Equestrian Career Spotlight: Professional Horse Show Judge

William Woods Equestrian

professional horse show judge equestrian career

The critical eye of a professional horse show judge can be highly intimidating for exhibitors. However, the world can look very different from inside the ring. Understanding the mind of a judge — the responsibility, thought process and goals — might change your perspective as an exhibitor.

While a showing background is important for a judge’s knowledge of the field, judging requires its own kind of preparation beyond that of showing a horse. The most imperative quality for a horse show judge is a sharp eye.

The beginning of a show can feel like chaos for a judge, with all of the horses initially appearing to be so similar. However, as the seconds go by, a judge will apply a critical degree of focus through which superior competitors  — those which combine animation and extension with style and presence  — arise.

The responsibility of a judge is to see, synthesize and evaluate all the horses in a class in just a few minutes. This requires strong attention to detail and note-taking skills. Additionally, a judge should be able to explain the reasoning behind why they placed the classes the way they did to anyone that asks. Explanations are useful if a judge is asked to defend his or her choices and must been done in a tactful and considerate manner. Though, even more importantly, being able to communicate to a rider means being able to help the individual learn from his or her mistakes.

According to Kentucky Equine Research, a judge stressed, “nothing is more gratifying than to watch a horse, no matter its breed or discipline, perform flawlessly for a confident rider or handler at a large, highly regarded horse show. Just as rewarding to me is judging small shows where I can dispense tidbits of advice to novice riders who may not have deep enough pockets to afford a nationally recognized trainer. Most of these riders are eager to receive feedback and encouragement from me and it is this acceptance and thirst for knowledge that keeps me judging even the smallest shows.” Judges ultimately want to see riders succeed.

The path to becoming a professional horse show judge varies based on what type of judge you’d like to be. Nearly every major breed or discipline has its own process of certifying or carding horse judges and these range from completion of a simple application to an extensive process including face-to-face interview, testing and apprenticeship. To familiarize yourself with relevant rules and judging requirements for each discipline, be sure to look to the United States Equestrian Federation Rule Book.

A career as a professional horse show judge is both prestigious and rewarding. Competitors regard your decisions with the utmost respect, so it’s imperative that you meet the demands of such a position. While specific credentials may vary, there are a handful of opportunities for experience that make a great professional horse show judge, no matter the specialty. Explore your interest by coaching or assisting a competitive youth horse judging team, apprenticing with carded judges, volunteering as a ring steward or offering your services at small school showings. In doing so, you’ll make connections and further develop your knowledge and ability to conduct yourself with the poise and tact required of a professional judge.

William Woods University Bachelor of Science (BS) in Equestrian Science offers programs in show disciplines such as Dressage, Saddle seat, Hunter/Jumper and Western. Additionally, for students interested in professional horse show judging, equestrian organizations include the William Woods Judging Team. The Team hosts year-round classes, shows and clinics open to anyone who wants to learn more about competitive judging through hosting classes, shows and clinics.

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