Showing Horses From the Judge’s Perspective

Showing Horses From the Judge's Perspective

Showing Horses From the Judge’s Perspective

Showing Horses From the Judge’s Perspective

Showing Horses From the Judge’s Perspective.  After a number of years as an exhibitor and trainer, showing nationally in halter, pleasure, trail, and other breed classes, I decided to become a judge so that the people who showed to me would be judged objectively and by the rulebook. Many times I have overheard folks at a show make assumptions about why a judge placed a class as they did. Most times their assumptions were incorrect.

Showing Horses From the Judge’s Perspective

1. The view from the center of the arena is not the same as the view from the in-gate or bleachers. No one can see exactly what a judge sees unless they are standing right next to them. It is frequently the case that when four judges evaluate a showmanship class, three will have cards that are pretty similar and one will deviate. The judge being show to has a totally different view of each performance than the other three who watch from the side.

2. The only time a judge should notice an exhibitor’s attire or their tack is when it is wrong. You lose points when your silver halter is in better condition than your horse, and you don’t earn points based on the quantity of silver on your saddle. Your tack and dress should be completely unremarkable; of correct quality, color and fit so as not to stand out as inappropriate, and not so gaudy that it takes attention away from your performance. Either extreme is wrong.

3. Judges are only human. They don’t know everything and sometimes lack the confidence to make independent decisions. If this is a pattern they should lose their cards. When a judge is insecure they may give a win to a well-known trainer, not because of politics, but because they know from the trainer’s reputation they wouldn’t ride or lead a bad one. It’s usually a safe pick to place a champion exhibitor. I’ve seen it happen. I hope I never did it. Yes, some judges do insert their prejudices into their placings. Avoid these judges if you can, or just consider the show a learning opportunity.

4. Judges are not to consider reputations or past performance. They are to use only what they see in the arena during that class. A halter horse that won the world two weeks ago may not be presented as well today. I may use a pleasure horse in first place in one class, only to drop them off my card in the next. It was always interesting to overhear someone on the rail react to the announcement of class placings when I didn’t use a famous horse well. “Doesn’t she know that horse won the Nationals last month? What kind of an idiot is she?” Yeah, I knew. This is a new competition. All scores are reset to zero when the gate closes. That horse just didn’t win today. Judges learn to be critiqued just like exhibitors.

5. Judging in many classes involves a large amount of subjectivity. Personal preference influences every judge when the rulebook is silent on a matter. I always placed correct over flashy, whether in reining or working hunter. I want great legs, balance, and a powerful hind end on a halter horse; I never let their height be a deal killer for me.

6. Sometimes there just isn’t a winner in the whole bunch. Judging a poor class is far more difficult than placing a good one. Who gets the win in a rail class, the horse that missed their right lead entirely or the one that tried to run off with their rider? Which futurity baby gets the big check, the big one with crooked legs and cute little head, or the one with good balance that will be a beauty once they get properly conditioned and enough groceries?

7. Horse shows are supposed to be fun. That’s the point. Love your horse. Enjoy the process. If you are pleased with your horse it will show to the judge. If there is a close call to be made, I would give the nod to the horse and rider who look like the best team over the rider who looks like they are the star and their horse only a prop.

The opinion of the judge is not the final arbiter of your success at a show. If your horse did as you asked, you won the day. If judges continue to disagree with you, perhaps you need to ask your horse for something different. Never stop learning. And, when appropriate, ask the judge to share their reasons for how they placed a class.  Showing Horses From the Judge’s Perspective.

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