Understanding Judging by Bob Mayhew
(Honorary Patron of UK PHA and Chairman of WES judges committee and NRHA, AQHA, APHA, NCHA Judge)
It's quite amusing sometimes to hear how many "judges" there are on the outside of the arena, who have never had to be in the hot seat or attended a judges seminar!
As a competitor, if you're keen to win or improve, you should make it your goal to attend at least one - either WES, AQHA, paint, Appaloosa, or NRHA, and over the course of 2 years they will all crop up in either the UK or mainland Europe.
So what are judges looking for?
We are looking for the best horses that meet the criteria of the class according to the rulebook. That's it, put very simply. Judges are `trained observers' that either retest or attend seminars regularly. Most good judges read the rulebook before they attend each show they judge! Most competitors read it once every three years, if at all!!
Now let's look at a few things that might be of help ... First and foremost, sparkles and silver does not place any higher; blue ribbons usually come through thorough preparation and execution, not luck! Make sure you do your `homework' - on the whole a “horse show” is purely to ask a learned person what they think of your training programme!
The NRHA reining definition - "A General" - in parts actually carries over into all Western Disciplines i.e. a willingly guided horse that is soft, supple and responsive, waiting for the rider's cues and then executing them with smoothness and finesse. Isn't that the epitome of a good western horse? It is important to remember that first impressions do count. Don't try to get the judges in a negative mood by both you and your horse's attitude when you enter the pen. If you both look and act like you want to fail - 99 times out of a 100 you surely will!
For my part, I love to see a well-balanced, good-looking horse that's smartly turned out. It will have patience and look as though it's enjoying the job. The rider will have an air of confidence and also look as though they're enjoying being there. The horse will have a soft face and respond quietly to both rein and leg aids from its rider. Judging then becomes fun; the positives are challenged, and adrenalin courses through the blood - it's a complete buzz. One of my scribes said to me, whilst judging the futurity in Oklahoma City that he thought the rider must be having "goose bumps" on an exceedingly good run. My reply was - "never mind him - I am too!"
Trying to judge a class of wrecks is hard because it becomes negative. By that I don't mean standards - there are plenty of beginner/novice classes that can give you a buzz when they've done the homework and are trying. My terminology refers to people that just enter a class because there is nothing else to do that day and exude an air of no hope before they start. i.e. if your horse won't do a gate at home why hope by magic that it will do one in the pen under show stress. Get your homework done -you'll be more confident and enjoy the show. So get to clinics, practice the correct moves and reduce the mistakes and have fun. Remember practice makes PERMANENT not perfect, so practice the good ones!!
If you're unsure of how a pattern goes, don't ask any old spectator - go and ask the judge. Judges never try to trick you into mistakes and they're the final deal as to how a pattern should go!!
Never be frightened to ask the judge if they have any suggestions on improvement of your class. They are not going to bite your head off and will be delighted to help if they can. However sometimes they have to judge for 12 hours and see over 200 horses so it is quite feasible for them not to remember a run exactly. When you do ask a question, please don't start your question with " what didn't you like about my horse?" because it's rude and you may not like the reply. My reply in that situation is usually - "it wasn't that I didn't like your horse it was that I liked the other nine better!"
Anyway summing up - get your homework done, read the rule book and if you can make it to a seminar then do so - have fun and see you "down the road"