The Chateauguay Valley has traditionally been well-represented in terms of competitors at the Royal Winter Fair, but unless spectators turned around while watching the horse show this year, they might not have known that representation extended to the judge’s stand.
Cathy Harper of Hinchinbrooke, a Level 3 Jumper Judge for the Fédération Équestre International and a Canadian National Senior Jumper Judge, was asked to judge “the most prestigious horse show in Canada,” as she puts it, for the first time in 2019. This important appointment can be added to the impressive list of equestrian competitions she has judged in her career of more than 30 years, which includes the North American Young Riders’ Championship; the Nations Cup in Wellington, Florida; the American Gold Cup in Old Salem, New York; the Central Park Horse Show in New York City; and two Olympic trials for the United States Equestrian Team.
While it may have been the first time Harper was in the judge’s stand there, it was far from her first experience of the Royal. She says that over the years, she has done a variety of things at the annual event, ranging “from grooming show hunters for a prominent stable in Ontario to riding and then coaching other riders.”
Her path as an equestrian was also unwavering: “Although not from an equestrian family, I knew from a very early age that I liked horses and when my parents took me for a riding lesson I was immediately hooked.” Years later, becoming a judge seemed like a logical step, Harper says. “After spending my entire life in all aspects of the horse industry, whether as a rider, trainer/coach or horse show organizer, it seemed the next step was to apply for my judge’s cards, which I did more than 30 years ago.”
The judging itself, she says, is fairly straightforward: one has to “know the rules, stay current, and always maintain your integrity.” The only challenge she mentioned was the travel, saying “flying to and from shows, renting cars and staying in hotels sounds glamorous, but in reality, it can be a bit much.”
These challenges are surely balanced out by the excitement of judging classes such as the $50,000 Canadian Open Speed Class, as she did during the evening show on November 8 at the Royal, where show jumping legends including Beezie Madden, crowd favourite Eric Lamaze, and ultimate winner Rowan Willis of Australia jumped against the clock as enthralled spectators looked on. The Royal was “a great experience,” Harper says. “The venue, the competition, the jury and the atmosphere were amazing.”
Over the past three decades of judging, she says, the best thing has been “the opportunity to watch some of the world’s best riders and horses perform over the most well-designed courses in such fantastic venues, and I have the best seat in the house!”