Debunking Myths
The fashion divas of the horse show world would have riders believe that the judge will give ribbons only to the riders who are attired in the latest trendy garments. Guess what?? When you enter the arena and begin your opening circle for your hunter or equitation round, the judge is not analyzing whether your breeches are khaki green, tan, or beige. Absolutely, overall appearance and a put-together look are important. But judges are far too busy critiquing a rider's leg position and a horse's jumping style to think "too bad she wears the wrong brand of breeches." Another legend that just won't die is that judges play politics. I'd be horribly na´ve if I thought all judges were immune to pinning riders who might advance their careers. But honestly, the vast majority of judges take their job very seriously. Frankly, judges consider it an insult to their credibility to be accused of politics. Rather than accuse a judge of always pinning a certain trainer's clients because of favoritism, why not study those riders and decide what they're doing that sets them apart from the rest of the competition?? Maybe the same riders keep winning because, well, they're simply better. Then there's the concept that judges are also supposed to function as clinicians. They are not. A judge is at a show to officiate, to analyze, and compare the competitors either against and ideal or against each other. They should not be expected to also dole out advice or a personal critique for every participant. The sheer logistics, based on the number of exhibitors and the length of the show day, make it impossible.

A Judge's Wish List
Unfortunately, judges are sometimes viewed as adversaries. If judges could compile wish lists that would make their lives easier, I know what they'd include. Here are the top three:

1. Compete on a sound, well-groomed horse. A thin, dirty horse or one in desperate need of a hoof trimming gives the impression that you don't care much for your horse's welfare. Remember: It is a horse show. Before you present your horse before a judge, make sure the animal is in show condition.

2. Don't stalk the judge. This is especially meant for horse show moms, the most rabid of which are the ones who do double-duty as coaches for their kids. Let the judges visit the bathroom, eat their lunches or walk to their cars in silence. Don't assume that any spare second is your opportunity to confront them about your child's ribbon in the class held three hours previously.

3. Know what's required before you compete. A great deal of heartache and disappointment could be avoided if exhibitors understood how their classes were being judged and what the ideal performance should look like. Too many riders, specially at the novice level, enter an entire slate of classes without considering if their horses or their own ridding skill are up to the task.

This article written here with permission from Horse Illustrated July 2003 issue.