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Mark Sheridan






As I write this article, I am going to hit on a large variety of topics that pop into my head while I am judging, and also exhibiting at both the smaller and larger horse shows. I want to start by stating that these are my opinions, which are also shared by a large majority of other judges that I work with, and do not represent the opinions of any breed or show association. Horse shows are supposed to be fun, and if some shows go late into the night or early hours of the morning, the fun stops. Many of the horse shows I judge or exhibit at are adding more and more classes, such as the popularity of Ranch Horse, Walk Trot classes, and are leveling the classes which takes up more time for the events, and to announce the winners as well. There are only so many hours in a day, and to keep things rolling, it takes additional effort not only from show staff, arena crews, judges, etc…but from the exhibitors as well. I would also like to hit on other areas, such as trends, proper horse care and ways to increase your productivity in the arena. As a judge, coach and exhibitor, I am always trying ways to help out with the shows and keep them moving smoothly, such as help with setting up cones for the Western Riding, assisting in Trail issues, helping mark the arena for Cowhorse events, making sure the barrier works in the Roping events, etc… This all takes time. I also want to touch on ways for all exhibitors, but especially for the Rookie and Novice people, to give them advice that will advance their success in the show arena that will help them to avoid making the common mistakes.

TIP NUMBER ONE:  Get into the Arena when called for! This might be the biggest issue for horse shows going so long into the night. At most shows, when one class is finished, the gate person will call for the next class to enter the arena and either stand on the rail or work at will for rail classes. We understand that there are conflicts with other arenas, and tack changes happen all the time. However if is just one arena, and you don’t have a tack change, you should be in the arena for two huge reasons. Number one, to keep the show moving along efficiently, and secondly and more importantly for the exhibitor, is that we as judges get a longer time to see you. Your time for us to judge you is limited, why not take advantage of the fact that most judges start evaluating horses before the class officially starts! If a Hunter Under Saddle class has fifteen horses trotting around the arena and we are waiting for one or two horses because the trainer told them not to go in yet, than the late ones in are not going to get the same time for evaluation, mostly because the others have been trotting around for quite a while. Showing courage to get in the arena first is a very good thing! Being ready at the gate and wanting to be the first one in regardless if there is a work order shows bravery, and most judges like that. I am not personally a fan of work orders because they can sometimes slow down the rhythm of the show. I understand the need for it in most cases, and if the gate person wants you to go in a particular order, than that is what you have to do. However if there is not a working order, be brave and go first. Challenge all the other riders to watch you and try to beat your pattern or score! If you’re not brave, then fake it! However, always do what the gate person says to do, if you don’t, we will most likely hear about it.  Another point that I have mentioned in numerous articles is to be at the cone or starting point and go when called for. If multiple judges are working, and one says to go,…..go! Do not wait for all three or four judges to nod to you. Most of the time, there is a judge or steward that is the starter judge. I tell my clients that when all their hats are up and looking, to go. If there is a work order, listen for it and watch your competition to see what you need to do to beat their score.

TIP NUMBER TWO:  At many of the larger shows, the Trail, Western Riding, and Reining classes will go in a block. This is where four or five classes show in a particular block, or where all the Western Riding, Trail, or Reining can show all day when it is convenient for them due to the large shows and the conflicts involved with other arenas and events. There is a fallacy amongst many trainers and exhibitors alike,…..mostly because their trainers taught them this particular falsehood. That is the fact that judges tend to “warm up” their scores as the day goes on, and that we have “colder scores” at the beginning of the class or early in the day, and by the end of the day, the scores warm up and are higher, so to speak. First of all, with todays scoring methods, that is not the case at all. Secondly, when the block starts at 8:00 am, most judges have had a good nights sleep, breakfast, and coffee and are fresh and ready to go. At the end of the day, after we have been waiting for sometimes hours without any exhibitors, the line of exhibitors gets huge, and then it is hot or cold out, we have been sitting in plastic chairs all day in a dusty arena, we are tired, hungry, etc… If anything, the scores would obviously be higher in the morning if those factors were to be in play. However, trust me in the fact that horses are scored accordingly to their performance, and not what time of day it is, or how many we have judged. I will say that I have heard from many judges over the years that they appreciated how I was at the gate with all my Western Riding horses and clients, and we would do all our runs and be finished by 8;30 or so. I do this because I want to get done early, didn’t want to wait in line later, knew that the judges are fresh and ready to go, and most importantly the fact that most horses ride better in the morning because that is when they are used to being ridden and trained. Horses get testy, tired and hungry just like us. Why not show them early in the day if given the opportunity?

TIP NUMBER THREE:  This is a tip regarding the All Day Fees. This is where you can show for one fee, which sometimes includes your stall and shavings, and enter as many classes as you like for one low price. This is a good way for shows to attract more exhibitors and keep the points up in most classes. However, that does not mean to over show your horse to the point where they are exhausted, thinking because the class is somewhat free, that you might as well enter it.  First lets think about your horse and how many rides are they capable of giving you, and how many quality rides does a horse have in their career? There are only so many good Reining runs, Western Riding runs, or Rail classes that your horse has in them. At the last few show that offered this type of entry where I officiated, many horses were going in 15 or more classes a day. That is just not smart to show your horse that much and use them up like that. To me, it would be the equivalent of asking your child to compete in six soccer games a day.  If you are going to show in the all day fee shows, plan out your schedule the day before and think about your horse, and not just yourself getting to be able to show that much. If you are going to show in quite a few events, then you need to think about taking care of your horse accordingly. Are you unsaddling them during the day to give them a break, or are you just sitting on your horse all day long between classes. Think about sore backs, muscles, and the fact that most show facilities have hard ground outside the arenas that horses stand on all day. Make sure that you get extra shavings, eight bags or more, have plenty of water available, keep feed in front of them so they can eat during the day and not just twice a day. Wrap their legs in the evenings with liniment to keep them more comfortable, and keep fans on them if it is a hot day. Put the welfare of your horse first, and put some thought into your show plans.


This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 8, Issue 9-10



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