It’s important to realize that judges are held to strict rules and standards and that they are to judge what is right in front of them, so classes really are judged on a class-by-class basis. Photo © Delores Kuhlwein

Flashback Friday – 10 Things Top Judges Wish Exhibitors Would Realize

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on April 7, 2016. It was a huge hit and one of our Top 10 articles that year. In case you missed it or want to refresh your memory on this hot topic…enjoy.

As exhibitors, we are always striving to give judges our best performance in the hopes that we will be at the top of their card.

We read countless articles about what to do and what not to do in each event, we work hard and practice hours on end, and we think we know EXACTLY what the judges want and what they’re thinking.

But have you ever considered there might be some things you’re missing?  Some things you may not even realize?

GoHorseShow sat down with some of the industry’s top judges and asked them one simple question…What is one thing you wished exhibitors would realize?

The answers were insightful, meaningful, and in some cases…surprising.

Without further ado, here are the top 10 things judges wish exhibitors would realize:

1) Judges See Far More Than What You Think

Judges only watch you when you’re inside the show pen, right?  Think again.  Nearly all of the judges we talked to said this was the number one thing they wished exhibitors would realize.

“We notice you in the warm-up pen, by the gate, and as you enter the arena,” said Gretchen Mathes of Harwinton, Connecticut, “If a judge sees a lot of excessive jerking before the actual class begins, it doesn’t present well.”

“Exhibitors should realize judges are charged with being stewards of the well being of the horses at the show,” said Robin Frid of Denton, Texas.

This means that even though you aren’t technically being judged, judges are still expected to watch how you treat your horse both in and out of the show pen.  Think about what you are presenting to the judge outside of the ring and how that may impact your presence once you are being judged.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that correcting your horse is “forbidden.”  We all know that part of proper training is correction.  But as Mathes said, “There’s a difference between getting your horse into the bridle effectively and ‘hammering’ on your horse.  The latter just sets a negative tone.”

2)  Judges Can’t See an Entire Western Pleasure/Hunt Seat Pen At the Same Time

On the flip side of that, judges we talked to also expressed that they wished exhibitors would realize they can’t see a whole arena all at once.

A lot of judges said they try to concentrate on one or two horses at a time to evaluate their performance. Therefore, what’s going on behind them can get (unintentionally) missed.

They all pointed out that while they understand the frustration of exhibitors if a horse places high on a card (or cards) that had a bobble, gait break, etc., they still want exhibitors to know it isn’t to spite them, but they genuinely didn’t see it.

“We can only survey what’s in front of us,” Frid pointed out.

3) Judges Do NOT Hold Past Poor Performances Against You

“Some people believe that if they have a poor pattern or a poor performance, judges will hold it against them in subsequent classes,” said Holly Hover of Cave Creek, Arizona, “this just simply isn’t so.”

It’s important to realize that judges are held to strict rules and standards and that they are to judge what is right in front of them. With this being the case, classes are judged on a class by class basis.

“We don’t personalize our decisions,” said Hover, “every class now, with the exception of the rail classes, has a strict scoring system that we must adhere to.  It would be impossible for us to hold anything against you because of a previous poor performance.”

So, if you completely mess up your first class, rest easy!  Brush it off and know that the judge is looking at you with a fresh set of eyes each time you enter the show pen.

4) Judges DON’T Want to See you Fail

Jennifer Thompson of Reno, Nevada said, “I think it is a popular misconception that judges want to see exhibitors fail.  In all reality, we want you to have the best performance you’ve ever had, every single time.”

Bruce Walquist of Cleburne, Texas agreed, “I’m pulling for everyone to do their best and see their best runs.  Judges do want everyone to do well.”

If you think about this one, why would judges want us to fail?  How much fun would it be to judge if everyone wasn’t doing very well?  Probably, not very much.

When you enter the show pen, remember that the judge is on YOUR side, relax and know that they are just excited as you are when you do well.

5) Judges Want You To Read the Rulebook, Too

Jackie Krshka of Yukon, Oklahoma shared an insightful story about when she was training multiple youth exhibitors. “When we used to travel to shows, it was mandatory that each student read the rulebook for each event they were showing in, in its entirety.  They were expected to educate themselves on the standards judges hold you accountable for and implement them.”

In today’s day and age, it is probably fair to say that 80-90% of exhibitors have never honestly read the rulebook.  Judges wish exhibitors would take the time to read the rulebook, partly, so they realize how much information the judges are required to know.

For example, you may show in two or three events, but a judge is required to know the rules, standards, penalties, etc. for at least four times that many events.

It is important to remember that while judges do have opinions (we all do) their primary basis for judging is the rulebook.  It’s their code.

Exhibitors should realize that by reading the rulebook in depth, you are familiarizing yourself in an intimate way with what the judges are looking for.

6) Judges Really Want You to STOP Laminating Your Numbers

Some of the smallest things are the mightiest things, and this is a particular trend that judges have tried (unsuccessfully) to stop in the past. It is still one of the top things they wish exhibitors would realize judges want them to stop doing.

“I wish exhibitors would realize how incredibly hard it makes it see them in the show pen,” said Walquist, “the glare can prevent you from seeing their number.”

If a judge can’t see your number, how is he/she going to be able to reward you for a good performance?  Just like having a poor rail position can also cost you a top spot on the judge’s card, so can having a laminated number.  No joke.

There are some solutions to having a number that holds up throughout a show.  Just realize judges want you to stop laminating your numbers.

7)  Keeping Judges Waiting Does NOT Work in Your Favor

Nowadays, many shows run multiple rings, and the trail ring is one that sometimes gets ignored.

“As the days get longer, judges get pickier,” said Clay MacLeod of Rancho Santa Fe, California, “and since everything is based on a scoring system now, it doesn’t matter when you go.  I think a lot of exhibitors think that if they are the last one we see, that will work in their favor.  That’s not always the case.”

Most exhibitors already realize that keeping judges waiting is usually just not a good idea.  For example, many have learned that in a rail class, when the announcer asks for a change of gait, it’s in your best interest to get going.

However, when it comes to multi-ring shows, people tend to forget that trail judges are waiting for you too and it’s in your best interest to well…. get going.

8)  There is No Such Thing As Politics

Seriously.  All of the judges we spoke to said they wish exhibitors would give this one a rest.

“No one is going to risk their reputation by pulling a political move,” said Thompson, “Judges all have integrity, and it is essential for us to get it right.  It would be like being a bad employee to do that and chances are you’d get fired.”

If we, as exhibitors, are being fair and honest with ourselves, we have to realize that the people who win “all the time” are doing so because they are consistently putting out a good “product.”

Thompson likened it to a good restaurant chain or brand of car.  People keep returning to that brand because it’s good.

People on top of their game in the horse industry have a good product that the judges keep returning to.

That being said, Thompson also mentioned that once you are at that level, judges are usually more picky with your performance because they know what you are capable of.

So next time you think that a top exhibitor is on a cake walk because they are well known, reconsider that thought and merely concentrate on making sure you are at the top of your game.

9)  Being Correct Is Better Than Pushing the Envelope

In pattern classes, it is really easy for exhibitors to get caught up in the idea that if they “push it a little bit more” (even if they don’t have the capability), it will help to increase their score.

However, judges wish exhibitors would realize that this is a risky move that usually doesn’t pay off.

Brad Jewett of Boerne, Texas said, “Being correct will win before trying to push your limits and not succeeding.  When I see exhibitors who are trying to perform a maneuver at a level they aren’t yet capable of; it doesn’t leave a good impression.”

In other words, you aren’t going to get “brownie points” for trying something beyond your capability and failing.  Your score is going to drop.  Remember, judges have a rulebook to follow with strict guidelines.

For example, if you and your horse aren’t yet capable of performing a fast pivot in the showmanship without a step out or the body moving out of position.  Don’t.  Slow it down, do it correctly, and your resulting score will be one you can be proud of.

10)  Judges Love to See Fresh Faces

If you’re a novice exhibitor, it can be intimidating to show with all the veterans.  You may think, “the judges know them and don’t know me.”

And while that may be true, judges wish exhibitors would realize how much they LOVE to see new exhibitors… especially when they do well.

“Judges are always excited and intrigued when they see an exhibitor or a horse that they’ve never seen before,” said Scott Neuman of Billings, Montana, “It’s like finding or discovering a treasure.”

Neuman said judges will frequently discuss it after the show.

“It usually goes something like, ‘Who was that person in the [insert class here]? ‘I have no idea, but they were fabulous!’”

It’s important for exhibitors to realize that while judges do indeed recognize the veterans, they are eagerly waiting and watching for that new person they’ve never judged before to blow their hats off.

So now that you know what judges wish exhibitors would realize, as an exhibitor, what are some things you wish judges would realize?  Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page, and you may see your answer in an upcoming article!

About the Author: A Tucson, Arizona native, Chenay Jordan-McDowell started riding Pony Hunters at six years old until she found a passion for Paint horses in 1993. In 2000, Chenay stopped showing to focus on scholastics. She went on to graduate from the University of Arizona in 2006 with a dual Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing. Today, she lives in Yucaipa, California with her husband, son, and eight animals, including a rescued APHA mare. Between being a wife and mother, she teaches English as a foreign language and is a freelance writer.