Meet the Judge!

Michelle Underwood has lots of experience at HOYS. But this year, she will be having an entirely new one: judging. “This will be the first time I have judged the Horse of the Year Show, and it was high on my bucket list,” said Michelle, who will be judging the ride in both the Riding Horse of the Year and Ladies Horse of the Year sections.

“To be honest, I never thought of going into judging. It was at the Royal International Horse Show, when the late Sue Webb told me I should, and put me forward to the Hack and Cob assessment. It all started there, and I absolutely love it.”

Michelle’s first taste of judging was in Ireland with Terry Chalmers. In fact, she judged a lot in Ireland before her first “big” appointment in England: the Royal International Horse Show.

“I think that, when I competed, a lot of people had the idea that my horses were all set up and they had preconceptions of how I rode or indeed, if I could ride!” said Michelle. “Judging most certainly isn’t about pleasing people. In fact I can almost guarantee that someone won’t be happy with my assessment, but for me, ride judging is about how I feel when on a horse and unless you are on that horse at the time, there is no way an onlooker could tell how that is.

“As a ride judge, I’m honest with myself. For example, if a horse is confused through my aids, then I know that’s different to a horse that is genuinely misbehaving.

“My most nervous moment ride judging was one of my first engagements at Royal Dublin. My first class of the week was the four-year-old small hunter class, the crowd was three people deep in every direction, and everyone was watching: no pressure!

“I get nervous before judging at any show, as the competitors have a lot invested, and I want to do the best job I can, regardless of the level.”

What will Michelle be looking for?

“In a riding horse, I will be looking for something that is forward going, straight and light in the contact. One that is coming through from behind correctly, with natural carriage. I want to feel that power underneath that allows the horse to come out, under and up.

“I want my ride to be receptive and smooth through transitions. I hate to ride a horse that is behind the bridle. When you are on a horse that is running away from you, in that way, it can be a little disconcerting!

I will expect a good gallop from my riding horses; I like and expect them to gallop like a hunter.

“I learnt from my Mum, Pearl, who has such a good eye. She always loved true to type quality horses. A riding horse for me should have substance with great quality.”

And in the ladies side saddle class?

“In the side-saddle class, manners will be paramount. A lady should never feel over-horsed, therefore a light, responsive horse with impeccable manners will always come to the fore.

“In my ride, it is again, incredibly important that they are straight, balanced and receptive to my aids. I want to be riding horses that are forward going, up and into the contact and not running downhill.

“I don’t like to see too much bling. I much prefer old style bridles and saddles. On that note, please don’t over polish your saddle. – Not a nice feeling on a new horse!

“I keep fit all year round for my judging appointments, eating well, exercising 4-5 times a week.  For HOYS, due to not being able to judge side saddle all year I have been working with an amazing side saddle trainer, to ensure that I do the best job possible!”

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