A Judge’s Perspective on Horse-Showing Trends

Get a judge’s opinion on recent horse-showing trends and fads.

Horse showing is an integral part of many youths’ passion for their horses. Many spend countless hours preparing both their horses and themselves for competition. As with most things, horse showing goes through many trends and fads. However, the bottom line is, how are these new and sometimes expensive fads perceived by the judge in the show ring?

The Mane

To band or not to band, braid or not to braid? Much of this will depend on the level of competition, what classes the horse is being shown in and how skilled the groomer is. There is nothing worse than a poorly banded or braided mane!

Some disciplines traditionally are shown with long flowing manes (reining, cutting, etc); whereas others tend toward a more “finished” or “tailored” look (halter, showmanship, western pleasure, etc.). Braided manes are more traditional for English events. However, braiding is not a requirement.

The level of grooming and preparation should increase with the level of competition and the exhibitor’s expectations. It can send a message to the judge as to how serious and/or seasoned the exhibitor is. The more “polished” the turnout, the more the judge will be initially impressed.

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The Tail

Long or short, tail extension or not? Much will depend on the natural tail of a horse, and the tail does help with the overall picture and presentation. In most breeds, the trend is toward long, flowing, full tails, which few horses naturally have. Therefore many exhibitors choose to add tail extensions to add fullness and length. A judge does not place a horse depending on the length of his tail; however, it is part of the entire presentation and can enhance the overall “look” of the horse.


Presentation in showmanship classes has gone through many extremes in recent years, particularly in exhibitors’ posture, way of running and how the lead shank is held. Recent trends with slack in the chain under the horse’s chin are found to be offensive by some judges. Anything that distracts from the natural, smooth presentation of the horse throughout the pattern is usually scored down by most judges. A person’s running style, how she holds her hands and her overall posture should enhance the horse’s performance and not distract from it.


The pace and forward movement in horsemanship patterns has been a topic of discussion in numerous recent judging seminars. Good horsemanship riders should ride their horses more forward to display control and skill. Horsemanship is meant to be ridden on light contact, which is not the same rein length desired in western pleasure.

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Western Pleasure

Speed, passing, head set, head carriage and overall movement continue to be points of importance in western pleasure. The poor-moving, low-headed horse intimidated to move forward has been discouraged for some time. Quality of movement and level of training are the critical elements by which most judges will evaluate western pleasure horses.

Trends and fads with competitive horse events will continue to come and go. Most judges simply strive to find the best horse in each class. Some new things can enhance a performance, and some can distract from it. Just because one person is successful showing her horse in a certain manner does not mean everyone needs to copy that person. New clothes, tack, halters, etc., can be very expensive, and they might be “out of style” within a year or two. Before making a big investment, make sure the style will be around for a while and that it enhances your performance rather than distracts.