Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse News

Just in Time for the International

Rule Tips for Riders

It wasn’t hard to decide what this column should be about. KMSHA exhibitors, responding to a request for constructive feedback, have answered the call and asked questions that are just in time for improving everyone’s performance at The International to be held in October at the Lexington Horse Park, Lexington, Kentucky. If you pay attention to the answers to these questions and then ask a few of your own, you will have far fewer surprises with the equipment steward and during actual competition. Think of this column as a “heads-up” for exhibitors.

A KMSHA member writes: “The intentions of my letter are to bring up a few issues I noticed at the Springfield and Kentucky State Championship shows and to sincerely benefit the KMSHA organization and the future young horsemen and women. I noted that the judges were missing errors. I know that it can be difficult to be a judge and catch everything. Judging is long hours and an unappreciated field of employment. Perhaps, too, that’s why I am a rule hound. I am not complaining about the judges; they are all honorable in my sight. My point is we need to encourage the youth by improving a more proper show ring etiquette and insisting that all the exhibitors follow all the rules.”

I couldn’t agree with this writer more. In the absence of a steward at shows, judges are required to police the rules and regulations at the same time they are tying the performance elements of horses. During a class, they can miss tack and attire rule violations and they do.

As one judge recently said, ”When you come to a horse show, show management expects you to know the rules and abide by them, but I think that show management and the exhibitors should also be expected to know the rules and to follow them. I’m not supposed to be out there in center ring as the “entry police”.

As Tevye said in Fiddler on the Roof, “He’s right and he’s right. How can they both be right, rule hound and judge?” But, in fact, they can.

Exhibitors have the responsibility to know and to follow the rules of the KMSHA when they come to the horse show. This includes determining which class is the appropriate class for a particular horse or rider; knowing the tack and attire requirements; knowing the gait standards; understanding the qualities which are penalized and the qualities which are prized.

There is nothing that makes a judge more unhappy than to have to tell a junior rider in an equitation class, for example, that she has been eliminated because she doesn’t have on her mandatory gloves. The judge isn’t responsible for that loss; the exhibitor and the parents are responsible for not knowing, or failing to follow, the requirements of the class. If a judge does place an exhibitor who fails to have on mandatory gloves, he is responsible for the loss suffered by another exhibitor who was properly attired. This is not acceptable.

When a steward is present on the grounds, think of this person as the guardian angel of the rules. A steward should catch the lack of gloves, the absence of tie downs, the whip that is too long, or the incorrect reins and send you back to your tack room to get your necessary gear. Don’t complain to the steward when she finds you in violation. Be glad that someone noticed what you overlooked and took the time to tell you.

Absent a steward, however, judges do the best they can in the ring to make sure that the tack and attire, as well as the performance requirements, are met. It’s a job to keep track of gaits and gear. When judges fail and miss something, be thankful for the rule hounds who keep us honest.

KMSHA and the judges want each exhibitor to leave the show with the awards they earned. If a rule violation has gone unnoticed by a judge and results in placings that are incorrect, exhibitors may, and should, quickly file protests at the show office, citing the rule violation. The class placings will be corrected before the judge leaves the grounds if the protests are upheld. Self-correcting systems must also be self-policing. The protest system allows for immediate correction of mistakes but only if exhibitors know the rules and use them to file protests.

Now let’s turn to the specifics of the letter from our self-described rule hound.

1). “In the western classes there is much emphasis in the rule book regarding the way western split reins are to be held, see page 118 equipment, second and third paragraph. There were juvenile riders showing with knotted/tied together reins and riders holding the bight of the reins on the opposite side with the free hand.”

If you show western, go back and reread your rule books, please. Knotted reins or tied together reins are not allowed. You may not hold the bight of the reins. The free hand must either hang by the side or may be held at chest level but it may not interfere with the reins or with the reining hand, which once selected may not be changed. Look, too, at how the one finger allowed between the rains is to be used. If you are using your fingers to guide the horse through a quasi-direct rein method because your horse doesn’t really neck rein, expect the judges to find you out and to penalize you severely. Western riders are also reminded that western horses are to go on a light/loose rein. A rein with a visible U shape is highly regarded. Riders who have a death grip on their western horses and horses whose mouths gape in western classes will not be placed above appropriately gaited horses who are also handled in accordance with the western rules.

2). “Juveniles are holding the reins in an interesting fashion for equitation. Some of the riders are holding doubled over reins, just like the Thoroughbred jockeys ride at the race track. Doubled over reins have no bight falling on the right side and some riders also have large knots in the reins. I thought part of the skill and practice involved in equitation was the skill of steady hands, giving and gentle hands, holding the reins in the manner of a trained equestrian as a learned skill.”

You thought right. Equitation classes are intended to demonstrate both form and function while riding. The artistry of correct riding leads to a better ridden, better performing and more maneuverable mount. Doubled over reins are not allowed in equitation classes. Knotted reins are not allowed in equitation classes. Reins must either be of a single piece construction or be held together by a small buckle or stitching. The bight of the reins must always fall to the right hand side of the neck. Here’s a tip: There is a special technique in equitation classes called addressing the reins. If you are an equitation rider, make sure you know how to do this and practice it until it becomes second nature. You can’t address the reins if the reins are knotted.

3). “According to the rule book there are to be no sort of rowelled spurs used on horses. Page 108 1.g Whips and Spurs. Am I reading this correctly? The majority of exhibitors I see with a spur are using rowelled spurs. It’s a violation of the rules, yet it is rather commonplace.”

Well spotted. I noticed this myself at a recent show I attended in Cynthiana, Kentucky, and when I brought it up to a KMSHA official was told that prohibiting rowelled spurs wasn’t in the rule book. It turns out that the prohibition is in the rule book but if you look further, the rule book is contradictory. On one page it says that rowelled spurs are prohibited but on another page it says that rowelled spurs may not be filed or pointed. After discussion, the presence of this contradiction in the rule book means that rowelled spurs will be allowed at the International but they may not be filed or pointed.

 4). “Are you allowed to use an over check attached to the saddle while working/exercising your horse before exhibition on the show grounds?”

Overchecks are listed as a prohibited appliance in the rule book for working or exercising a horse on the show ground. You are not allowed to use an overcheck on the show grounds of a sanctioned KMSHA/SMHA show, unless you are exhibiting your horse in a driving class where such appliances may be used.

 5). “Is a draw tight cavesson the same as a crank cavesson?“

It depends on who you ask. For the purpose of the International, however, a draw tight cavesson may be used, while crank cavessons are prohibited. The crank cavesson is a prohibited appliance because it gives an exhibitor an unfair application of force for control. The rulebook for the KMSHA is constructed to ensure that manners are paramount and that the mountain horse retains the true attributes of a pleasure horse. Items of tack that use force to achieve the appearance of manners and compliance are not in keeping with the philosophy of the KMSHA. If a horse can’t be brought to a stop without the presence of a crank cavesson (or the horse doesn’t hold a head set without being worked the day of the show in an overcheck) it’s time to go back to the training barn and do your homework. In KMSHA the artificial is never to be rewarded over the genuine. Exhibitors are reminded that it should be possible to put the width of two fingers between the curb chain or the back strap of any cavesson. If your curb or your cavesson is considered to be adjusted too tightly, you will be asked to loosen the tautness.

6). Can bump pads be used on saddles in equitation classes? Can trooper saddles be used in equitation classes?

Because the equitation division is considered a saddle seat discipline, flat saddles are required. Trooper saddles do not meet the requirements of the division. There is no rule in the book about bump pads and what is not specified or prohibited may be considered to be allowed. However, as a matter of taste, bump pads are frowned upon in equitation classes as they do not present the correct “picture” of the immaculately turned out rider and correctly fitting tack associated with the equitation division.

Our writer closes, “KMSHA is a fine organization. We have been through many changes the last year — good and fine changes. Everyone is to be commended on a great job with our association. I take pride in my association’s well being and find it honorable to be able to contribute my views on matters such as this. Thank you for your time. I appreciate it very much.”

Not nearly as much as I appreciate it, you may be sure. When exhibitors get involved and start asking good questions about the rules, enforcement, and judging standards, the only result can be improvement in the breed and improvement in the way the breed is shown and placed.

Good luck to all at The International. May the best horses, presented in the best manner, with the best sports as riders, win!



Note .


In the next issues of the KMSHA magazine a regular column on judging issues will run.  If you have questions about the judging program, I'll be happy to answer them within the column if the questions are of interest to the broader audience or I'll send you a personal answer if your focus is more narrow.  Please direct your questions to the Editor of the magazine and they will be forwarded to me.  To submit a question I'll need your name and address and also the specifics surrounding your question if it concerns a recent shows.


Meanwhile, you can help to build this judging program by becoming proactively involved.  Become familiar with the rulebook and put your horses in the right divisions.  Know what separates mediocre horses from good horses from great horses based on the Standard.  Then, train to the standard and look at your horse as critically as a judge will look at him.


Be honest about your horse's gaits.  If you are over-riding so that the horse is pacing or slick pacing, slow down.


Use adherence to the standard as your criteria for evaluating your own placings at the show as well as in evaluating the judges.


Forward your comments, based on specifics, not on general likes and dislikes, about the judges.  Use the evaluation forms available at the shows in the officer area to give your educated perspective on what happened during the show.


In this inaugural season for the new judging program, we begin the process of growing together.  In time, this program will stand as an example of how horse show judging should be done.  The goals are quality, consistency, adherence to the rules, and fairness to each exhibitor.  In the final analysis, nothing else is or should be acceptable.






Cherie A. Beatty

Independent Director of Judging

 for the KMSHA/SMHA