Show season is finally here. For many horse owners, shows are the culmination of all of the trouble they have gone to throughout the long, hard winter. They are a showcase for the culmination of lessons, studying, and the hours of training and practicing.
In theory, showing should be an enjoyable experience. You are at an event where practically everyone wants to be there.
There are many categories and classes of horse shows. Some are fairly informal.
Schooling shows and horse club shows are often a good place to start if you are just getting into showing. Children would do well to get involved with their local 4-H or Pony Club and attend their rallies, evaluations and clinics to prepare for showing.
As a judge, I think there is a definite trend to start to cater to one of the largest categories of new riders — older amateur adults. Many used to ride and are getting back into it. Some are just beginning and would love a low-key venue in which to do a bit of showing and have the ability to socialize with other horse owners. If a club is offering a fun show and wants to attract new business, it would be wise to include some amateur beginner or intermediate classes.
Horse shows, of course, can also represent big business and can be very serious for the participants and their coaches and trainers. If the rider and horse do well, the trainer may well attract more clients.
It can be a very lucrative enterprise. The professional horsemen may be paid to train a horse for a client, be paid for giving that client riding lessons, paid for coaching, and then also make a brokerage fee if he sells that horse to someone. Then finding another horse for his client, one who may have a better chance of pinning higher, involves more income.
This is all fine if everyone involved remains ethical, and that they are always concerned for the welfare of the horses involved. After all, without the horse none of these activities would be possible. Thankfully, many people involved in showing realize this, but it is not always true. It is up to the people involved in shows — everyone from the exhibitor to the horse show officials and the judge, to make all shows a positive experience for everyone involved, including the horses.
Entry money should not be the bottom line for the show management committee. Theirs is often a thankless job, but if certain rules are established and maintained, the public and most exhibitors will enjoy the show more. Rules need to be clearly stated and available for the exhibitors and the judge well before the show. Rules should include the right to exclude an entry if their horse is lame, or if there is any abuse involved. This should include abusive training in the warm-up ring. Riding on show grounds includes adhering to a standard of ethics.
I think a show should make use of a Technical Delegate — someone who is well-versed in horses and correct training procedures. This person probably needs to be a bit “thick-skinned”, and be willing to peacefully insist on correct behavior of the participants. He/she could also be aware of safety procedures. If something is dangerous, (a child on a horse without a helmet, a person being led on a horse and not have reins, or people riding double on a horse), these could be corrected. Usually the T.D. would not have to say anything, or could be of use if someone needs help, but it could help in the running of the show.
When I am contacted to judge a show, I always ask for a quick summary of the classes and what they are looking for in a judge. For example, years ago I was asked to judge a Miniature Horse Show. I declined, as I felt I did not know enough of the history of Miniatures, their breed specifications, and what a judge should be looking for. So I visited several breeders, attended and watched the show I had turned down, and did extensive reading. The next time I was called I felt well qualified and so accepted.
This is what every judge should be doing. Show Committees doing the hiring need to know that they can ask questions of the prospective judge to make certain that he/she is qualified. They need to keep a budget, but if the difference between an experienced judge and one who may not be, it is only fair to the exhibitors to hire the judge most qualified.
I always inquire if they would like me to give occasional positive critiques to the riders. Some shows encourage this. Children especially enjoy getting a positive along with a suggestion on how they can improve. If a show is bigger, with more professionals, they often do not expect or want the judge’s opinion. A judge should keep good notes in this case, but be content with observing, comparing, and rating the entries.
It is very important for a judge not to favor a particular breed or type of horse in their judging. I have actually known of several judges who liked, for example, Quarter horses, and even informed the exhibitors that they might as well take their (Arabian, Morgan, etc.) home. This is inexcusable! Not only is it ignorant, it is not fair and discourages these people from ever paying to come to this show again.
Every time a horse comes into the ring for a new class, the judge must be able to judge that entry as if she had never seen it before. I have seen a horse who was crowded in a class kick at the offending horse. That rider was eliminated by the judge. This was certainly an allowed judgment call. However, for the rest of the day that judge literally turned his back on the horse in all of the classes. The horse was not eliminated from the show — just the class when he kicked. Therefore it cannot be held against him in any other class unless he kicked again. The same holds true for wrong leads or temporary bad behavior.
Judges have another responsibility besides doing their best to fairly judge each horse/rider entry. If a rider is unsafe or abusive to his horse, he must be called into the ring. If the abuse is caused by bad riding, (ex. jerking the horse in the mouth over fences, or riding behind the movement and balancing by the reins), this can be diplomatically mentioned when the riders are in their line up. But if the abuse is on purpose, (ex. yanking on a horse’s mouth to obtain a “head set”, or incorrect use of a dressage whip or jumping bat), then that has to be addressed before it continues. If a judge allows this behavior, then he is giving his permission, and mutely signaling to all spectators that that kind of behavior is allowed.
Showing can indeed be a great experience. It should be fun, safe, and educational. Go with an open mind. Watch the best riders and horses and learn from them. Be always positive, and “network”. Many new friends can be made at horse shows. Make it a positive experience for you and your horse.