To Tweet or Not To Tweet…

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There are all sorts of opinions these days regarding horse (and livestock) judges, and whether or not they should be using social media, and/or how. This always strikes me as funny when I hear it…because social media is such an integral part of both my personal and professional life these days, it’s like someone just told me I shouldn’t communicate with a pen or a phone.

I realize that often when someone suggests judges shouldn’t be on social media, they are concerned about ethical issues. A great blog post titled “Is Facebook a Judge’s Worst Enemy?” by Rachel Cutrer sums this up perfectly from a livestock perspective, but it really isn’t much different in the horse world. (Although if someone tags me in a photo of a horse I’ll soon be judging, or friends me right before that particular show we will likely no longer be Facebook friends, I’ll tell you that right now.)

Sometimes I do wonder if people question or take issue with the fact that I’m “friends” with people I inevitably do judge. But to be honest, I know quite a few horse people, and I know most of them outside of Facebook. I’d know them even if I wasn’t on Facebook, and there are few judges who can’t say the same. As far as the rest, if I see them on Facebook, it is typically on my phone, in a teeny tiny square, at best. If people only knew how much I don’t recognize them in the show ring, they might not bother friending me, and subsequently having to endure my incessant cat/corgi photos.

Other people take issue with judges trying to get judging jobs via social media. Typically, judges who excessively self-promote are not well received by other judges, that’s a fact. The “unwritten rule” is that your work will speak for itself, and people will hire you based on that work. I totally agree.

If you are a particularly negative person, or feel compelled to whine (via social media or otherwise) about the lack of potty breaks, high quality food, or professional ring stewards, you probably should stay off social media with that as well. But come on. You’re not Beyoncé, for heaven’s sake. Have a hot dog (or a snow cone) and relax. And maybe even consider thanking whomever it is that helped you survive the day. Besides, if they aren’t bringing you water, you probably don’t need a potty break. You may also pass out, so show managers…please provide water.

As you’ve probably guessed, I actually think that judges on social media can be a very good thing…and here is why: one of the biggest threats to the horse show industry is that people often don’t understand how classes are judged, or why they placed as they did. Sometimes, they even quit, or at least change disciplines because of it. And that is a problem.

From introductory levels to world champions, most people want to know why they placed where they did, and sometimes even what they can do to improve. They are spending a lot of money (relatively speaking) to participate, and in the traditional rail classes etc., they rarely get access to judges. Social media (done well) can provide at least some of that information, and even a level of interaction that has sadly been lost for a variety of reasons.   Horse judges rarely get the opportunity to explain themselves anymore (as livestock judges always do) unless they judge county fairs or 4-H events, but even then, so many classes have been added, and everyone is in such a rush to finish, that it is often hard to do. At larger shows, time is a factor, as is the perception (and in some cases rules) in place that prohibit access to judges. Period. I understand the reasons for this, but at the same time, I think it has had a negative impact on our industry.

I’m not saying that I want everyone at the horse show to PM me on Monday morning asking questions, per say (although I have answered a few that way). What I am saying is that social media savvy judges can explain what they are doing and why, the other 6 days of the week, on their own pages. Or on any of the zillion groups that exist for that very purpose, but that are often chock FULL of misinformation. Plus, you get the added bonus of thinking about what you say before you say it, if that is actually a service you offer.

Many exhibitors truly do NOT understand how or why we place classes. This is part of the reason for the increased popularity of Reining, Dressage, Trail, Western Riding etc. Sharing other score sheets will also help somewhat, but it will need to be a score-sheet an exhibitor can actually understand without an interpreter. Yes, there is also a level of responsibility on the part of the exhibitor to understand the rules and what is required of them, I get that.

Making a contribution on social media is certainly not for the faint of heart. I’d also suggest you avoid seeking out commentary about a given show you judged, because invariably there will be someone who didn’t like your decision(s). If you can’t stand the heat, as the saying goes, then STAY OUT OF THE KITCHEN. But you can actually learn about what exhibitors truly think about our industry (and sometimes non-exhibitors as well). Is it sometimes a headache, sure.  Is it enjoyable when someone blows up your page with a question about western pleasure that turns into a firestorm, when all you wanted to do was enjoy your Friday?  Not. At. All. Making a contribution on social media requires a thick skin, and the ability to maintain your composure when it feels like you are under attack for your view-point or perspective…just like judging a horse show.

The Power of -Er…It Ultimately Comes Down To Comparisons

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One of the most difficult things to remember when showing horses is that it is ultimately a game of comparisons, and while you have control over some things (how much effort you put in, how well you take care of your horse etc.), you don’t have control over others (like when the World Champion shows up at the horse show, the weather, if your horse happens to be lame that day, if YOU happen to be lame that day). But even if everything goes perfectly, you need to always be aware of what could be called “The Power of -Er”.

So I know you’re thinking “What on E(a)rth is she talking about?!” What I mean is this: when judges place horses at horse shows, they are always comparing one to another, and even if you do everything perfectly, there is always a chance that someone (or someone’s horse) is doing it better. Or bettER.

As an example, I occasionally get approached by exhibitors wanting to know how they can improve, and typically, depending on where we are in the horse show, I have no problem sharing (when they seem to be polite, and don’t argue).   I am all about people doing the best they can to improve. The trouble comes when there is no realistic way it can be improved upon, or when it’s just a matter of someone else’s horse doing “it” better that day.  That’s usually when judges get a bad rap (and typically that’s not fair).

For example, in Western Pleasure (with stock type horses) I am looking for a horse that is demonstrating true gaits, flat through the knee, using it’s hock, and staying consistent throughout the class (and before anyone gets upset, that was in no particular order there). The winner is usually going to be the horse that is truER gaited, flattER through it’s knee, driving hardER through it’s hock, and more consistent than the horses placing below him.   At all gaits. Both ways. Except when all are close in ability. (See Losing Doesn’t Mean You’re Bad (and Winning Doesn’t Mean You’re Good), for more on that situation).

When making comparisons, we use the “Power of –Er”, and some horses when compared to others, are just flattER through the knee. It’s a matter of stride length, shoulder length and angle, and several other issues of equine anatomy.   In short, how flat a horse is through it’s knee is ultimately pretty hard to change. Sometimes, how true gaited they are can also be hard to change, although how they are shown can influence that. The point is that sometimes, no matter how good you thought your ride was, it’s physically impossible for a horse to change enough to beat a particular horse that happened to show up that day, and for some people, that is a difficult pill to swallow.

Similarly, in equitation classes, I like to see riders who are deepER in their heel, strongER through their leg and seat, and quietER with their hands. You may execute a pretty good pattern, but if you want to actually win the class, you also have to do all of these things, or at least do them bettER than everyone else in the class. Classes like equitation, horsemanship, and showmanship, are all classes judged on the rider, and typically things that the rider has much more control over.

I really think that as people start to grasp this concept, they can also start to enjoy showing horses more…and this is also true for parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.   Just because your rider does well, does not always mean that they did bettER than everyone else in the class at everything that was evaluated, and likewise you can’t let a judges placing dictate whether or not to be happy and proud of that rider (or yourself).

This is why setting very specific performance goals (execute a perfect 360, a straight trot line, the correct diagonal), and making a big deal of it when these things happen, and subsequently taking the primary focus off of placing, can increase the fun factor considerably. If your rider takes the correct left diagonal when they typically struggle with it, it’s ice cream for everyone!!! (Or whatever). But you have to agree on this with them ahead of time…or they’ll just roll their eyes, and think you’re weird. Heck, they may do that anyway, but you’re getting ice cream, so who cares? Seriously, though, if you make this kind of non-placing based goal setting part of your regular routine, you’ll be amazed at how eventually, the placings you’re after will become a reality…and if they don’t, there’s always ice cream!