Tips for Horse Judging Success
Horse judging is a favorite pasttime of many across the country. A highly competitive and intense activity that can demand the absolute most out of individuals and teams alike. Focus, practice, and a passion for excellence are all drivers for success when 4-H and FFA members walk in to the arena for a chance to be high individual at a contest. Great evaluators keep it simple and stay disciplined in their approach.
Kortney Bahem of Homedale, Idaho says that one of the biggest mistakes young evaluators make is focusing on the bad in each horse. Bahem was the High Individual Overall at the APHA Spring Sweepstakes as well as the High Individual Overall at the Quarter Horse World Show and said, “It is important to focus on the good of each horse and try not to make the class tougher than it needs to be.”
Amelia King of Huntsville, Texas agrees with Bahem’s statement and said, “4-H and FFA horse judgers should first begin with the basics of staying positive and logical within each class.” King was a member of the Reserve Congress and World Champion horse judging team as well as Champion team at the Arabian Nationals for Colorado State University before becoming the head horse judging coach at Sam Houston State University.
“Regardless of judging halter or performance horses, individuals must stay disciplined to evaluation techniques and not simply throw away a horse because they are only focused on the problems,” Bahem said. Despite some of the amazing horses shown and exhibited, the perfect horse has never been made. “Remember not to nitpick and bottom horses based on minor holes,” King said, “because every horse has a fault if you stare at them long enough.”
Therefore, it is important to stay grounded within each class and realize that all you are asked to do as an evaluator is simply place the class. You are not asked to buy them, sell them, or breed them. Simply to judge them for what they are. “Don’t go on a witch hunt and out-think yourself, just evaluate the class as a whole and find the good in each horse,” Bahem said.
Both Bahem and King offer specific evaluation techniques when judging haltered classes. “I see too many kids getting too close to the horses when they evaluate a haltered class,” Bahem said.
Stay off the horses; the father back you are the more you will see and the easier it will be to evaluate the entire class.” The closer an evaluator stands to an individual horse, the harder it is to see everything the horse has to offer.
“Your eye should be drawn first to their topline; think proportion, length and strength with how that correlates to the overall picture,” King said. First impressions will inform your decisions, so spend the time to make sure you have an accurate first impression.
“In halter classes, make sure you move up and down the line while gathering your first impression based on balance, structural correctness, breed characteristics and muscling,” King said. “After you form your initial impression of the class and have a rough idea of your placing, then go back and study the closer pairs, reading deeper in to each horse.”
Bahem stressed location when the horses are asked to walk or trot when she said, “Standing on the corners of the square are a must to get a clear and unobstructed view of each horse for how they are built structurally.” Keeping horses sound on their feet and legs is a crucial element to placing each class. “Severity always determines structural issues and you must make sure you know which structural deviations cause performance problems, especially in geldings,” said King. Structure is a big placing factor, but it is not the only thing to consider. “Balance, proportion and quality are key elements when talking about visual appraisal,” Bahem said, “but at the end of the day, just consider which one you would like to see out your front window standing in your pasture.”
Scored classes are a little different from haltered classes and there are some additional things to consider. King said, “You must always consider the overall run quality and not simply the final score because most officials take minor penalties in separate ways if there are two closely scored runs. Rank the maneuvers based on difficulty while always watching for direction, number of turns and non-riding hand placement.” These scored and performance classes are evaluated for different things, but the approach of seeing the whole class and being open minded is still crucial.
Rail classes are different yet. “When judging rail classes, direct your eye to just below the riders’ heel so that you can focus on watching leg movement while still checking frame and overall attitude,” King said. Rail classes can often offer extra challenge for beginners because of the speed and quickness of the classes. “Train yourself to write without looking down, rail classes run quickly so always keep your eyes up,” said King.
When it comes to reasons, the best advice for 4-H and FFA horse judgers is to be accurate and tell the truth. Bahem was undefeated in oral reasons at the collegiate level. “I always tried to be as honest as possible in the reasons room. Respect the good in each horse, but don’t be afraid to occasionally criticize because honesty is always refreshing when scoring reasons,” said Bahem. An excellent set of reasons begins with confidence in a good placing however. While at the class, focus on coming up with a placing before worrying too much about what you are going to say in the reasons room. If you are only focused on the reasons portion of a class, you may end up misplacing the class. It becomes really tough to score well in reasons when you have misplaced the class.
Both Bahem and King offered their take on keys to success. “If you trust in yourself and have confidence in your ability, then success will follow,” said Bahem. Evaluators and judges will always have certain personal preferences that may vary from one another so you may not always get the perfect score even if you give it your best. At the end of the day though, your best is all you can ask of yourself. “Just don’t second guess yourself and trust in your coaching,” King said.
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