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!

A Smooth Sea Never Made a Skilled Sailor (or Rider)

Photo by Jaye Nevins
Photo by Jaye Nevins

One of my favorite quotes is “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” I’m not sure who said it first…it may be an African proverb, or an English proverb, depending on where you look on Pinterest. Anyway, I like it because it can easily be translated into “ A totally broke horse, who never acts like a real horse as opposed to a motorcycle 1) doesn’t exist and 2) never made a skilled rider.” If you show horses, there will be a day, and maybe several days, when you will struggle with your horse. Which is totally fine. Judges know this, recognize this, and appreciate it for what it is, because I’ve yet to meet a judge who wasn’t also a horse(wo)man.

Now, I am not saying that when kids (or adults) are starting out, they shouldn’t learn the ropes on an old campaigner. Provided they are healthy, sound, and of good weight, I’d RATHER see newbies start out on a horse that is very broke, that ignores almost everything but it’s rider, and most of all that will WHOA upon request. Immediately. (I’d also rather see walk trotters be able to get through a pattern before they ever do a rail class, but that’s another story.)

What I am saying is that true horse(wo)men recognize that you will never know it all, that every horse is unique, and that there will always be challenges to work through.  Those moments are what can make you a better rider, if you handle them well. Unfortunately, horses seem to be very good at waiting to share what they (or you) don’t know, until you are somewhere where everyone is watching.   Note: While it may FEEL like everyone is watching, most people, except for your mom and possibly your trainer if you have one, are much more concerned about what to have for lunch. You may be certain that the entire world thinks you are a total clown, but if you are fairly schooling your horse, they probably aren’t actually thinking about you much at all, but rather, if they should have a hotdog or a salad.

So, this is all well and good, but what should you do when your horse decides that rather than jog, he’d just as soon keep loping merrily down the rail (or worse)? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so making sure that your horse has seen the arena and what is around it, and making sure they have been properly warmed up for their temperament will help a lot. Keeping an eye on the horses around you, and refraining from riding up too close to other horses will also help prevent a ruckus. Finally, and probably the thing you have the most control over, is deciding how you will react when things go wrong. The most important thing you can remember is that when your horse gets wound up, you need to calm down. Take a deep breath or two, quietly go to two hands if you need to, look at your surroundings, and calmly and safely get your horse out of the way of other riders. Despite the fact that you may be upset, overreacting will only make the situation worse, GUARANTEED. Once you get the horse safely out of the arena, do not go straight back to the barn. Ask the horse to work a bit, if you safely are able to, even if it’s doing a few drills that you know he can do, or just walking and trotting for a few minutes.

The day you accept that sometimes you’ll have to help your horse work through problems in the show ring is the day you become a true horse(wo)man. Once the gate closes behind you, you’re the only one that can do it. You won’t necessarily get a blue ribbon (or any ribbon) on that day, in that class, but if you don’t give up, you will be one day closer to being a skilled sailor, with many more ribbons down the road.  Come to think of it, that’s a good lesson outside of the show ring, too!

I Heart Winning

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When I look back over these blog posts, one of two things tends to happen. Sometimes, my heart grows a size or two at the responses I’ve had from those who enjoy what I’ve written. I really, really appreciate all of the kind words, and find it humbling…and about the time I feel this way, my inner fourteen year-old rolls her all knowing eyes and says “Yeah, well, you don’t sound like much of a competitor…in fact, you don’t sound like someone who even likes winning…or has ever even shown a horse, much less won”. I figure it’s time to set the record straight…or smack my inner fourteen year-old. One or the other.

I. LOVE. SHOWING. HORSES. I love everything about it…and most of all, I LOVE WINNING. (There. I said it.) There is plenty of research to suggest that kids start any sport…and stay in any sports, because it’s fun. And let’s face it ladies and gents…winning is much more fun than…not winning, so of course there is a certain level of fixation on winning. Nothing makes my heart race faster than the click of the announcer’s microphone just before the placings are read…especially when I know my horse and I had a great go. I also enjoy prizes of all kinds…jackets, ribbons, trophies, plaques, plastic cups…I even won a giant lucite paper clip once and thought it was the best thing EVER. (Truthfully, it was weird, and I still don’t know why it was a prize, but the point is I WON IT.)

Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my previous post “Get Out of Your Box Stall” , I enjoyed the competition end of horse showing so much, that I became fixated on that part instead of the myriad of other things that make horse showing great…like the horses, and (most) other horse people, for example.   Sadly, at times this made me a bratty fourteen year-old in a 20 plus year old body. Not a good look. Plus when I didn’t win, showing horses stopped being fun.

Fortunately, with time, a series of hard knocks, and a Ph. D. in Sports Psychology, I changed my perspective on competition, and horses and horse shows became fun again.   Looking back, there were a few other things that sped up my trip back to horse show enjoyment.

1) Judging horse shows-The view from the center of the ring is much, much different than most people assume. By judging, I developed a new found understanding of not only the rules and specs of each class (which everyone participating should know) but the fact that sometimes the difference between first and second is only a point. Or half-a-point. Or even one unfortunate look in a particularly unfortunate time frame. While it’s important to be evaluated by others, understanding the process judges go through made it clear to me that what really IS important is your ride…

2) The ride (or go)-You’re ultimately the only one that knows your horse, and what the two of you have been through or are trying to improve upon. Once I started focusing on those little details…getting my horse to respond immediately when asked, finding the softest cue I could give to get a response, and all of the other little details that go into a great performance…achieving those things became more important than the almighty win. And interestingly, the wins actually seemed to come easier.

3) True competition-There is a book called True Competition that completely changed the way I thought about competition, and the kind of competitor I wanted to be. Trying to focus on treating my horses well, other people well, and appreciating the skill and integrity of other exhibitors when I saw it, made me truly appreciate a win when I had one. And I started to think less about beating others, and more about at least trying to make it challenging for others to beat ME whenever I could.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from perfect…and my heart still races when the microphone clicks, but now it’s about things that I can actually control. Hopefully if you beat me, you had to do your best to do it. If you did, you’re welcome to that giant lucite paperclip…you earned it.

Get Out of Your Box Stall

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A week or so ago, I rode my horse bareback, in a cornfield, for the first time in well over 20 years. I suppose I should clarify…it was the first time I’d ridden bareback in over 20 years. I’m not sure I’ve ever ridden in a cornfield.

For some of you, this is not a big deal at all, and you’re probably wondering WHY it was a big deal to me. For others, you’re wondering why I even considered doing it. To be honest, I wondered that too, so I got to sorting out why something I did all the time as a kid, has suddenly become SUCH a big deal to me. At first I thought it was the fact that I managed to haul my “not so young” self onto the back of a horse who hadn’t been ridden in 2 months give or take, and who can buck like nobody’s business on the end of a lunge line. But it wasn’t really that so much. I knew that she had been ridden bareback by her previous owner, and I also knew that she doesn’t typically buck like that with a rider. I also wore a helmet. There was a bit of physical risk, but nope. That wasn’t it.

Once I started through the turn out lots toward the field, I could sense that she was also pretty excited about venturing out of the arena. Her head was up and her ears forward, and I did nothing to change it. (THAT was new). She was marching forward like she had business to take care of, and I did nothing to change that either. Once we got into the field, we started down the edge, where there are lots of trees and lots of deer, who evidently found us a bit nerve wracking. I felt Virginia (the mare) jump, but she didn’t spook much. I laughed and we kept going. (UNHEARD OF.) No one was watching, or evaluating our performance except deer…so what did it matter that she spooked? It didn’t.

You’re probably starting to understand what I eventually came to realize. For the past 30 plus years, I’ve been showing horses…typically western horses. With showing, comes competition and evaluation, which I also enjoy quite a bit. What I think I eventually forgot to enjoy though, was the horses themselves, and how amazing it is that we are athletic enough to ride them and they are kind enough to let us do all sorts of ridiculous things they wouldn’t do on their own. That is part of what makes judging so enjoyable…you get to watch people and horses do amazing things, from getting around the arena in one piece, to knocking out a flawless pattern.

This little “spin” through the cornfield reminded me of why I love horses in the first place. But there was a little more to it. I think that sometimes when we show horses (or compete in anything) seriously, and for a long time, the competition actually becomes the focus, rather than the experience of it. I know I went through a phase where I could scarcely imagine doing anything with a horse other than compete. (Probably not my finest hour, but it’s true. And kind of sad, frankly.) This experience also got me thinking about other things I’ve neglected to try for fear of not doing them well…things like cooking, for example. Yikes. Cupcake Wars would be the one of the scariest things I can imagine, to be honest. (And how did we get to the point where even cupcakes have to be a contest?!)

If you look at the header for this blog, you see the quote “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” When I started Out of the Boxstall, I wanted to share thoughts and ideas about the horse industry, judging, and horse shows, and I’ll definitely keep doing that. When your life revolves around those topics, it’s kind of hard not to. But I really wanted to encourage people (myself included) to do some “out of the box stall” thinking in other ways as well. One of my New Year’s Intentions (Not resolutions. Those are the kiss of death) is to write more regular blog posts…if you like them, great, but if you don’t, that’s fine too. That’s probably one of the most important things I learned from riding bareback in a cornfield…sometimes the experience of doing it is much more important than the ribbons, points, numbers of “Likes” or any other external reward. I really think 2015 is going to be a great year…and I hope it is for you, too.

What will you do this year that gets you “out of YOUR box stall?”

Get out of your box stall

Success Doesn’t Happen in a Straight Line

I bought a Reining horse this summer. After 35 plus years of All-Around events, Showmanship and the like, I bought a Reining horse. I was looking for something new, something different, and something that I would have to learn more or less from scratch. Fortunately, I have great help about an hour away, so weekly lessons were on the schedule for much of the summer (which may be why I didn’t have time to write a blog post. Or not.)
Anyway, on the way to one of these lessons, Virginia (the Reining horse) and I were traveling through a small town and suddenly came upon a detour. But not just any detour…the Mother of all Detours. Before it was all over I went in several circles, changed directions a few times, and wound up…you guessed it, right back where I started. For a minute it felt like this detour was the closest thing I’d do to a reining pattern all day…and that I’d NEVER get to my lesson. So I called the trainer and said…”I’ll be late..if I get there at all.” She said “It’s ok. Keep coming.” So I did.

After the fact, I got to thinking about my detour. And of how we often face so many detours in horses, and even in life in general. We’re conditioned to believe that success is a straight line, from point A to point B, with an upward trajectory. But that’s not how it happens at all. Horses get sick, or hurt. Heck, people get sick and hurt. Jobs change, relationships change, you may not like the judges, show managers, trainer, concession stand…who knows what, and before you know it, you’re covering the same tracks that you were just on, and feel like you’ve made no progress at all. Goals seem pointless, your wallet is empty, and you may even think about getting a boat or a beach house.

It’s easy to get frustrated during these times, but the truth is, success never really happens to anyone in a straight line (even though it seems like it on Facebook). Everyone takes twists and turns, and goes up and down, but the important thing is that you don’t quit. If you quit, then you definitely have no chance of finding success. If you’re lucky, you have that one person who says “It’s ok, keep coming.” And sometimes that person is yourself, which is ok too. And eventually, you might find success in a straight line that looks like a better pivot, a smoother lope depart, or even this:

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My first really good stop, taken when I FINALLY made it to my lesson that day. The only success I’ve ever had in a straight line.

Losing Doesn’t Mean You’re Bad (and Winning Doesn’t Mean You’re Good)

246507_309397709150429_2062996370_nWhile judging a recent horse show, the following thought occurred to me. “Just because you don’t win, doesn’t mean you’re not good.” I was in the middle of trying to sort out a very nice western pleasure class (settle down folks. It does happen.) and I realized that even my potential bottom horse had a lot of things going for it. Sure, he didn’t appear to want to “play ball” so to speak, but he was a high quality mover that I could tell had won quite a few classes before. The same was true for places 1-5, to be honest. Every one of them was using their hocks, was consistent through their topline, and minded their manners. I ultimately went to the amount of knee demonstrated (less was more, for this breed), and stride length, to separate them. It was a judge’s dream class in many respects.

While driving home, I got to thinking about how some of the riders who were in the lower end of the placings might be (at minimum) wondering what they could have done differently. To be honest, the answer is nothing. At that particular moment in time, with that set of horses, under those conditions, I made decisions based on knee and stride length for the most part. There is nothing you can change about that. In a class full of world champions, someone has to be sixth. It’s just the nature of the game. As long as a judge can justify the placing based on (in this case), movement criteria spelled out in the rulebook, it is what it is. It doesn’t mean your horse is bad.

As I continued to mull things over, (Judges often do that in the car on the way home. Don’t let them fool you), the opposite also occurred to me. Sometimes horses win, but it doesn’t mean they’re good. Sometimes judges have to sift through the poor quality movers, wrong leads, breaks of gait, and total chaos, just to find a set of six to put on the card. And someone is going home with a blue ribbon, and probably feels pretty good about it…which is great from a horse industry perspective…they’ll probably keep participating. Again, it’s the nature of the game, provided they haven’t DQ’d in the process. But truthfully, they’ve got a lot to work on. More often than not though, it shows up in line at the concession stand as “bad judging”, as opposed to “horses and riders need improvement”.

Ultimately, what the horse show world needs more of is education, skill improvement, and self-reflection (or at least the ability to recognize when the blue ribbon may not have quite been quite earned). The ability to graciously accept a prize, and ride out silently knowing what you need to work on for next time, is a valuable skill no matter what you’re doing. This ability takes time to develop, but it is also quite handy when you have the best ride your horse has ever given you, and come out with a sixth place ribbon. You can quietly be proud of yourself and your horse, knowing how far you come…while that judge drives home and wracks his or her brain about how else they might have sorted six great horses.

There Really Are The Only Six Words A Parent Needs to Say to Their Kids…at a Horse Show Too

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The purpose of a blog is, at minimum, to share your thoughts and opinions about something that presumably, you are passionate about. Sometimes, you might also respond to the thoughts and opinions of others in your blog, which is what I’m doing here.

I can honestly say that there isn’t very much I am more passionate about than kids, horses, and what sometimes happens when kids and horses get together. It’s life changing…not to be overly dramatic. Usually, it’s life changing in a good way, but sometimes sadly, it has the opposite effect. Anyway, today, I read one of the most thought provoking blog posts I’ve ever read. Brad M. Griffin of the Fuller Youth Institute wrote a post called The Only Six Words Parents Need to Say to Their Kids About Sports-Or Any Performance.   Spoiler alert: the six words are “I love to watch you play”. Or in this case, “I love to watch you show (or ride)”.

In mulling this over, I tried to find the holes in the argument. But I couldn’t. These really are the only six words a parent needs to say to their kids at a horse show, when they are truly acting as a parent, at least.

There is no need for a parent to coach, especially if there is a trainer, coach or 4-H leader already involved. A parent might say…”But we spend so much money at this. They need to focus and work hard.” That is true. And they (probably) will if you say “I love to watch you show (or ride).” If they don’t, talk to them about it at home, away from the horse show, when emotions aren’t running high. Maybe even make it part of the expectations in practice. Help them set up (and stick to) a schedule of ride and practice times, for example, if they indicate that they want to improve. These six words came from research conducted by Bruce Brown and Rob Miller, supporting the fact that all many elite athletes ever wanted from their parents in a sporting environment was just this kind of emotional support.

A parent might also say “I need to stand up for my child when they aren’t treated fairly, the judging is poor, etc. etc.”. Well, unless you are a horse judge yourself that is not really a call you are in a position to make. If you are a judge yourself, you (should) know better. You should handle it one on one with the judge in question. If you can’t handle the matter in a professional conversation, then evidently it doesn’t really mean that much to you so have an iced tea and forget it.

So give it a whirl next time you’re being a horse show parent. What is the worst thing that could happen when you honestly express the six words to your child? I suppose they might laugh, but even if they don’t say thank you and simply return to texting their friends, I’ll bet it’s a comment they’ll remember forever.

Like the tagline of this blog says…”if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

The Bling is (not) the Thing.

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I am going to start this post by saying I love clothes. All kinds of clothes, and of course shoes and jewelry too. There is something about finding just the right outfit that makes the whole day seem better.  Sometimes I even feel like Wonder Woman, at least until I spill coffee on myself. This love of clothes and the confidence that comes with also extends to horse show clothes, although I honestly don’t understand this latest trend towards attaching every possible piece of lace, bling, or feather one can find to a jacket. It looks like Micheal’s exploded on you. Anyway, when I was showing regularly, my mom would say “We may not win, but we’ll look good doing it…” and the confidence that comes with finding just the right horse show outfit is worth a bunch (although maybe not the 3 house payments that some showmanship jackets cost these days). But to be honest, that is where it ends. Truthfully, while clothes matter to exhibitors, they don’t really as much to judges as people think they do. I’d love to see people spend as much time riding and practicing patterns as they do choosing outfits and obsessing about what they are wearing. When people say “Those with the best clothes win.”, it’s usually because those with the best clothes have also spent a whole lot of time working with their horse and preparing for their classes.

As I’ve said before, once I started judging, I learned what horse showing really is all about, and tragically, just how little clothes matter to judges. Oh sure, judges want to see clean clothes that fit, and well shaped hats, but at most levels of showing, judges don’t have time to analyze every detail of your outfit. They have a horse, a pattern, and your effort as a team to look at, evaluate, and rank. Quickly. Horsemanship means a lot more than “just the right green (or blue, or red)”. Sorry folks. It’s just the truth. Besides, there are lots of male judges, and many (though not all) of them are fashion illiterate at best and red green colorblind at worst. (Sorry male judge friends).

The fashion fixation plays out in all kinds of interesting ways. Once after judging, I received a call from the individual who hired me, saying he had received a call from a tack shop owner. It seems that a young lady who had shown to me (and another judge) the previous weekend told her father that one of the judges said that she “didn’t place in western pleasure because she had snaps on her western shirt, and no bling.” Now it obviously worked out well for the tack shop owner, and the young person too, but really? REALLY? First of all, I can’t see whether your shirt has snaps, from across the pen through a haze of dust. Secondly, and most importantly, in western pleasure, I am focused on your horse…specifically, quality of movement, balance, topline etc. To paraphrase… “AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR SNAPS.”

In all honesty, I am not trying to discourage you from putting some effort into your clothing choices, and even money if you have some to spare for such things. I fully support the show clothing industry, and probably have paid for a sewing machine or Bedazzler somewhere along the way.   Besides it’s part of the fun, and again, part of the confidence required to do the best you can in the show ring. All I ask is that you put as much time into your horse, as you do your show clothes.

Five Myths of Horse Show Judging

By Karen Waite
With Fair season in full swing, it seemed like a good time to reshare this post from a couple of years ago.  Feeling like “Judging Judges”?  Here are a few things to consider…
With show season just around the corner, like most of you, I’ll be changing gears as soon as the weather gets warmer than 40 degrees.  For most of my life the “gear change” was to get back into the show ring, and in that regard, not much has changed.  The last several years, however, I have been showing my horses less and less, and judging more and more.  Over the years, I have been blessed with some nice horses, and some great trainers, but I can honestly say that judging was the “missing link” in my horse show education, if you will.  I never really knew what showing horses was about until I started judging…and in light of that, and in honor of show season, I’m going to share what I have found to be (my) top five myths of horse show judging, in no particular order.  Others probably have their own list (and are free to start their own blog).

1.  If you win, it means the judge really “likes” you and your horse.

Sometimes.  But not always.  Occasionally when you win, you were the best of what was out there, so don’t let it go to your head.  Actually, you’d be better served to develop the ability to self evaluate your own performance and decide how happy to are with it.  It’s better for everyone.  And sometimes you get to see horses and riders that take your breath away.  Those are the best days.

2.  Judging is just “someone’s $5 opinion”.

Sometimes.  But not really.  There are specifications to each class and carded judges spend a lot of time learning those specs, honing their craft, and developing a system whereby they can make decisions fast enough for everyone to get through 150 classes by 6:00 pm.  There may be some opinion involved in separating close pairs, but usually that opinion is based on class specifications and not much else.

3.  Judging is really easy.  If you’ve shown, you can do it.

Wrong again.  Judging is one of the most physically and mentally demanding things I’ve ever done, with  the possible exception of running the Detroit Marathon (and I use the term “running” loosely, but I did finish before they took down the finish line, which was my goal).  Back to judging horse shows. It’s hot.  The days are long.  The potty breaks are few.  And every judge I know is dedicated to doing the best job possible based on the class specs mentioned above.  I’d agree that often times finding the first, second and third place horses is pretty easy, but after that it can get messy, and that is probably where opinion comes into play more than anywhere else.  In pleasure, for example, do I want to use the horse that lopes true, and drives hard off the hock when its because he’s running off, or do I want to use the one that listens to his rider, but maybe isn’t as high quality a mover as some of the others?  (Again, this decision has to be made in about 3 seconds, taking all other gaits into consideration as well, in 90 plus degree heat, and 200 % humidity.  Ok that’s an exaggeration I guess.)

4.  Judges don’t understand what it is like to be an exhibitor, show a Morgan, etc..

That would be tough.  I don’t know any judges who have never shown a horse.  Now, I will admit that some open horse show judges may have classes or breeds that they are more well versed in than others, based on their background.  I would get extremely frustrated, for example, when an older gentleman who probably hadn’t done a great showmanship pattern…well, maybe ever, didn’t appreciate the obvious skill of my superhorse and I.  But eventually I figured out that said gentleman probably had more years working with and evaluating western horses, or cow horses, or Morgans, than I’d ever dreamed of.  So when I became a judge, I told myself that I’d be a judge that truly appreciated showmanship and pattern classes, and the effort that goes into them.  Because I’ve been there.  I also told myself that I’d be a judge who learned to appreciate a great horse regardless of breed, color, or discipline.  I think most judges try to do the same.

5.  Judges want people to fail

Absolutely not.  Judges want to see people do their best, and treat their horses well, and work very hard to sort out talented horses and riders. That is what makes it fun.  Going back to number two, I’d much rather sort horses and riders based on positive things, as opposed to who had the fewest problems.  If you’ve ever wondered what goes through many judges heads it’s probably something along the lines of “Come on kiddo, nail that turn.  Come on horse, lift your back and lope like I know you can.  Listen to your little girl, do what she asks.” Image

I want to see those horses that take my breath away…and those riders who obviously love what they are doing…just like I do when I show.