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Q&A with AQHA Judge Charlene Carter – What are the Benefits of AQHA’s New Scoring System?

The new AQHA scoring system makes it easier for judges and exhibitors to understand every aspect of scoring a class entirely. This system introduces the same style of evaluation as western riding, reining and trail. It calculates the scores with a zero to infinity base and penalties of 3, 5 and 10.

Each maneuver is given a numerical representation of how well the rider and horse perform the pattern with the amount ranging from +3 to -3 in half-point increments. For example, in a showmanship class; a very straight, quick, elegant back, without any faults, would receive around a +3 on the scoresheet, whereas a sloppy, crooked, ill-mannered back would potentially get a score as low as -3.

As for the average ride, the score would reflect near the middle being a 0. All points are totaled for each to get a final score with 70 being standard. This format gives judges the opportunity to carefully select riders into categories of performance, while also allowing the participant to examine the scoresheet to pinpoint areas of improvement.

There are many benefits to this new style of scoring horsemanship, showmanship and equitation. Here are a few questions answered by AQHA judge, Charlene Carter, about this new addition.

Q: Do you find this new system to be a positive aspect for judges, if so, why?
A: I think it is easier for judges to come up with their winner and for the exhibitors to understand, making this a positive change.

Q: What were some faults in the old way of averaging your scores?
A: Exhibitors never really got on the same page as the judges because every judge had a different standard of what a check-minus, check-plus, etc. was.

Q: Exactly how is AQHA transitioning their judges over to the new method?
A: We had a lot of videos and seminars online on live classes that we had to score. AQHA put together a very detailed online presentation with highly notable judges presenting each class.

Q: Can you explain the numbering structure for both the previous and current scoring styles?
A: With the old, we had to put participants in categories of excellent, very good, good and poor. Then, in those sections, we would mark all maneuvers with the check-minus system. Our penalties were of more significant value of 5, 10 and 20, whereas the new penalty values are 3, 5 and 10. The new is scored zero to infinity with 70 being an average run with the possibility to earn 5 extra points for the riders form and effectiveness (F&E).

Q: How is the difference in the points affecting the overall showing process?
A: Before January 1st, if you had a really good exhibitor who got hit with several penalties, it was hard for them to stay above average. Now, with the new system, I feel as it is similar to trail; if you have a great showman who gets hit with a few penalties during their run, it would still allow them to place above a mediocre run. This tactic eliminates the mid-level riders from placing in the top, which has pros and cons. It will make the exhibitors work even harder to be the best in my opinion.

Q: Do your scoresheets look contrasting? Are they easier to read?
A: Yes, judges were a little apprehensive at first in result of the numbering difference and not calling out a major, minor or severe. It all came pretty easy for us once we were introduced to the system though. Overall, it is straightforward to use.

Q: Is this technique implemented during rail work? Is it combined with pattern scores?
A: We are taught on our score sheets to use it as a ladder, where you insert in each score, then rail work is used to break ties and compare groupings. If we see someone make a mistake on the rail, like miss a lead, for instance, we would apply that penalty in our mind. For a visual representation, we will circle that horse and drop it down, and vice-versa for improvement with an arrow pointing up as there is a small slot on our sheets for the rail.

Q: Are your fellow judges liking this new way of tallying their scores?
A:  Yes, they are very excited. I believe everyone is positive about it; they may have various thoughts but are all pro towards the new system.

Q: Are there any improvements that need to be made regarding this topic?
A: Corresponding all point values for every class would make it more universal for everyone to use and understand. Although, judges do acknowledge the reasoning for the differences in these pattern classes as it is an examination of the exhibitor and their abilities, which you want to put more emphasis on.

Q: What is the most considerable concern you have with this new way of evaluating classes?
A:  My most significant concern would be going back to the very good exhibitor who makes an error, but still gets to the top placings. It will be difficult for others to grasp that concept.

Q: Are there any other benefits to this scoring style that we have not covered?
A: Judges will be more uniform in their scoring than in previous years, making it simple for the exhibitors and spectators to understand the reasoning for the way classes are placed.


AQHA did an excellent job at creating this new and improved way of evaluating horsemanship, showmanship and equitation. Hopefully, this new system will continue to run smoothly for judges and exhibitors as it has for the past few months and help riders take their skills to the next level.

Judge Charlene Carter suggests that “Everyone pay attention to the scoring system and know their rulebook. Many people do not recognize why they received a penalty for the simple fact they are not educated on the topic.”

About the Author: Georgia Smith has always been intrigued by anything equine related since she was a little girl. Throughout the years, Georgia has been the national high individual in horse judging as well as placing top 10 at the All-American Quarter Horse Congress. She has been riding/showing horses for 14 years with her trainer, Charlene Carter, who has led her to take up jumping at Harmony Hill Farms. As Georgia is going to college to major in journalism, she is adamant about continuing her passion for horses through her writings.