Thursday, September 24, 2009

So You Want to be a Horse Show Judge.....

I have often been asked how do you become a horse show judge by competitors, trainers, parents, young and old. I thought I'd put some starter tips on today's post, since yes, last weekend I was once again asked this question. First of all, you must understand that judging horse shows is much harder work than you might think. A judge does not simply sit in the judge's box or stand in the ring and watch the pretty horses. There are some very definite skills required. Not only do you need to have a good eye from experience riding and showing the discipline you wish to judge but you also have to stay current on rules governing your chosen discipline. Then there must be very accurate and well learned symbols of shorthand that you can go back and recount minutes, hours and even days later, weeks sometimes. Here are some steps that I would see as the best way to progress to judging a horse show on your own.
  1. Go to any show, rated, breed, local, 4-H, sit on the sidelines and judge the classes. Hone your shorthand skills and compare your placing with the sitting judge of the show. Go home and try to 'read' your shorthand notes. If you don't recall something, try making flash cards for your shorthand symbols and practice learning them. Some classes go on for hours; some cards stay open for the entire show. You must be able to go back and recount from your notes, what a particular exhibitor was marked. Even with numerical scoring, you must be able to recall what sets apart a couple of exhibitors who may have both been given a 74. How does split in the placings? If you go back and read their errors, you should be able to pick which 74 score was better.
  2. Ask to apprentice at any and all local horse shows. USEF & Breed shows do not allow this but any show that is 4h, local club, etc should be just fine. Call the show manager/secretary and get their permission while asking for the judges' contact. Call the judge and inform them that you have permission from the show mgr/sec. Ask if they will allow it and any requests they may have of you. Make sure you get permission from the show coordinator AND the judge at least a couple days prior to the show.
  3. Find shows that are online in video for entire classes in your chosen discipline. Practice judging from the video and remember, the judge only gets one view of things so if the camera is fixed in one location for the entire show, that is how the judge may have been able to see. Here's a link to some of the classes that are completely on the video from the Upperville Horse Show You can always note the time on the video and come back later to finish classes. Plus you have the advantage of instant replay, although you lose the advantage of knowing what the sitting judge actually tallied for the final score.
  4. Read some of the good books already in print. If they're out of print, try amazon or ebay.
    • Horse Show Judging for Beginners: Getting Started as a Horse Show Judge by Hallie McEvoy
    • Judging Hunters & Hunter Seat Equitation: A Comprehensive Guide for Exhibitors & Judges by Anna Jane White-Mullin
    • Dressage: A Guideline for Riders & Judges by Wolfgang Niggli
    • Competing in Western Shows & Events by Charlene Strickland
    • Any State 4-H horse show and judging guide (Your Local Cooperative Extension 4-H) check the phone book
    • Judging halter horses (from the top down) by Ken Krieg
    • The Field Guide to Horses by Samantha Johnson and Daniel Johnson
    • Storey's Horse-Lover's Encyclopedia: An English & Western A-to-Z Guide by Deborah Burns, Lisa Hiley, and Deb Burns
    • Search the web for 4H publications. Most are free and downloadable.
    • Any breed specific and or discipline specific show governing organization rules. Most are free & downloadable.
  5. Attend any clinics and seminars whether you are testing or just auditing. Some very good ones to attend are
  6. Until you can comfortably score and place a class of 12 or more in any chosen discipline specific class or show, don't attempt to bill yourself as a judge. You want to remember that most likely, you are the highest paid (sometimes the only paid) staff at the show; exhibitors are paying for a knowledgable, professional opinion based on breed and/or discipline specific standards; you should be able to recall exhibitor performances from your cards easily as you will be asked constantly at open shows and from the stewards at rated shows, what did I do right/wrong? what can I do better? etc. If you cannot state verbal reasons why you pinned a class in a particular order, then you are not ready to judge on your own.
  7. Judging a show is hard work both mentally and physically. You must be ready for chapped lips, sunburns, cold winds, mosquitoes, rickety chairs, no chair, dusty rings, lousy food, no food, few and far between breaks, big blue plastic potties, cussing & fussing parents, trainers, exhibitors and even sometimes, managers. You need to be able to focus on the class or exhibitor in the ring while distractions constantly try to taunt your attention away from the performance at hand. Sometimes the distractions are accidental, incidental, all the way to the well planned purposeful. You have to be able to ignore being spoken to by one party,  while you are attempting to judge someone else in the ring. You cannot stop judging because someone asks you a question, You cannot stop judging to go potty, get something to eat or drink, etc until you coordinate it with show staff. Above & beyond all you need to be able to state your reason based on rules and experience, why you placed classes. You WILL be asked. You can never lose your focus or temper. Local, open, schooling shows with/without pre entry can go on for more than 10 or 12 hours. You must be ready to fulfill your duties without fail, regardless. I'll probably write more posts on this topic but for now, this is becoming almost my own book......Guide to becoming a horse show judge!

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I am just one judge with one judge's opinion. Almost all of the classes I judge are based on the rules of USEF & AQHA. Judging a horse show is very subjective to the interpretation of the rules. Please keep this in mind when commenting.