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By Karen W. Coup

A longtime Saddle Horse enthusiast, I once attended the dressage part of a three-day event. I was amazed that no ring-side coaching took place while the contestant performed his pattern. When I inquired about the lack of commentary, I was told that the rider would be penalized if such coaching occurred. I now wonder if we are approaching that sort of needed censure, as ringside coaching at our shows seems to be ever-increasing in volume.

At a Saddle Horse show during 2003, an instructor so loudly corrected her student that the judge not only appeared to listen to the commentary, but frowned at the instructor and tied down the rider. Later in the year, at the Kentucky Fall Classic, a sign was posted by the Saddle Seat Equitation Committee. It is my understanding that it warned instructors of walk-trot finals riders that the adults would not be permitted to coach their students in an obtrusive manner.

If a rider needs more help than a simple sentence or two when directly in front of the instructor, perhaps he or she is not prepared for the demands of show ring competition. Such intense coaching may work against the rider in the long run. It may foster a lack of independence, especially in young riders, that will lead to a lack in confidence at larger shows where they may be out of the vocal range of their trainers. Indeed, shouldn't the riders be concentrating on their skills and their horses, rather than trying to catch every word someone says?

Is it possible that judges might prefer that the rules actually encourage methods of competing and judging which truly display a horse and rider's abilities without hearing all the commentary?

In any case, many people believe that overly loud coaching has become distracting for the exhibitors, the judges and the audience. Is it time for all of us to opt for a "quieter, gentler" ring-side scene?

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