An Education in Judging

Exhibitors and prospective judges get some insight into the judging process during the AQHA educational judging seminar in Nashville.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

Prospective judges and interested exhibitors learn about AQHA's judging processes from Alex Ross and Joe Carter. (Larri Jo Starkey photo)

Prospective judges and interested exhibitors were among those at the AQHA educational judging seminar January 8-10 in Nashville, Tennessee.

“It’s an honor to judge for AQHA or any of our alliances,” said Alex Ross, AQHA senior director of judges. “You have to judge a lot of classes, and you have to be educated. It’s an honor to have this card, and it’s a challenging process.”

For three days, Alex and AQHA judges Joe Carter and Laura Norment educated the group about some of the intricacies of classes from ranch riding to working hunter and everything in between.

“I asked Dale Wilkinson, the only man to win the reining and cutting futuries, what it takes to be a good judge,” Alex told the group. “He told me three things: A good judge must be able to recognize excellence and reward those characteristics. Excellence is intricate maneuvers performed with a relaxed mental attitude. The intricate maneuvers define the class.”

Those three statements relate to one another, Alex said, and he thought they defined judging.

For each class, the group watched videoed runs and discussed them.  

“There are only two things we can’t teach,” Joe said. “We can’t teach ethics, and we can’t teach experience.”

The educational seminar is a chance for prospective judges to test for their novice judges card, but it’s also an opportunity for exhibitors to learn more about how they’re being judged.  

“This has been the best investment I could have made in my AQHA career,” said Tracy Snider, adding that the information she learned was invaluable.

Horse show mom and sometime show scribe Carla McMullen said she thinks every exhibitor should take try standing in the middle of the pen to understand how hard judging is.

“From being at the seminar, I also learned how hard the judges work to get it right,” she said, “and how much they care about the horses and the exhibitors.”

Repeatedly, Joe and Alex stressed being fair and applying the rules evenly.

“A lot of exhibitors don’t know the rules but it’s the judge’s job to know the rules and apply them,” Joe said.

Being a judge has made Laura a better exhibitor in her own field, the over-fences specialty judge said, and even more appreciative of judges who judge more disciplines.

The next educational seminar is March 30-April 1 in Irving, Texas.