Through the Judge’s Eyes

I have been lucky enough to experience the horse industry from many different perspectives. This weekend, I finally got to see a horse show from the judge’s booth.

As a competitor, I learned the value of patience. I’m an excitable person, and the hurry-up-and-wait show schedule can easily fry my nerves. I was constantly reminded that there will always be another class, another day, another chance to learn and grow.

As a groom, I learned the value of a hard day’s work. It’s a thankless job, but there’s nothing more gratifying than being behind the scenes of a winning team. Grooming is also the best way to receive a crash course in stable management, training, attention to detail, and the inner workings of the horse world.

As a ring manager, I learned the importance of putting a game face on. Riders look to you to set the tone for the whole show. The judge and stewards look to you to keep the ring running smoothly. Show management looks to you to keep the trainers happy. Like grooming, it’s a thankless job, but with a microphone. Use this power wisely.

I have been lucky enough to experience a show day from many different perspectives, but nothing could have prepared me for the emotional rollercoaster that comes with judging a local schooling show.

Now, perhaps if I had any sort of prior judging experience or accreditation, this blog post would be very different. But I have no experience or accreditation, just a habit of saying “yes” to everything and then resolving to figure it out along the way.  So when I was asked to judge a small, unrated hunter-jumper show, that’s exactly what I did.

Being a judge tested my patience. I watched five horses in a row walk into the ring and walk past a pole on the side of the rail. Every single one of them spooked and became unraveled. Is this behaviour to be expected at a schooling show? Absolutely. Do I expect riders to watch a round before them and learn from each other’s mistakes? You’re darn right.

Being a judge requires extreme attention to detail. I have never seen so many bay horses in my life. I close my eyes at night and see bay horses. I see bay horses cross cantering through corners. I see bay horses adding strides down lines. I see bay horses leaving out strides down lines. Which bay horse do I pin first? I see my card, illegible, trying to contain a record of every detail of each fence jumped by a dozen bay horses. I cry on the inside.

Being a judge requires an excellent game face. This I know from my time as a ring manager. The judge sets the tone for the entire show. If a judge is miserable, everyone is miserable. The good news? A nice judge can make the day great. Politeness, a smile, and clear communication is a total game-changer. Everyone is here to learn, especially me!

Judging this show took me on a trip down memory lane. It’s hard placing adorable kids on perfect ponies! I couldn’t help but think about when I was a little girl on a white pony, sleeping with the pink ribbon we won on my pillow. I thought about every lesson I learned every time I walked into the ring. My show career wasn’t nearly as long as I wish it could be, but the least I can do is take everything I learned forward into my next stage of life.

Being a judge isn’t always easy, but if you’re asked, jump on it. You’ll get the best seat in the house.


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