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Subject to Judgment

Learn to discern between judged moments and moments of judgment.

Article by Gilead Friedman, with Alexis Bennett - Reiner Psych


Reining is a judged sport, but it’s important to note when you are actually being evaluated compared to when you’re perceiving judgment from peers.


Horse sports, more specifically reining, are unique because of riders’ public showcase of their skills. Not only are you and your horse alone in the arena when competing, but your practice at the show is in the open, as well.


Reiners typically arrive at an event days before their run to prepare in the new environment. While some elements of the show take getting used to, the real challenge and adjustments have to do with the fact that as soon as you arrive, you feel you are subject to scrutiny.

When you’re at a show, there are always people around watching — watching you practice from the stands, watching you care for your horse and watching you work with your trainer or clients. The perception that there is always someone with their eyes on you and your horse can be overwhelming and, if you let it, it can take a toll on your capability to focus.


Your ability to discern between judged moments and judgment can make or break your performance when it’s time to show. It’s important to understand the pressures of the competitive environment and how your own perceptions play into it. Then, learn to manage the situation so you can be more purposeful in how you prepare for your judged run to be able to have your best performance possible.


The only time any person’s opinion of your riding and your horse’s abilities matters at a show is when you’re in the arena during your scored run. This is the only time you are being judged.


Are You Good Enough?

When you sign up to compete, it’s because you believe you are a good enough rider and you have a good enough horse for the class you’re entered in. But when you practice and see people riding around you or watching from the sidelines, you may let doubt creep in. You may start to wonder what others think of your riding and your horse. The feeling that you’re being judged is a human mechanism. It’s usually used to reaffirm our own inner self-talk, and it’s typically negative. A person watching you doesn’t even have to say anything or show any facial expression — negative or positive — for you to begin filling in the gaps with what you think they’re thinking. You can hear the opinion you’ve made up for them in your head, even when they’ve said nothing. This is when you can get in trouble.


In response to the perceived judgment, it’s not uncommon to want to look your best. So, you might show off your horse’s best skills and choose to avoid the schooling you had planned because you know it’ll highlight some weaknesses. When you do this, you put yourself at risk of not being prepared when it really matters: showtime.


Whose Opinion Matters?

The only time any person’s opinion of your riding and your horse’s abilities matters at a show is when you’re in the arena during your scored run. This is the only time you are being judged. The rest of the time, you’re experiencing judgment. One has an influence on your score and your performance at the show, and one doesn’t.


Part of the mental challenge for riders is understanding the difference between judging and judgment, and then filtering the pressure so your horse doesn’t experience it. To keep yourself in check, use the following criteria to determine if you’re experiencing judging or judgment.



Are you being judged?

You’ll know you’re being judged or experiencing a judged moment because it’ll meet the following criteria.

1. There is a professional with a certification who is going to judge your performance.

2. That professional judge has agreed to assess all exhibitors, and everyone showing has agreed that person’s opinion counts. The professional has also been accepted by others as the judge of the event.

3. This professional is coming from an objective approach. They have an NRHA Handbook and are committed to being as objective as possible. (We’re all human; we have our own taste and make mistakes, but this professional is trying to be as objective as possible.)

4. This person will always tell you what they think about you in the form of a score at the end of the run. If you’re curious about what they thought of each area in your run, you can go back and look at your scorecard.


Are you experiencing judgment?

You’ll know you’re experiencing a sense of judgment because it’ll meet the following criteria.

1. The person in the stands or along the fence may or may not be a professional judge.

2. If they are a professional judge, they don’t fit into the second criteria for being judged because they have not agreed to assess all exhibitors and the exhibitors have not agreed to be assessed by them.

3. The person watching is not obligated to come from an objective standpoint. Their opinion can be, and likely is, subjective.

4. They don’t have to tell you their opinion or what they think, and if they do, you don’t necessarily know if it’s true. The first reason is that they may not want to share their thoughts, good or bad, and secondly, you may not believe them because you’ve already made up a different story in your head.

5. The person watching may not have an opinion at all. In fact, it’s actually more likely that what you’re experiencing as judgment is a reflection of your insecurities. You assume that if someone sees you ride, they’re thinking about you, and you assume you know what they’re thinking.



How Do You Handle the Challenge?

You must understand that practicing publicly is a part of reining you can’t always avoid. The goal is to develop the right mental space to handle the challenge of schooling in front of others and be able to perform. It’s your job as the rider to filter and deal with the pressures, and prepare your team to show well.


To resist the temptation to succumb to judgment is to commit to practicing ugly. Practicing ugly means sticking to your plan and schooling the skills you need to be prepared to perform. (For more on this, read “The Joker Technique” in your February 2021 issue of the NRHA Reiner.)


If you react to any and all judgment, you get distracted with showing off to others when it doesn’t count. When you’re aware there is only one period of judging, you focus on being brave and confident, and practice what you need to for the time when others’ opinions really matter.



Gilead “Gil” Friedman of Mental Athletics specializes in the mental game that accompanies competition. The NRHA Professional, who grew up riding performance horses, worked with NRHA Professionals Dan Huss and Bob LaPorta in the United States. Now based out of the KPH Performance Horses facility in Kfar Netter, Israel, he works in person and virtually with trainers, non pros and amateurs worldwide, sharing his firsthand knowledge of performance psychology to help riders step up their mental strength in a competitive environment. Learn more at mental-athletics.com

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