View from the Judgeís Booth: Iím rooting for you!

July 8, 2009

By Kim Ablon Whitney 

When I was an exhibitor, I used to have this idea that the judges were a mean lot who liked nothing better than to see a rider mess up so that they could announce some horrid score, like 16.  I’m not completely sure why I thought this about judges but I was convinced they were bitter, disgruntled people with no love or joy in their hearts—equestrian versions of the Grinch.

As a judge myself I now see how wrong I was.  Most judges aren’t mean or bitter.  We love horses, we love riders, and believe it or not we love spending all day watching round after round, even if it’s the modified adults.  (Well, maybe not all day of modified adults…)

When each exhibitor enters the ring, I’m hopeful.  If they pick up the canter and I like what I see, I start to get excited.  If the first few jumps go well, I move to the front of my seat and say a quick prayer.  The whole rest of the course I’m rooting for this team to nail it.  What you riders might not know, what I never knew, is that the judge wants you to do well! 

There is no happier thing for a judge than a beautiful round, a clear winner.  The worst feeling I ever have as a judge is when I get a class that has no clear winner.  A class where everyone made mistakes.  It’s those moments when I wish I could simply declare a “do-over” and run the class again, this time hoping for a winner.  But somehow I weigh the mistakes against each other and come out with someone to give the blue to.  As the results are announced, I wish I could add a caveat that says the winner wasn’t really the best, only the best of the worst.

You might think it’s easier to judge classes where people make mistakes or the quality of riding or horses is low.  But it’s much, much harder.  One of the best judges in the country, Brian Lenehan once said to me that his father, Daniel Lenehan, a very famous judge in his own time, had this comparison: “What’s easier, walking into a room of beautiful women and picking the most beautiful, or walking into a room of ugly women and picking the most beautiful?”  Since I’m a woman myself I’ll make the comparison about men—I would find it much easier to walk into a room of gorgeous men and pick the most gorgeous.  

Well, it’s the same for horses.  Judging a class with ten top-notch rounds is much easier.  There’s always one horse and rider who are just that little bit better or appeal just a little bit more to the preferences of the judge.

So next time you walk into the ring and sneak a glance at the judge’s booth, you’ll know that whoever’s in there is on your side.  We’re hoping more than anything you’ll put in the trip of your life!


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