A Note From Your AQHA President

Behind the Curtain

AQHA President Ralph Seekins shares his experience behind the curtain with the judges.

AQHA President Ralph Seekins shares his experience behind the curtain with the judges.

I imagine that way back when humans first started working with or riding horses, a fairly normal conversation popped up something like:

“You know, my ‘Prince’ can (fill in the blank) a whole lot better than your old ‘Dobbin.’ ”

“Oh! Really! Well, why don’t you just put your money where your mouth is, buddy? We’ll see whose horse is better!”

And just like that, there was a contest. Other folks would come to watch and maybe even lay a few side bets on the outcome. After all, a good horse contest was exciting.

But to make sure the contest was fair, folks figured they needed to set out and agree on the rules, find an honest third party to make sure everybody played by those rules and then get that party to declare the winner.

We’ve come a long way from those imaginary early days. And, even though many contests are still only between a couple local horses on the spur of the moment, others are highly organized and draw a whole lot of folks who put their horses up against all the others to see which ones are the best.

Today, AQHA encourages and sanctions competition among American Quarter Horse owners through shows, races and performance events. Then, the rules for competition are laid out in its Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations. At last count, the Association has recruited, approved and educated approximately 1,000 judges for all categories of competition, according to AQHA Senior Director of Judges Patti Carter.

I’ve been watching AQHA judges place horses for more than 25 years now at everything from weekend shows to AQHA world shows. I have to admit, I’ve sometimes been a judge critic – particularly when one of our horses wasn’t placed where I thought it should have been. I bet you have suffered the same malady from time to time.


But, being on the AQHA Executive Committee the past few years and now serving as the Association’s president, I’ve been provided the opportunity to “peek behind the curtain” to see how our judges are selected, trained, re-trained and perform as they take on the duty of placing the horses or competitors on any particular show day.

For example, I had the opportunity to be that “fly on the wall” that a lot of you would like to be at several events. The most recent events were the 2017 Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show and AQHA Select World Championship Show, presented by by Adequan® (polysulfated glycosaminoglycan).

I was allowed to sit in on the pre-show briefings of the show stewards, ring stewards and the judges at the Ford Youth World. Patti Carter and Bill Enk, who is a long-time AQHA judge and director of judges for the National Reined Cow Horse Association, reviewed rules and responsibilities for judges and provided explicit videos for the judges to refresh their penalties and maneuver evaluation on great, good, average and poor performances. The questions and comments in the room were solid evidence of how serious the judges were taking their responsibilities to recognize and reward excellence. It was obvious that these professional horsemen and horsewomen were individuals whose personal objectives were to carry out their responsibilities with great knowledge, courage and absolute integrity. I was eager to watch them throughout the upcoming show.

As the show proceeded, it was interesting to watch and listen as Patti and Bill continually worked behind the closed door of the judges room with who are conceivably some of the very best judges in the American Quarter Horse world. It was clear that all were pursuing their personal goals of rewarding the best horses or riders regardless of their names, what trainer they worked with or which stable from which they came. Their focus and behavior reflected the highest level of professionalism.

Needless to say, I was very impressed and extremely satisfied that AQHA could be proud of the judges and their leaders. 

What most folks don’t know is the high-quality video review being utilized at the major AQHA shows. This allows judges to review a major penalty that was not called by all judges. For example, was there a break of gait or did the cow horse make two turns on the fence? So, even though these are the best of the best, just like at any other sporting event, the videos give our judges a chance to review penalties and the benefit of the doubt is always in favor of the exhibitor. During the video reviews, maneuver scores are never adjusted and only major penalties are re-evaluated. Even prior to these particular shows, I was privileged to sit in on the judges recertification process last December in Dallas. Believe me when I tell you that I have never seen a large group of outstanding individuals studying together, discussing nuances together and striving to once again prove to themselves that they were fully prepared to sit in judgment at the thousands of AQHA contests all across the world.

I understand it’s not possible for all of you – or even some of you – to be that “fly on the wall” as I have been so privileged to be. But, believe me when I say I went to the seminar to represent our members and competitors. I came away confident that Pete, Patti, Carla and the members of the AQHA Judges Committee are doing a great job training, retraining and holding our judges to the highest levels of accountability. I have never been more confident to be able to assure you that these men and women meet the highest levels of professionalism. AQHA members are indeed blessed to have such a great group.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch with me. I look forward to seeing you down the road or hearing from you soon.