Looking Back at the AQHA Judges Conference

Get a rundown of what happened December 8-10 at the first recertification of AQHA all-around judges in Irving, Texas.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

At the 2014 recertification, all-around judges were required to pass a test over the AQHA Handbook, as well as judge and pass video classes. (Credit: Journal)

Focus reverberated through the air at the 2014 AQHA Judges Conference in Irving, Texas. December 8 to 9, 284 AQHA all-around judges and 50 AQHA Level 1 (Novice) judges soaked up educational seminars led by industry leaders. Then on December 10, the attendees were tested in the first AQHA all-around judges certification exam. 

Before the conference got down to business, 10 judges were awarded 20-year pins for their service as AQHA judges. Congratulations to Milt Alderman, Steve Brown, Kenny Hall, Rebecca Halvorson, Nancy Sue Ryan, Lee Ann Harrison, Lisa Krohn, Jeffrey Pait, Kenda Pipkin and Howard Rea.

American Quarter Horse Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas then entertained the conference goers. While most know him as a legendary racehorse trainer of both American Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds, D. Wayne also has roots in coaching high school basketball. The inspirational trainer shared some of the knowledge that has made him one of racing’s iconic figures.

After that, judges turned to the educational seminars, mainstays of the annual conference. The seminars were led by AQHA Professional Horsemen Jackie Krshka, Stephanie Lynn, Carla Wennberg, Leslie Lange, Michael Colvin, Charlie Cole, Leonard Berryhill, Terry Thompson and Jody Brainard, covering horsemanship, hunt seat equitation, western riding, trail and reining.

AQHA judge Gretchen Mathes of Harwinton, Connecticut, says that while the educational seminars have historically been very helpful to judges, that proved especially true this year. 

“Everyone looked to me like they came very prepared. It was a very serious group of people who really care about their (judges) cards and about doing a good job.” 

This being the first recertification exam in AQHA judges history, there was some tension among judges when the recertification was announced in 2013, says AQHA judge and Professional Horsewoman Holly Hover. 

“As far as the quality of judging, I think we’ve always had a good quality of judging,” said the Cave Creek, Arizona, horsewoman. But after the months of preparation leading up to the conference, plus the educational seminars, “I felt like I left this judges conference a better judge. 

“In Arizona, we had been preparing for months. We got together as a group, separated out the classes, put together some practice sheets, we had some penalty-clip videos and, of course, we had the video and practice test questions that AQHA sent out,” Holly explained. 

“I think really what morphed out of this was that in small groups, judges got together and talked about it, talked about the industry, talked about the penalties. For instance, when I judged the (All American Quarter Horse) Congress, that group of judges all sat down and they helped me compile some test questions, we handed out sheets, those sheets got scanned and emailed to many other judges.” 

Judges were tested for recertification December 10. All-around judges were required to pass a test over the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules and Regulations, as well as judge and pass video classes in trail, western riding, reining and horsemanship.

The Next Step

So where do we go from here? Results from the exam are still being processed. Judges who do not pass the exam will have the opportunity to retake it January 8-10, 2015, at the Educational Judging Seminar in Nashville; April 2 in Irving, Texas; or at a location determined by Alex Ross, AQHA senior director of judges. 

“There’s a link missing there where exhibitors don’t understand penalties and they don’t understand the application of penalties,” Holly said. The solution she sees is more education. 

Exhibitors have several options when it comes to learning more about how classes are judged. 

“I think sometimes AQHA gets bad feedback about differences in judging, but personally, from a trainer’s point of view, that doesn’t bother me a bit,” Holly said. The common ground between all judges must be an adherence to penalties and how to apply those to a performance. 

“I’m not interested in cookie-cutter judges and all of us having the same opinion,” Gretchen echoed. “We come from different walks of life, different areas of the country, different ways that we use our horses, and I think we need all that incredible knowledge in our judges.” 

“That is what a horse show is,” Holly added. “You have many different people coming from many different backgrounds and if you prepare the right product, it will appeal to all schools of thought.”