What to Look For, Part 1

What were the judges at the 2009 AQHA Judges Conference taught to look for?

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Every December, more than 200 judges gather for the annual AQHA Judges Conference, an event they’re required to attend once in a two-year period to maintain their eligibility, according to the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations.

Think of it as continuing education for AQHA’s judges.

“We can only cover a minimum number of events at each one,” says Alex Ross, AQHA executive director of judges. “That’s so we can expand more into each event, judge runs, compare scores and discuss them.”

They also discuss trends in each class and ask questions.

Alex lines up instructors for the judges conference (as well as the periodic AQHA educational judging seminars throughout the year). Instructors review the rules, show video clips and offer strategies on using the score sheets. They are “individuals generally considered to be authorities in the subject they teach,” Alex says.

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Two of the December 2009 classes were hunter under saddle and western pleasure.

So what were the judges coached to look for in those classes? The Journal asked for you.

Hunter Under Saddle

Carla Wennburg, Laurinburg, North Carolina
Equestrian instructor and coach at St. Andrews Presbyterian College

For the hunter under saddle, we simply ask that the horses be presented according to the class description in our rules.

We emphasized two things in December. First and foremost, we’re judging movement.

Second, we’re judging these horses with the thought that this flat work will relate to later careers. We do have all-around horses that go western and English, but in the hunter under saddle, we have the added hope that in the future, they’re also going to jump.

We have these beautiful, big-strided movers, but too often they are presented going down the rail with their polls too low and down on their front ends – their frames are too low. That’s not what you see in a horse cantering around a course of jumps. We would like to see the horses in the flat carry the correct balance for what they will do in the future, to be more up in their carriage.

The horses still must be broke and quiet, functionally correct, have soft and smooth transitions and steady faces. They have to be beautiful, correct movers with a four-beat walk, a two-beat trot and a three-beat canter.

We also need to reward the horse with a more uphill frame, with a balance that is lighter on the forehand. And we need to reward expression, a horse that is bright and interested in what he’s doing. Some of our horses going down the rail seem dull.

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It’s really not that much change. We’re just asking for the horse to be presented with more expression and balance on the hind end. If you engage the hind end, the forehand has got to lift.

The flat work is what gives a horse balance for jumping fences, period.

Want to improve your western pleasure ride? Learn what the judges look for in a winning pleasure horse, coming up next week!

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