For breed show championships there are two judges, and for this year’s NEDA Fall Festival in Saugerties New York, the Region 8 Championships were held on September 19 and 20.
The breed show judges were Susan Mandas (DSHB-R, Dressage-S, and Young Horse Judge) Gwen Ka'awaloa. (DSHB-r, Dressage-r Judge) DSHB stands for Dressage Sport Horse Breeding. Standing apart with their scribes, they watch horses parade around a triangle, which allows them to see all the horses’ gaits, coming, going and across the long side of the triangle. It is up to the handler to display the horse in a way it will show its true potential as a dressage horse, resulting hopefully in high scores on gait, conformation, and overall impression.
I had the opportunity to visit with Judges Sue Mandas and Gwen Kaawaloa at the NEDA Fall Festival, in the VIP pavilion, during the afternoon FEI Grand Prix. These two judges were taking a break from judging the Breed Championships in ring eight. When asked about the new breed show set up, they commented: "It was nice to have the café area for spectators to sit and watch. People were asking questions: who is this horse? What’s his bloodline? It was nice because it shows interest. I like the new venue because it was so much closer to the barns. In past years it took so long to get to the ring and. there would often be hold ups which slows the show down. Between classes and the championships you want an opportunity to put your young horse back in his stall. Less traffic at this event is so much better. The venue is exposed better. The people are looking at what THEIR FUTURE RIDE might be!”
What do you think of the breeds being shown here this week at the breed show? "The quality of the breeds was pretty good. There was nothing that didn’t belong. Yesterday was an open class, so literally you can show on Thursday and be in the championships on Friday. We overlook minor misbehaving, as long as safety doesn’t become the issue. We need to see only a few strides to see the horse’s ability.”
Speaking of handlers, any words to help them score higher?” Handlers don’t seem to train or work with their horses. Horses stand crooked because of the handler, and then it’s just harder to see conformation. The way a horse stands is important.” Gwen remarked, "My son (who is a handler) will actually check the ground level to be sure the horse isn’t standing on uneven ground in the sand to be sure his horse isn’t standing downhill. He decides where a horse will stand to get the most of his uphill stance.” Gwen also remarked: "People often don’t enter the Amateur/Junior handler class. That is the one class where only the handlers are judged. Horses can be trained to be uphill. People need to spend time with their horses to get the best out of them. Relaxed with energy looks better. Yesterday there was one horse that was tense but he used his back and his hind legs were engaged. He was very uphill and won.”
What does a horse have to show you if you are going to score it high? If a horse is going to score high with us, we are looking for "that” (Ms. Mandas pointed to the FEI Grand Prix competitor in ring one floating across the diagonal in an extended trot.) We are looking for the potential to be a super dressage horse! As a weanling or yearling, we are looking for balance, correct gaits as well as good conformation, but you have to understand the development phases they go through. The weanling that toes out may be straight as his chest widens. We want the young ones to show us their potential as a dressage horse. We are looking for scope and alignment. For a colt or filly, two to three years old, we are looking for those same qualities but with a bit more maturity. For a horse that is four years old and up, we are looking at all the same qualities, but now conformation faults weigh more heavily because they are hereditary. Faults, as well as the good points that are inherited, we need to see those in the gaits. The score sheet for breeding stock (four years old and older) has a higher coefficient for conformation. Conformation has to be correct in breed stock. To score an 80% or higher with us, we are looking for the same thing across the board. We want an uphill horse that shows elasticity and scope. The gaits have to be pure in the rhythm with good ground cover. We want the whole body movement. Relaxed doesn’t mean the horse is moving his whole body. The hindquarters have to be active and engaged. Movement on a prospective dressage horse is showing what they have, and it’s the gaits that define it. You have to wait to see how the horse moves before you judge a prospective dressage horse.”
Any advice for prospective breeders to be prepared in the ring? "We look at rhythm, movement, legs, topline but the most important is rhythm. Without rhythm you are done. Keep in mind horses have good days and bad days. Horses scored better yesterday, but today they are too laid back.”
The requirements to be a Dressage Sport Horse Breed Judge involve experience, many hours of preparation, classroom time, evaluation, and testing. The helpful tips offered here by Susan Mandas and Gwen Ka’awaloa can only increase a breeder’s chance for success in the show ring!