I’d like to start off by reminding everyone that judges are human. Pretty opinionated humans, but still human. We make mistakes and sometimes after a long day of judging, we reflect upon our day and wish we had pinned a class a little differently or didn’t look down at the exact moment a mini-disaster happened that we were told about later. (“Are you blind—you put the horse that bucked in second?!”) We miss things. We can only judge what we happen to see in front of us for a short span of time. And our life experiences will cause us to decide who we like more in a class and our chosen field of expertise will sometimes leave us placing certain types of horses above others. But we love our jobs, and we love to see riders and handlers succeed.
My riding style of choice is hunter/jumper, but most of the shows I judge at are local schooling shows complete with all disciplines. I’m lucky enough to have shown saddle seat as a child, and I competed in western horsemanship for a season, both of which help me keep an open mind and allow me to love judging multi-discipline classes.
Between conversations with other judges and from my own judging experiences, I’ve tried to come up with a list of pointers to help with a rider’s success and allow you to be more competitive at most horse shows. This list is by no means exhaustive, but they are the most common things I’ve heard/seen.
- DO NOT BE LATE FOR CLASS
At most shows that I sit at, there are 30+ classes to get through. At 10 minutes for a flat class, 2 minutes for a course, and many un-judged warm-ups in between, the last thing any judge ever wants to do is to wait for entrants to get into the ring. Don’t get me wrong—we get the tack changes and the, “Oops, my class is next?” but I personally have great respect for those individuals ready to walk into the ring ON TIME.
- Be willing to go first for courses/patterns
This one is along the same lines as being late. Be prepared and please don’t leave the judge waiting to start a class as you look around to see who the first rider will be. Make it be yourself! If you go first and put in a winning round, equal to another, I will certainly give the better ribbon to the person not hesitating to go into the ring.
- Trainers – don’t yelling during classes
For example, yelling “no” or “change it” or “diagonal” or “wrong lead” or “more heel.” The list goes on and on. Of course, the level of horse show will decide how much I try to ignore these. I will, however, admit that there have been times when I haven’t noticed the wrong diagonal/lead yet and the trainer’s voice nicely alerts me to their rider’s absentmindedness (which is written down on the scorecard). Obviously if it becomes a life/death situation then by all means yell out instructions!
Don’t Run over the judge
Trust me—I saw your horse. Coming so close to me that I can see the dust particles sticking to Show Sheen on your horse’s coat is not going to get you any bonus points. I will simply have to assume that you are not able to steer your horse very well or you need more practice with “floor craft” (see next item on the list).
Perfect your “Floor craft”
In ballroom dancing, there are certain dances that “travel” around a room, and in those dances the “leader” needs to constantly be watching other partners and trying to predict dancers’ moves to avoid any collisions. It takes practice and experience to really get good at this. I wish riders practiced this more. When I judge, if a horse has to break because another rider cuts them off, I penalize the pair who did the cutting and ignore the break of the pair avoiding the collision. Riders, learn the art of “floor craft”! It will help you in all your flat classes and anytime you are riding in a ring with others!
Don’t get discouraged
I can only judge what’s in front of me. I miss things. Lots of things. I try hard not to, but in large classes I will. “That pony broke to a trot halfway around the ring and still pinned while I kept going all the way! It’s not fair!” Maybe I did see it, but you were on the wrong diagonal the whole time. I really love going to the small schooling shows and giving every rider some piece of advice or something to work on. There are lots of times that I’m thinking, “WOW, that is an amazing pony and an asset to any lesson program.” But unfortunately, in the horse show world, he may not move as nicely as the imported Warmblood next to him so he may not pin as often. Don’t be discouraged—keep showing! Every judge has their own opinions, but it’s just that— their opinion.
Know what equipment is allowed
Check with your organizations rule book if you have any questions about tack, equipment or show clothing. Of course, I do have to throw out a disclaimer that some judges have their own pet peeves. I know one judge who won’t pin a walk/trotter with spurs on. Another cannot stand bats/whips/sticks being carried in an equitation class. Those opinions have nothing to do with the rules.
A rider without gloves on doesn’t bother me too much, but I know it’s a pet peeve of other judges. It’s such an easy thing to do that I recommend all riders wear gloves when appropriate to their discipline.
Wear clothes that fit
I’m not asking everyone to run out and get a pair of $400 breeches, but your show clothes should fit well. Otherwise your outfit will only detract from the overall look you are trying to present to the judge, making it more difficult to judge equitation classes. I look for form fitting, neat (clean-ish) clothing, boots reaching to the knee, hair properly captured under your helmet, etc.
Make sure your horse is totally sound
Please put your horse’s interests first and if your horse’s soundness is questionable, keep him at home.
Come with clean, neat, presentable tack. Your horse should be well groomed, in good weight, healthy coat, trimmed whiskers, mane appropriate length for discipline, etc.
Avoid having a very sweaty horse (summer heat aside)
I try hard to ignore this, but I can’t help but wonder why the horse had to be ridden to that point right before class. It’s not something an you want a judge to have to think about.
Show your numbers
Please make it so I can see the number on your back. I know this vexes A LOT of judges. If we can’t see the your number we have one of two choices: Go up and ask you or just not use you in the pinning.
Not only is this distracting to see in a class, it can be a dangerous choking hazard. Leave the gum chewing for when you are not on a horse.
Any mistreatment of the horse
This goes without saying. Quickly disciplining a misbehaving horse is one thing, but there is a line between that and excessive. Be very careful not to cross it, as it will not be tolerated. The horse always comes first.