If anyone knows what it’s like to be judged, it’s American show jumper Brianne Goutal-Marteau. Throughout her junior years, the 30-year-old took home multiple U.S. equitation championships — not to mention many blue ribbons at major venues including the Winter Equestrian Festival, Devon, the Hampton Classic, and beyond.
Last year, Brianne swapped hats to judge the Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) Equitation Finals, and next month, she’ll pull out her clipboard once again as judge for the IHSA Metropolitan Equitation Invitational, a new, college showcase taking place on Friday, April 26th during the Longines Masters of New York at NYCP Live. So what’s it really like to judge one of the biggest equitation classes in the country?
A bit of whirlwind, as it turns out.
“I always had the worry that when I was judging, I would feel inclined toward the people I knew. I was very surprised, because once you’re in that position, everybody sort of blurs,” Brianne laughs.
“When I judged Washington Finals, I went to meet a couple friends after [the class] for lunch, and they asked me, ‘So, who won?’
“I’m like, ‘Um, it was the girl on the grey horse. The tall girl, who did X or Y, and she was on that big, grey horse…”
At the Longines Masters of New York, Brianne will be judging a field of 25, Open Level college riders competing over fences on randomly drawn horses, with 12 selected to return for a second, work-off round. As a former collegiate rider herself, albeit a brief stint (Brianne elected to go professional during her freshman year at Brown University), Goutal-Marteau knows firsthand what it is that makes the IHSA’s format both challenging and unique.
“It’s a totally different kind of experience than anyone, regardless of [level], would have — to go to a show and sit on a horse that you’ve never sat on before. [The horses] come with very specific instructions; you can use a stick on this one; you can use spurs on that one, and if you do, use this size…. I think that really sets you up to deal with a plethora of different types of horses.”
Gauging how each competitor handles the quirks of a new mount, under pressure, and while maintaining his or her form and composure is the task ahead of Brianne during the IHSA Metropolitan Equitation Invitational, but the rider anticipates she’ll be learning as much from the field as she’ll be critiquing it. “I think it’s great to be on all sides, and [judging] puts you in a different position as a competitor, but also as a trainer, to understand what is noticed, what is important, and what a different viewpoint can do,” she explains.
Outside of riding and competing, judging is one facet of equestrian sport that Brianne says she enjoys more than she expected that she would. Training is another. A few years ago, while competing at Spruce Meadows, Goutal-Marteau’s former trainer, Max Amaya, asked if he could send her one of his juniors as a working student. Brianne’s time coaching that student, Sydney Shulman, ultimately inspired a new phase in her professional development.
“It was through that experience that I realized how much I enjoyed it,” Brianne explains. “Later when I became pregnant the first time, [I wanted] to expand my business, and through that expansion, I realized how much more I loved training.”
Today, Brianne’s students have achieved success in some of the most prestigious hunter, jumper, and equitation rings around the country. And, like any coach, she’s had to deal with one, common, performance-related issue that most juniors and amateurs face at one time or another: horseshow nerves. “Funny enough, that was something that I really needed to learn about, because I have very few nerves [myself]. I can count on one hand the amount of times that I’ve actually been very nervous before a big class, so it’s actually something I had to learn. To, one, empathize, and [two], learn how to combat them,” Brianne says.
The first order of business: establish what’s really going on in a rider’s head. “A lot of the time, when you ask them [what’s making them nervous], they don’t know. The response is, ‘Well, I’m just nervous,’” Brianne explains. Once she gets to the heart of her rider’s fears, the next step involves helping them shift their focus.
“You have to be confident in what you know, and what you can control. Because a lot of it is out of our control, right? You can be cantering to the first jump, and your horse could spook, or take off, or you might not see the distance,” Brianne says.
“You can control your approach, you can control your pace, you can control your turns, your rhythm, all these different, little things.
“I think once a rider is comfortable with the fact that they can control a lot more than they think, then the nerves will dissipate.”
Despite wearing multiple hats, as she often does, as trainer, judge, and competitor at the Longines Masters of New York, nerves aren’t likely to factor into the weekend’s equation for Brianne Goutal-Marteau. The rider plans to compete her top horse of nearly two years, Viva Colombia, in the Longines Grand Prix of New York CSI5*on Sunday April 28th. But as a native Manhattanite, she’s excited to participate at the Masters in any capacity.
“I think, as a New Yorker, we’re always like, why isn’t there a show back at [Madison Square Garden]? Why aren’t there more shows close by home — why do we always have to [travel] to different places?” Brianne says.
“I think that comes down to the atmosphere, the level of competition, the level of entertainment that the New York Masters provides. Everything is just at the top, top level, and to have it right in your own backyard, I just think it makes everyone so excited.”