Saturday, August 18, 2018

Pictures from today's ride

When it rains, it pours. After months and months of almost no riding, I have ridden almost every day this week. 
Here's the newest horse in my life. His name is Thunder, and he is a five year old silver buckskin Rocky Mountain Horse. I will be riding him for the next six weeks.
He has quite possibly the cutest face I've ever seen...
and his color...
to die for!
I promise I will take the best care of your boy, Karen.
It's going to be a fun six weeks!

Friday, August 17, 2018

Judging clinic

I was chatting with Christie Richardson yesterday, and she brought up online judging clinics. I immediately sent her three Hunter Under Saddle pictures I'd taken years ago for a post I'd never written. 

"Do you think I should post these to the Braymere Facebook page?" I asked.

"Do it!" she said.

So I did.
Almost right away, people started jumping in and critiquing the photos. Nearly everyone placed the class correctly, but they did so entirely on the basis of tack and turnout. There was almost no mention of the horses themselves. 

This is a significant disconnect from the way I approach judging. With the possible exception of some costume classes, a performance class should be judged on the horse and its performance first. I don't even look at the tack or props until I've asked - and answered - these three questions: Does this horse look like he belongs in this class? Is he doing what he's supposed to be doing? Is he doing it well?

To ignore these questions is to assume that all the horses are equally suited for the depicted event, and there are no differences in the quality of their performance. In a class filled with nothing but True Norths, this might be the case. However, most classes contain a variety of molds, and they do not start out equal. Some are always going to be better than others.

In this case, all three of the horses are types you would expect to see in a hunter under saddle class. Each is standing a little off square with its necks level or slightly above level. Despite that, there are differences in their performance. Here's how I would break down this class in regards to horse suitability and performance.
This big guy is clearly showing in an AQHA Hunter Under Saddle class, and his headset is appropriate for that division: long and low with the head just in front of the vertical. One of his ears is cocked back liked he's listening to his rider. He looks focused, attentive and ready to respond to his rider's aids.
The chestnut mare is standing nicely with her head in a natural, relaxed position. She has a very pleasant look about her, but she is not as attentive or ready as the gelding. Her performance is fine, but not exceptional.
I really like this pony, but he is not as performance suitable as the bigger horses. He's leaning forward, and his weight is centered over his forehand instead of being equally supported by all four legs. His neck is arched, but not in an "on the bit" kind of way. None of this is surprising. The sculpture from which this resin was created is not of a ridden pony, but a pony that is stretching forward to take a treat from a child's hand. Seen in that light, everything works. Under saddle, he's a bit of a challenge.

After I've evaluated the horses, I move on to tack and props (including dolls). At this stage, I'm focusing on fit and function. Quality factors in because it affects both of these things. However, I'm not specifically looking at how pretty - or trendy - the tack is.

Here's how I would analyze this class in regards to tack and props.
Once again, the bay horse is first. All three of the horses in this class are wearing legal and appropriate tack, but this one's tack fits the best. In a perfect world, I would like to see a little more length of rein, but this horse's neck is really long. Allowances have to be made. The doll's equitation is fine. On my scorecard, everything gets positive scores.
There are some bridle issues here. The browband is a little small for the model and that has pulled the buckles on the cheekpiece dangerously close to the eye. Additionally, the noseband is a scootch low. None of is terrible, but it all could be better. I'd probably give this a zero. It meets the requirements, but does nothing more. The saddle is fine, the reins are loose, but not terribly so. A lot of the Facebook commenters took issue with the doll, but I think he's fine, too. Yes, his heels could be lower, and I'd definitely like to see his entire leg pushed more firmly against the saddle. However, I'm realistic about doll equitation, particularly in classes where the equitation isn't judged. He's sitting up correctly, the knee angle is right and his lower leg is positioned nicely alongside the girth. Of course it could be better, but really, this is fine.
What's not fine is the placement of the pony's saddle. It is much too far forward. This is going to get a negative score. The bridle fit is within minimum requirements. All the straps are touching the pony's head, and the bit is in the right place. Still, it's messy. This is a very old bridle, and it's made from stiffer lace than I use now. You can feel that stiffness in this picture. It just doesn't drape as nicely on the model's head as the other two. The reins have the same problem. They're stiff and messy and not draping properly. The doll is sitting well enough, but the saddle flaps are too long for her very short thighs. Other than saddle placement, nothing in this entry is terrible, but none of it is great either. This one clearly goes to the bottom of the pack.

If this was an actual show, I'd put the ribbons down and call it good. The placings are very clear, and I wouldn't have to consider the next level of evaluation. That's kind of a shame, because as far as I'm concerned, that next level is where things get exciting.

But this post is long enough. I'll save the fun stuff for later.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Pictures from today's ride

After months and months of almost no riding, I've ridden three different horses in the last week alone. One was Santana, of course...
and another was Mary Jo's lovely, Miz Scarlett.
The third was a bit of a blast from the past. I rode Gunner occasionally for a couple years, but I hadn't seen him since he left on Kenlyn in 2017. Last week his owner reached out to me and asked if I'd be interested in riding him again. I couldn't say yes fast enough!
So today I drove east to Watkins. I passed the barn where I used to ride Trillium...
and continued on to J Bar 4 Ranch.
I'm pleased to report that Gunner is every bit as cute and personable as I'd remembered...
and the amenities at J Bar 4 Ranch are well worth the drive.
We're both out of shape and the air quality was terrible so today's ride was short. Still, it was pretty awesome.
It's been a long time since I've ridden a schooled dressage horse in a really nice ring. This was such a pleasure!
After our ride, I spent a little time exploring the property.
I checked in with the other Kenlyn alumnae, Layla...
and Toby. 
I also identified a few horses that need to be photographed more fully.
Oh, I need so many pictures of this one!
This was a good day. I am so happy to have renewed my relationship with Gunner.
And that's not all. There's another new horse in the mix. I'll tell you all about him tomorrow or Saturday.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The doll dilemma

It's a question as old as model horse performance showing itself: Are dolls an essential part of a performance entry?

The traditional answer is no.  Rider dolls have never been required, at least not on this side of the Atlantic. A poorly positioned doll will hurt your entry more than it will help. It's a lot safer - and often smarter - to leave them off.

All of this is true if you're using a big headed Breyer doll with factory boots, but come on... It's 2018. It's been more than five years since Yvonne made her debut, and the hobby is filled with excellent scale seamstresses. Good looking, good riding dolls are not a rarity. They are expensive and fiddly and oftentimes frustrating, but if you really want to be competitive at the national level, dolls are your friends.
performance entries with and without dolls at BreyerFest Live 2018
Here's why. Under my judging system the best score a doll-free entry can receive for the rider component is zero. That's not as bad as it sounds. Remember, a zero means the entry has met the class requirements, no more, no less. To paraphrase the AQHA: The entry is correct with no degree of difficulty. There are a lot of shows where entries that mark consistent zeros can - and should - win.

However, at the national level, most showers aren't content with zeros. There are going to be a lot of well dressed dolls that are getting ones and twos. There might even be a few perfectly posed riders that merit the rare plus three.

To not even try is leaving points on the table. Literally.
Lu Heater's cutting doll gets a plus three
And that's best case scenario. There are some entries that truly require a doll to make sense. If the rider is holding anything besides reins in her hands, the judge really needs to see those hands. Sticky waxing an egg and spoon to the saddle horn isn't convincing and is going to result in a negative score.
riderless Egg and Spoon
photo and entry by Erin Corbett
taken that time she accidentally left all the dolls at home
So, back to that question: Are dolls an essential part of a performance entry? My 2018 answer would be this: Dolls are not required, but a good entry with a good doll is always going to have the edge over a good entry without a doll. If you truly want to succeed at the highest levels of performance showing, you need to embrace your inner Barbie lover.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

My judging system

Before we actually judged any horses, the members of the 1990 Colorado State University Horse Judging Team spent a lot of time learning about judging systems. We were taught different systems for different disciplines, and how to mark a scorecard for each.

I've forgotten most of that.

However, I have not forgotten how to score a reining class. That is the judging system that resonated most deeply with me, and is the foundation on which I have built my own model horse performance scoring system.
photo by Corina Roberts
Here's how the AQHA describes the reining scoring system on the AQHA Reining 101 section of their website: Each rider enters the ring with a score of 70, which denotes an average performance. The judge then adds or subtracts points during the performance. With seven to eight maneuvers in each pattern, each gets a score ranging from minus 1 1/2 (extremely poor quality) to plus 1 1/2 (excellent quality). Points are given for level of difficulty and finesse, while points are taken away for loss of control of the horse or deviations from the pattern. If no points are given or taken away, that denotes a maneuver that is correct with no degree of difficulty.
Since time is always an issue and most of the scoring happens in my head, I've simplified this a bit. Every entry starts with a zero. I then add or subtract whole number values ranging from minus three (major error) to plus three (holy crap, this is amazing!). Instead of looking like this...
my judge's notes tend to look like this.
I like this system because it doesn't just penalize mistakes. It also rewards excellence. That's important to me. While I'm not willing to overlook major functional errors, I also know that mistakes are only part of the equation. Clean and correct is the starting point. Clean and correct is a zero. There's a level or two beyond that, and my judging system helps me separate the good from the amazing. Please, please show me your plus threes.

Monday, August 13, 2018

This is why

Last month, I made Tiffany a pile of peas.
Since I had a little bit of pea colored clay left over, I decided to make myself some, too. 

"This is silly," I thought, as I rolled up one little pea after another. "I am never going to need a pile of peas."

Still, I persisted. After all, it never hurts to have extras.

Today, Kylee Parks posted a picture of her brand new 1:9 scale trash can on Facebook. She asked for performance ideas, and Jennifer Scott brought me into the conversation.
I provided a picture, and then things took a weird turn.
One thing led to another, and this happened.
The response was magical.
So was Sandra's next request. 
This is why I always make extras! I really did need that pile of peas!
P.S. This is also why today's judging post hasn't made it past the draft stage. Tomorrow I promise to spend less time on raccoon pictures and more time on writing.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Friday favorites

Yesterday, Heather Malone and I met up for happy hour, and what happy hour - or two - that was! The food was great, the drinks were cold and the conversation was all about model horses. We discussed old news like NAN and BreyerFest and new news like next year's NaMoPaiMo and the Jennifer Show. We reviewed recent releases and sales pieces, and we talked about all the things that are going on in the hobby right now. It was a really great way to spend an evening. Everyone who collects model horses should have a hobby happy hour with Heather.

And now everyone kind of can.
Earlier this year, Heather and her best friend, Jackie Rossi, launched the model horse hobby's first podcast, Mares in Black.
Produced and edited by Heather's partner, Josh Wesner, Mares in Black covers all aspects of model horsedom.
The most recent episode is my favorite so far. I especially enjoyed the interviews with each of the winners of this year's Best Customs Contest. How inspiring it is to listen to artists of this caliber talk from the comfort of my own studio.
This show is the perfect soundtrack for studio time and beyond. Truly, there's nothing better than listening to two smart, funny, articulate women talk about the hobby we all love. Turn them on and break out the chips and margaritas. It's almost exactly like happy hour!
Please keep up the good work, Heather and Jackie. I'll be listening.