Embracing My Natural State as a Judgy B

Embracing My Natural State as a Judgy B

People watching is one of my favorite ways to pass the time. Horse showing, as we all well know, is one of my favorite activities. Since my nerves can be… challenging… sometimes I prefer to be at the actual horse show more than I want to be riding in it. And, though it is not a great character trait, I love judging people.

You can probably guess where I’ve been doing with all this. In the past year, I’ve been fortunate enough to start judging some local shows around Texas. Let me catch you up.

When I was still in California, I decided I wanted to start what is going to be a very lengthy process in getting my ‘r’ card for hunter judging. The formal application process includes attending a USHJA judges clinic, sitting with many recognized judges, filling out a formal application, and then going through their approval process. Full disclosure–I have not started the formal process in any way. The application wants a rated showing record, which I do not have. So while I still want my ‘r’ card, I’m realistic that it isn’t going to happen until I’ve built more (and by more, I mean any) of a rated record for myself.

‘r’ is the goal, but I started with buckling down and learning everything possible. My barn in California holds a local show series. When I had Simon, I showed in them, but after he died I volunteered my time to announce. The best part of that job? It’s right next to the judge. So I had the opportunity to sit with an ‘r’ judge all day, ask her tons of questions and mock judge alongside her. We shared our results and discussed scores (“Never score in the 70s for someone who makes you gasp”) as well as rules. It was super educational, but also extremely fun.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

Through my work at TPH, I also have some ‘R’ and ‘r’ judge connections. I’ve had the opportunity to chat judging with them, sometimes compare scores virtually via livestream, and hope to be able to sit and observe with them when I’m ready to start my official ‘r’ process.

When I moved back to Texas, my name got tossed to someone to judge for a schooling show. Of course I immediately accepted, and texted my ‘R’ friend for her advice (“Dress the part”). With my best, I’m casual but also professional and am here to judge your efforts today, outfit I packed my judge’s bag with a whistle, stop watch, notebook, advil, chapstick and pens and made it through my first show.

Since then, I’ve done about half a dozen more for a variety of show holders. It’s both a great gig, and incredibly hard. Each time I get a little better at deciphering my own notes and symbols for each round. Whether it’s ground rails or a 2’6″ hunter derby, I give everyone a score. I know the hunters are subjective, but there are defined rules and score baselines. A rail (in hunters) is a 45. A break of gait (not counting simple changes, which I give some allowance to in the itty bitty baby divisions) is a 55. There’s such a widespread critique that the hunters are too political and based on appearances. And yes, a lot of that critique is valid. But at the local level, it’s really more about making the fewest amount of mistakes (at least when I judge). I think it’s important to record scores and comments for everything to help bring out the truly objective goals that are the foundation of this discipline.

Judging has opened my eyes to a new perspective at showing. While I will make many faults on my courses whenever Poet and I manage to get in the ring, I promise you I will not be cutting my corners. It’s crazy (and mildly infuriating) how many cut off entire chunks of the arena to their course’s detriment. My dedication to turnout has doubled down, but it has nothing to do with fancy brands. Yes, I can recognize $$$ Struck or Equiline breeches from across the ring, know which coats are Animo or AA and can identify most name brand helmets. However, none of that matters two flips when judging. It’s all about neat and tidy. I already knew that, but when you’re judging a division of 8 and only two riders have properly fitting clothes and clean boots… you notice those riders even more.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

In March, I judged 1 IHSA unofficial scrimmage (official IHSA/IEA requires ‘r’ card), 1 2′ and under ring at a local show series, and 1 main hunter ring at a different local series. I’m both exhausted, and feeling a lot more competent in my scoring. You really do improve after watching hundreds of hunter rounds in a month!

I’d love for this new-found perspective to transfer to my own riding/showing abilities, but that’s very TBD. While realistically I think I’m a few years away from being able to pursue my ‘r’ card, having the knowledge and ability to judge fairly is something I place a lot of importance on. Until that happens, I’ll keep studying the rules, watching rounds and doing the best job I can whenever hired for local events.

17 thoughts on “Embracing My Natural State as a Judgy B

    1. If they do, it’s only at rated shows. I’ve never been close enough to a dressage show to know what a scribe actually does, lol. Judges cards are turned into the show management for each class, but I don’t think h/j exhibitors typically ask to see them.

  1. oooh good for you! i’ve definitely spent the last couple years getting my horse show fix by volunteering behind the scenes vs competing directly (tho, i still do hope to compete too!). so awesome to have already gotten so many opportunities to try out the waters too. imho it’s so so important for the next generation of show administrators, stewards, judges, ground jury members etc to step up as more folks age out and retire.

  2. Their bar for entry is incredibly high, I currently meet all the eligibility requirements (including background check) and last year I had paid for and signed up for the June clinic, and then covid.. so I asked for a refund since the $400 could go to better use. Now I am continuing to wrestle with ‘taking it online’ which would be easier than me having to travel and stay in a hotel.

    1. You would be an excellent judge! I hope they do more online clinics with a more reasonable pricing structure and timeline. Our sport needs to be more accessible for the people who want to work and make a difference in it.

  3. I’ve scribed at dressage shows and it’s not easy. The judge rarely admits they forgot to score a movement, you weren’t paying attention. but it’s a great way to understand what the judges are looking at. I think your plan is a great one.

  4. That is so very cool. I think it is a great nod to your love for the Hunters. I give you a lot of credit – I could never pay attention for that number of classes, all day long.

    1. I do love me some hunters. Can’t even help myself! It doesn’t get boring to me until the gate is sitting with no one going and an empty ring. That’s when I want to yell at someone to start their damn course already 😀

  5. What great experience! I like to pick my top three when I watch a flat class (jumping too, but I don’t normally sit and watch full classes that often). I like to think I’m usually pretty close to what the pro judges like. It really is a special skill set to be able to watch alllll the rounds and see everything you need to see. And remember it all! I hope you do pursue the “r” card and maybe the R card too one day. The horse show world definitely needs more (younger, newer) judges.
    I judged a lesson horse show once when I still lived in NY and it was a ton of fun.

    1. Yeah, I used to always want to go to shows and watch flats and can sit by the hunter ring for a stupid long period of time. So I figured, why not try? Really hoping for the ‘r’ card but am not delusional. I don’t think I’ll ever have enough $$ to play to be a big enough name to go for my R.

  6. I’m not at all implying that USHJA should change their requirements for judging, but it does feel like your experience should count for something. Almost like how if you come into college with certain credits, the course requirement is waived. From my perspective, we put a whole lot of weight on the riding side/experience (which we obviously should!) but it does feel like out of the saddle experiences are devalued. I’ve spoken about it before, but even with how equestrian related careers are advertised, we don’t speak often about more of the behind the scene type roles. Just my two cents on something I don’t know a whole lot about 😛 I’ll certainly be following along. Ain’t nothing wrong with being judgey b, especially if you get paid for it 😉

    1. I agree. There is a lot of expertise that can be acquired that’s not in the saddle. I mean, some of the best trainers don’t ride anymore. But alas, I get the point of requiring the rated record even if I don’t personally like it.

  7. In NC, there is a course offered at NCSU. It’s called Open Show Judge Certification. I get re-certified every three years and they put you on a list for show managers to call you! It’s mostly NC based but we have lots of out of state people come as well. They currently have a virtual course due to covid. I would check it out!

  8. I LOVE this! I did some judging in my 4-H days and I think it brings a LOT to your riding. Same as teaching makes you learn what you’re doing even better.

  9. Interesting!! I’m the opposite, I would have so much anxiety about having to place a subjective class (even if there is a point system). It’s hard to wrap my mind around placing some of these huge classes! Good for you though!

  10. That’s awesome! I know when I couldn’t enter but volunteered instead at the driving shows it was a great time to see what makes a difference in the placings. It really helps us sort out our own issues and hopefully come back a better competitor the next time around. I havent gotten to scribe yet but I’m sure that would help give more appreciation and clarity what the judges see vs. what we think or feel the horse is doing in the ring.

    When I first started going to horse shows long ago and far away in my past life- “Halter classes are incredibly boring” was my introduction. I started watching and judging from afar to see if I could place the classes the same as the judges. It not only made things more interesting and fun, but it really helped me develop an eye for what was winning and my placing were typically spot on with the judges.

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