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We Ask the Judges: Show Trends They Wish Would Go Away

In the horse industry, trends come and go just about as fast as the money we spend on showing horses. Every year, there seems to be something new popping up as far as new fashion and riding styles in the show arena, as well as undesirable trends of horses being overcanted and not jogging in the western pleasure classes.

With the AQHYA World Show winding down, we are sure spectators and exhibitors saw certain trends that they disliked for various reasons. So, with the NSBA World Show, Novice Championships, Congress, and APHA/AQHA Open and Amateur World Shows coming up, we asked several judges which trends they wish would go away and why?
GoHorseShow talked to three of the 2014 AQHA Level 1 Championship judges as well as other prominent judges in the industry. Let’s find out what they had to say!

Sandy Jirkovsky–I think the horse show business is definitely on an upward swing and everything has improved so much. The pleasure horses are moving so much better; the hunters are not on loose reins; horsemanship riders are riding with contact; and the halter horses have lost their excessive weight. The one trend I think needs to go away is the loss of the set up in showmanship. This trend has been caused by judges rewarding the poor set up and can only be cured by giving credit for the exhibitor who has taken the time to teach a good set up and has a plan when setting up for inspection. All trends are actually created by us judges as someone wins and everybody follows that style. I really think that if we remember the purpose of each class and stick to the basics; many of these trends would never get started.

Charlene Carter– I feel that bling on the chokers in the English classes is totally unacceptable. I was judging this past weekend, and, from the very center of the arena, I could see someone standing on the sidelines with huge diamonds sparkling from their choker. How huge were they for me to see them that far away? This is really taking gaudy to a new level. I do love the bling thing in the western events, but for me the English events need to keep the traditional look. In centuries past, the English has been conservative and refined. The old western style has been all about fancy stitching, fringe, turquoise, beads and bright colors. Call me old fashion, but some things need to hold to true customs. Next, we’ll be seeing diamonds glued to the horses’ hooves.
It has also been mentioned to me on several occasions that the exhibitors in showmanship are constantly and unconsciously pulling their horses heads down during and between maneuvers. For me, the perfect picture in showmanship is for the top line to be level during all maneuvers and slightly up for presentations. This helps give a crisper look to your overall performance versus a horse that carries his head at his knees. Plus, your horse can travel nicer when he has this balance.
Finally, I truly don’t understand why exhibitors don’t follow the correct procedure for halter. AQHA has updated the rules, just to be sure that the exhibitors understand the line of travel required for the class. Please be sure to make a sharp left just past the marker so we as judges can evaluate your horse for soundness. We are required to do so, and we do not want to single you out to retrack. You can review the procedure in the 2014 AQHA Rulebook.

Michelle Tidwell–I guess the thing that I see the most that I wish would go away is long reins in the horsemanship. While a draped rein is a higher degree of difficultly in many classes, it is not in the horsemanship or the hunt seat equitation. Mainly, I see it when people get to the back up and they have to raise their hand to their chest. In those classes, I feel it should be minimal cueing.
Kelly Boles Chapman–I do have a pet peeve on a trend that I’m seeing often in the hunt seat equitation classes. Particularly when riders are executing their pattern, they get a very exaggerated positioning of their hands — elevated, stiff, very unnatural looking. Not sure where that started, but it does not equivalate to an effective rider to me. Also, I do not like a rider that is very “perched” and unnatural whose lower leg is so far back. Sometimes, it seems like a tsunami affect of riders that have never performed a two-point extensively and correctly. To me, there is no better riding drill and exercise than having riders properly two-point – not excessively high with their knees, hip and pelvis locked, but rather with their seat just slightly elevated from the saddle, with flexibility and bend in their knee and ankle. If a rider is properly in the two-point position, their lower leg cannot be so far behind them.
Mark Sheridan–There are quite a few trends in the industry that bother me, but I will mention the top two for me. I am a traditional guy, and when it comes to Horsemanship and Showmanship, I prefer traditional hats. Many of the hats I see in those two particular classes remind me of a Mariachi Band in a Mexican restaurant. The second one that bothers me is I see a trend to make sure that everyone wins a prize. If little Johnny’s soccer team is getting his butt kicked, I don’t think he should be getting a trophy. I am a big fan of the Rookie program that graduates to the Novice level.
David Denniston
–Trail is one of my favorite events to judge for many reasons: the pattern is always different, you can easily change the level of difficulty of the pattern, and the class continues to evolve and change. Having said that, one of the trends I have seen become more prevalent recently is the horse that carries its head excessively low between and/or over obstacles. I love a horse that shows some interest in his/her job and looks at an obstacle as he/she works it. However, when a horse is moving between or over obstacles which require forward motion, I have seen a trend of horses traveling with their head excessively low and in an unnatural position. It might just be my opinion, but this is not a natural position for a horse’s head and neck. Laws of conformation dictate a horse has to lift and move its head and neck during locomotion; I say let them move naturally. Personally (as a judge), I find it hard to credit a horse that is overly low, intimidated, and/or overflexed when working obstacles or between obstacles. I am much more apt to give credit to the horse and rider who can maneuver the course with a horse that appears happy, engaged, interested, and natural. That’s a PLUS 1!

Michael Ochetto–Personally, the changes I have seen evolving through the years is moving away from the traditional attire in the hunt seat classes. I would like to see the integrity of the hunter classes kept. From a economic standpoint, I understand how the colors and different styles have given the vendors something else to market and the exhibitor feels it gives them individuality. It concerns me that we lose the standards that encompass this division. The rulebook is a great place for exhibitors to learn what we judges are looking for in all expects of classes, but especially the elements of what is and is not acceptable attire.

Jodi Finkenbinder— I will always pay a pleasure horse who will stay straighter and go forward over a horse that is too slow, stalls in the front leg and sideways. Having shown a lot of pleasure horses in the past, I realize the concept behind it but appreciate the guts it takes to trust one and let it move a bit freer. It’s called balance, which is the trick to life in general. Sometimes, it’s just the difference between 1/2 a notch faster. If the exhibitors could see it, they would get it. There is a huge difference between what it feels like and what it looks like. Again, it is a safety net, but perfection is always on the edge. Also, I am not impressed with the rhinestones on the hats, and, now, the saddles and tack. I don’t need all that. There are beautiful saddles out there and talented saddle makers. We don’t need shiny to catch our attention. I am scanning the rail for legs, carriage, cadence and overall picture. The overall turnout does make a difference, especially when splitting hairs, but, in the end, it’s the mechanics and quality of movement that makes me smile and reels me in.
Dean Ross— My opinion and personal preference is to keep things simple–become better horseman and your success will come with that verses following the trends. If it makes you feel good about yourself and does not impede you or your horse’s abilities to be the best at what you do, then run with it. Any exhibitor has to feel good about themselves when going into the ring. At the end of the day, concentrate on technique and hard work. As a judge, I reward all great performances. Make sure you spend more on lessons and time working on yourself and your horse compared to what you should be wearing

Kathryn Kope–The trend that I wish would go away would be in the category of riding style. I do not like the “hooked” stirrup. This leg/foot position in western riding is caused by a stirrup too long and the rider trying to “hook” on to it. This forces the heel up and the toe down and out. It is a sign of weak position and is incorrect. It definitely lowers the score!

Laurel Walker Denton–As a judge, I hate the trend in Western Pleasure that some riders have to help their horse by lifting their body and heads or ducking. It is unattractive and distracting to see a rider’s head bobbing. I like a western pleasure horse to be presented as a smooth, easy ride. If a rider is working that hard to make them stay in cadence, I know I would not like to ride that horse. They need to present an overall appearance of rider and horse being in sync, and just gliding along enjoying the ride. Also, in the reining classes, I realize that schooling is necessary. However, it makes a judge and scribe’s job difficult to see riders fence during rundowns, or constantly correct a horse during the circles and continue to score the run. If you are going to obviously school your horse in the reining, go to two hands early in the run or spin five times. The judge and scribe will appreciate it.
Mario Boisjoli–I’m not a fan of the over emphasis on low head carriage in Halter, Showmanship and Hunter in Hand. Some exhibitors can’t even get the horse to lead properly, and they are trying to pull their heads down to the ground.
Jodie Moore–I am a traditional Hunter girl. I hate the glitter and shine on jackets, shirts, helmets, big earrings–maybe it is my conservative Canadian background. I sat and watched the 14-18 Western Pleasure finals at Paint Youth World– all but one had $15-30 grand of tack and clothing. No wonder there are no youth exhibitors anymore. Soccer equipment is cheap.

Cyndi Hershey Brown— I just judged in Elko, Nevada and I must say it was very refreshing because the exhibitors there wore very tasteful clothing. Most wore jeans and starched shirts in the showmanship and, boy, they could show! Most of the time, I don’t even notice what they are wearing unless it makes me get out my sunglasses or my iron. It’s all about the performance for me. Also, I still have to make the exhibitors lengthen their stride because many exhibitors are still showing the western pleasure horse too trapped without full extension of the limbs or overly canted. After asking for the lengthening of strides in a few classes, those who want to win conform.

Ann Jones–I am not generally in favor of the hats with the designs and beaded or sequined clothing worn together. It is just too busy and is almost always distracting. I tell people that one or the other is fine, but not both together. Designs on pant legs in showmanship are a definite no no as well–that is just tacky and distracting. Also, horses that are not performing gaits correctly. The horses that are moving too slowly and compromising the quality of the gait because they still think slower is better. The jog is a great example. The horses are still jogging very slow because they know that the must show at the extended jog as well. Then, the extended jog is actually a correct jog at a decent speed. I think they have been showing so long at the incorrect gait and speed that they are afraid that they are traveling too fast. I just want show men and women to show at their very best and present their horse to the very best of their ability.
Bonnie Miller–I believe a lot of the trends have been addressed by some of the rule changes and by judges designing patterns that help eliminate those bad habits. I’m referring to the ugly spur stop where the horse stops on his front and the rider loses all connection. Also, fake and dramatic presentation in showmanship is pretty much eliminated on my card. I don’t know if it’s a trend or just lack of education but one of my pet peeves is open fingers and puppy dog hands in Hunt Seat Equitation. Also, a rider that is not balanced in the saddle; does not have an educated leg, but they have very large/long spurs that are being used to the detriment of the horse’s performance. It is not a pleasant picture to watch when judging. I also believe the overly blinged out hats or spray-painted hats are distracting and lack polish and professionalism. I do like the lacing on the edges of the hats but too much really is too much – less is more remember that!

Heather Young–The trend I wish would go away is pulling the horse’s head down in the showmanship class. The showmanship class is judged on the exhibitor’s ability to fit and show a horse at halter. Pulling the head downward not only looks bad, I consider it schooling. The showmanship exhibitor should show with style, grace, and a confident presence, pulling on your horse’s head does not depict any of these winning qualities.

Bruce Army–Mine is a horsemanship exhibitor’s foot position–toes pointing perpendicular to the horse, that is way too engaged if that’s even what they are attempting.


Keith Miller
–My biggest pet peeve are actually exhibitors’ numbers. I don’t like numbers with a zero in front of it, like 080. Just cut the 0 off, and it is much easier to decipher from across the arena.
Will Knabenshue–Personally, I’m not a fan of the felt hats that have the beaded design patches of their jeweled western jackets on the sides of their hats. I think it is too much, and, in my opinion, there is nothing better than a well-shaped and classically styled western hat.


Mark Russell — The funky duck walk in the showmanship. It’s uncomfortable to watch and I’m sure it’s uncomfortable for the exhibitor. There is nothing better in the showmanship patterns than an exhibitor who is in sync with their horse and who is simply showing their horse without looking artificial.

So what do you think of the judges’ comments? Is there any trends that you wish would fade away and never come back? If so, let us know in the comments section of this article.