, and it was great to see how he marks his card and the scores he gives. In the Handy Hunter, my pinnings matched his entirely – it’s nice to have confirmation of one’s instincts from time to time! πŸ˜›

Overall, it was a great experience. I learned a lot and made some great contacts. I look forward to pursuing my large R certification beginning next year, something I’ve wanted to do since I got my small r card. I love judging, and it enriches what I teach my students, as well. It has been the perfect way to expand and enhance what I do for a living.

Judges Clinic in Hackettstown, New Jersey

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