"Here is some advice that might keep you from going 'horse blind' the next time you have to judge a large class. If you don't judge, it will help you to understand a judges problems" . . . Bob Denhardt.

Reprinted from June 1955 Western Horseman Magazine

One of the most difficult jobs facing the horseman today is judging. As more and more horse shows are being scheduled across the country, the demand for judges is increasing tremendously. Any judge can make his job an easier one by helping organize the procedure so only one thing is done at a time. There have been cases where judges, even in some of the largest shows in the country, have gone horse blind and performed tragically. When suddenly confronted with so many good horses, they are like the gentleman who couldnít see the forest on account of the trees. However we must have judges, and there is no reason why any good horseman should not do a creditable job as a judge. Hereís how to avoid some of the worst pitfalls and how to come up with the top 8 or 10 horses.*

Letís pretend we have been called on to judge Podunk Countyís horse show. We are in the ring with the horse show secretary and they are calling in the first class. Some 30 animals prance into the ring on the end of halter straps, each one slick, shiny, and beautiful. Your problem, to select the best. As you stand there you wonder how anyone could select the first six animals from this outstanding group. Itís really not hard if you do one thing at a time. If you try to do everything at once and select your final animals first, you may be in for real trouble.

Right here is a good place for one bit of advice. Even if some of the animals are of freak conformation, and belong in the front of a plow or in a can of dog food, inspect them carefully. No owner should be able to say after the show that you did not even look at his horse. When an owner pays and entry fee he has the right to expect the judge to look his horse over carefully. So even if you knew when you saw the horse enter the gate that he had no chance, look him over carefully. You might even learn something about unsoundness.

Step one for any judge should be the elimination. Before you select winners, you select losers. Get as many horses as possible out of the running. One of the best ways to do this is to have the horses circle -- sending some one-way to line up, some the other. Those in the lower group you know are out, those in the upper group are still in the running. The owners should not be aware of this, and indeed, after you have them all lined up, you should look over each animal individually and carefully just in case you have sent one animal to the wrong end of the line. Remember where your break in the line comes, because when they line up there should not be a break as far as the exhibitors or audience can tell.

The elimination itself is not too difficult. You are looking only for two things -- unsoundness and wide variation from breed type. Ringbone, spavins, bad splints, curbs, crooked legs, bad pasterns or hoofs, or any other bad unsoundness is sufficient to send an animal in the down direction. Bad type can also be eliminated. These may be otherwise good horses, but if they do not fall within the general conformation of the breed or sex, they have no place in the ribbons, and you can eliminate them form your mind. Some judges eliminate bad blemishes, poor conditioning, and bad dispositions. This is your first step.

The second step is selecting the better of the top horses. In a small class, the second and third step may often be combined. Starting at the top end., each horse is circled by the judge: eyes, ears, and mouth are carefully examined, height and articulation observed, and the animal is walked and trotted to once again observe and compare the way of going. The animals are then shuffled once again, some going up, some staying, some going down. The judge should also observe and move the animals at the lower end of the line, even though he knows they are out of the judging. Owners have this coming, spectators are interested in all horses, and mistakes can be corrected.

When steps one and two are complete, and they can be done by any good horseman, the best 8 or 10 horses will be at one end of the line. Now, the judge may be permitted to scratch his head for the problem is suddenly in front of him. Up to this point it has been easy -- moving poor and unsound horses one way, outstanding ones the other. However looking at a small group and evaluating is a lot easier than trying to remember the merits of some 30 individuals. The judge can now look at and remember each horse, its strong and weak points. It is the inability of the human mind to see and evaluate 20 or 30 problems all at once that makes judges go to pieces. Eight or ten is not too difficult.

Some of the 38 entries in the Aged Mare Class at the Santa Rosa Roundup. (Photo by Cathy - Reprinted form Western Horseman Magazine, June 1955)

Final placing in a strong class can be done almost entirely on breed type, quality, style, and individual preferences. Weaknesses have already been eliminated. In smaller classes it is sometimes necessary to have a few animals near the top that have injuries, blemishes, or other undesirable features. If two animals are equal, compare their way of traveling once more. In the final analysis, if you canít seem to find the best, which would you but if your were looking for a horse? Place the animals that way and you never need to be ashamed of your placings.

The philosophy behind this method of judging is this. You admit the inability of any person to see, compare, and evaluate a large number of horses. So, you first eliminate as many as possible for unsoundness and bad conformation. When you have 8 to 15 of the best left, you then walk and trot your animals to further select the better individuals from your top group. Lastly you arrange then in order of your preference, stressing breed characteristics. In these, each judge will vary, as one will feel a good head is more important than an adequate bread basket or vice versa. Another will stress high withers, still another color, and so it goes. These however are individual preferences, and no particular criticism is leveled at the judge for his preferences. But just let him place up a horse with bad hocks, unsoundness, or poor type and listen to the howl go up.

So, if you are asked to judge, donít throw up your hands and refuse. It is a mean job that has to be done. In the end, it is only one manís opinion, so judge the horses, putting the best on top and eliminating the unfit, and you will make more friends than enemies.

*The author claims no originality in this system. He learned it from Jim Minnick, the best horseman and most capable judge he ever knew.