By Karen L. Waite, Ph.D.
The first blog post I ever wrote was “The Five Myths of Horse Judging”. At the time, I don’t think I had a specific plan for what this blog would really be “about”, I just knew that I had something to say and that I wanted to help exhibitors develop a better understanding of what judges are trying to do, and how they (exhibitors) could improve. Typically, my inspiration comes from personal experience, but sometimes (probably more times than I’d like to admit), it comes from social media. This post is one of those.
It’s not unusual for me to wake up on a Sunday (or Monday), check Facebook, and see one of those posts from an exhibitor along the lines of “we were at a show and the judge did or said XYZ.” It’s usually not good and not surprisingly, the thread often devolves into something that is a far cry from what was really intended or said, but hey. Social media is like that, unfortunately. Usually, I throw in my 2 cents and carry on about my day.
For some reason. This morning’s episode hit me differently. Maybe it was because one of my students started his judging career yesterday. I know how much preparation he put in, how excited he was to be there, and getting the text after the fact saying that he LOVED it will be a career highlight for me. Maybe it was having my own young horses starting to show and analyzing score sheets like it was my job. (Slow your roll, lady. It’s NOT your job today.) Maybe it was hearing about veteran judges who made unfortunate mistakes that caused show managers problems. I don’t know, but I do know this…judging ain’t easy, to steal a hashtag from those who are “mommin”.
Sometimes people have the impression that judges pop out of bed looking forward to a day of making children cry, parents angry, and horses wish for a career change. I’m here to tell you, we don’t. Judging is mentally and physically difficult, and believe it or not, no one is getting rich doing it. If you have multiple cards you need to keep up with multiple rulebooks, and attend multiple conferences that sometimes cost more than you’ll make in a year of judging. If you are judging open shows, you need to understand multiple breed standards that may be vastly different from your own favorite, and just when you think you’ve got it licked, someone comes flying in on a world champion racking Walkaloosa Mule. Yep, you’d better learn to appreciate that, too. You often spend hours finding patterns for people and horses you’ve never seen, and more hours on your feet in the sun while exhibitors sit in the shade analyzing YOUR every move. Everything that can slow a show or go wrong at a show conveniently becomes your fault. You’re an easy target, and more often than not you’re not there to defend yourself.
Rereading that paragraph does beg the question, though. “Why do it then?” I suppose I can only share my own motivations and not speak for every judge in the world. But I do know a lot of judges and as best I can tell, it’s because we love it. We want to give back to an industry that gave so much to us. We love watching great horses and riders, and we love seeing newbies develop into superstars. We still get butterflies when we step in the pen just like exhibitors do. All we want is to do a good job, and leave feeling as though we made a positive contribution to something larger than ourselves. Once in a while we might make a mistake, and for some of us, we beat ourselves up for weeks when we do. )OK, that’s probably just me.) Typically, however, if we can explain our placings to the grandmas on the fence, we can leave with that “judges high” that makes us look forward to the next event.
Judging ain’t easy, but it sure is worth it.