Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse
Taking It to the Next
Director of Judging for the KMSHA
has passed since the conclusion of the 2006 International in
October, that meaningful post show analysis has been done and plans
advanced for the 2007 show season. Those plans can best be summed up
as the need to “take it to the next higher level.” Before we talk
about plans for the future, let’s take a minute to do some post-show
No one can
deny that some truly wonderful horses performed at the Lexington
Kentucky Horse Park this year. The majority of the entries were well
presented and reflected great credit on the mountain horse as a
breed and on the Kentucky and Spotted Mountain Saddle Horse
majority of the classes judged by the three judge panel were judged
by the book and below the saddle. This produced final placements
that put new faces in the winner’s circle when they deserved to be
there; rewarded exhibitors who have been consistent winners all
season long by putting them in the ribbons when they deserved to be
rewarded; and put some crowd favorites out of the money when they
didn’t make the grade of performing to the standard set by other
horses in the class.
cool temperatures and horse show nerves, some horses were “hotter”
than they have been at other shows in the season and worked their
way right out of the requirements for their usual division, while
other horses who were fresh at the beginning of the show began to
lose their bloom at the end of the week simply by virtue of having
been shown and shown and shown. One of the comments on a critique
sheet written after the show was that the same horses that won
earlier in the week were not the same horses that ended up winning
the championship classes. This comment was meant critically and it
shows a lack of understanding about the judging process.
may not believe it yet, but over time, I hope that everyone will
come to understand and believe that each class begins and ends when
the gate opens and the cards are turned in. What a horse did in one
class has no bearing on how he does in the next one or how he will
be placed. Each time you enter the ring, you start your horse show
afresh. If you deserve the win, you are going to get the win, even
if there are other horses in contention who have a better show ring
history than your horse has, even if they just finished beating your
horse a class or two before. We judge the performance of the moment,
not the performances of the past.
classes are simply that - the opportunity to qualify to advance in
competition. You might win the qualifier and finish out of the
ribbons in the championship. It all depends on what you do in that
too, that in championship classes you may face horses from other
qualifiers that you have not faced before. Your horse may perform as
well in this new class as he performed in the qualifier, but the
quality of competition gets tougher as the show progresses. Having
“as good a performance” may not be good enough for a win the next
time you show. In an honest judging program there are no winners
predetermined by performances earlier in the show or earlier in the
season. Judges don’t tie reputations or sentimental performances.
They can only tie what they see, right now, in front of their eyes,
and that is as it should be.
also some complaints about the use of the Point System at this
year’s International. The more easily understandable Majority
Opinion System appears to be preferred by some exhibitors.
program doesn’t have a dog in the hunt when it comes to which
adjudication method is selected. That is the decision of show
management. There are good and bad points about each system, but the
consistency of the results from the International’s rail classes,
where three judges marked cards, using the Point System might
classes, judges Davis and Lampson placed the winning horse first; in
16 classes, judges Davis and Harding placed the winning horse,
first; in 15 classes judges Lampson and Harding placed the winning
In only 7
classes, under the point system, did the cards show 2 judges placing
a horse first that did not go on to win the class. This result
occurred most commonly when the third judge saw something like a
gait break or other problem that the other two judges didn’t see and
marked the horse sufficiently low enough on the card that it
couldn’t recover its first place position.
also a few classes at The International where I, just like you, sat
back in my seat and thought, “Now how did that happen?” Have you
noticed that reality always intrudes on the desire for perfection?
to say it: there will never be a perfectly judged horse show. The
people who judge shows are not automatons; they miss things; they
overlook things; sometimes, even with the best of instruction, they
fall in love with a horse that is the wrong horse for the class and
tie him anyway. Mistakes will always be made, but working towards
the perfectly judged horse show must remain the goal. Giving
constructive feedback to judges, while holding them to the standard
set by the Associations, is the bedrock of the judging program. If
judges fail to internalize that criticism and refuse to conform to
the standard, they will not be judging for KMSHA/SMHA. It’s that
the obvious error rate at the International was low; next year it
will be lower still as judges begin to benefit from an aggressive
training program and are held to consistency in standards. This is
called taking the program to the next higher level.
I taught a three day judges’ seminar that included 29.5 hours of
class room instruction, including video and live judging sessions
and critiques of those sessions. We had lively discussions over the
course of the three days and continued to work through varying
points of view until we reached consensus about the standards for
divisions and the ordering of values.
was open to one and all. There were licensed judges, prospective
judges, and five interested exhibitors who participated in the full
program. I admit I was a little disappointed that there weren’t more
trainers and exhibitors in attendance. Having a better educated
judging pool is a necessity if there is to be a first class show
program, but having a better educated pool of trainers and
exhibitors is also necessary if the standards of judging are to be
understood and accepted when they are applied.
of the clinic’s live judging groups, an exceptionally nice class of
trail pleasure horses was presented. This was the same sort of class
that judges would see in any good Saturday night horse show in
clinic attendees watched the class through the prism of the
education that had been provided. They placed the first and second
place horses very consistently. No one was in disagreement about the
quality of the two horses in question. Some would have used the
first place horse second, and the second place horse first, but no
one would have selected a different horse for first or second place.
That’s consistency. The panel continued with consistency down
through the third through seventh place horses.
judges were asked to give oral reasons concerning their placings and
they did a very good job of showing the complete thought process
that goes into tying a class of horses. The sticking point came,
however, over misunderstandings by some of the watchers on the rail
over the use of the term “performance” and the delineation of faults
that took away from performance.
background of the three days of clinic preparation, there was some
confusion and unhappiness in the spectators’ ranks over the way the
class was tied. Although you can’t explain in ten minutes the
consensus that it took hours to build, demonstrated in the tying of
the class, in a nutshell, you could say that a change in mindset is
needed in order to recognize that the measure of performance in
under saddle classes is not based simply on the elevation of a
horse’s legs and the speed with which the gaits can be executed.
Performance, as the judges are being trained to evaluate it,
consists of the entire picture necessary to present a balanced horse
for evaluation. This includes, first and foremost, the necessity for
correct and consistent gaits, showing a change of tempo, in every
division. Next comes the retention of the true qualities of a
pleasure horse in every division. Then, there must be the proper
level of animation and balance of execution of the gaits in every
division. Finally, proper presentation, including wearing of the
bridle, correctness of way of travel and way of going, style, and
the execution of division specific competencies in every division
are all factored into the judge’s decision.
spectators weren’t looking at the horses with the same eyes as the
judges who were very much aware of all the qualities that the
KMSHA/SMHA wants to see in its horses. That lack of a common base of
knowledge causes problems in understanding how horses are tied.
judges will look for horses who have not only natural ability and
are correctly gaited but also show that they are well trained and
well presented athletes. When judges see these horses they are going
to place them at the top of the card. Look in the
soon-to-be-published 2007 rule book for expanded descriptions of the
division that will be helpful in determining where horses should be
placed for competition. In the future, please take advantage of the
opportunity to attend any clinic where judging horses is the main
topic of concern. Judges, trainers and exhibitors, working together
can accomplish wonderful things in the show ring for these talented
horses improve, it becomes more rigorous to judge horses. As the
horses get better, it will become harder to win a ribbon in a class.
When we take it to the next higher level, every trainer and rider
will need to constantly improve themselves and their horses if they
want to stay on the cards. That’s going to make competition intense,
classes fun to watch, and victories precious.
We had our
first hint at this new reality during the 2006 International Classic
Pleasure Grand Championship. The horses that entered the ring were
all of excellent quality. The horses that made the workout in that
class put on a horse show. The video of the class shows that the top
two horses were so close in performance that only slight variances
in presentation made the difference for each judge. That’s when the
final part of judging comes into play. When all other things are
equal, and all other requirements have been met, the judge is
allowed to exercise his right to select the horse he likes from two
that are essentially equal in competence; that’s the only time that
what the judge likes becomes a factor.
that while overall performance is foremost in evaluation, the
presence of faults also must play a part in judging horse shows. As
an example, when correct gaits are not present, in 2007 all judges
will use the following order of preference, from top to bottom, in
selecting horses to be placed among incorrectly gaited entries:
stepping pace, rack, running walk, fox trot and hard pace. This
ranking is based on the closeness of these gaits to being true four
beat rather than two beat gaits.
example, judges will be looking for horses that travel on true lines
rather than going around the arena counter bent. Let’s suppose that
there are two horses whose gaits are equally good and who meet the
requirements of the class, yet one travels true and the other
travels counter bent. The true traveling horse, the one whose nose
follows an imaginary medial line drawn straight out from the center
of his chest, will get the nod on the card. The true traveling horse
is considered to be the better balanced horse; counter bending is
considered to be a fault.
the 2007 rule book to have updated information on conformation
judging and equitation judging in addition to expanded division
definitions. The rule book is the road map by which horses will be
judged in the upcoming season. Judges will be receiving monthly
education material at home to keep the ideal of the mountain horse
in their consciousness.
of a world class horse show program are now in place. The rest is up
to the trainers and the exhibitors. Keep in mind the words of Lucy
Rees, writing in The Horse’s Mind: “Riding is a partnership. The
horse lends you his strength, speed and grace, which are greater
than yours. For your part you give him your guidance, your
intelligence and understanding which are greater than his. Together
you can achieve a richness that alone neither can.”
achieve that richness, your judging program will be there to reward
it, and the audience will be there to applaud it.
As the 2006
show season is now officially complete, it’s time to thank you for
your assistance in making it a success. Paul Willis and Billy
Caudill have my special appreciation for their leadership and their
support in my first 8 months with the program. Working together we
will transition from one level of performance to the next level of
excellence. 2007 is going to be an exciting year!
Issues of the KMSHA News will contain
a regular column on judging issues will run. If you
have questions about the judging program, I'll be happy to answer
them within the column if the questions are of interest to the
broader audience or I'll send you a personal answer if your focus is
more narrow. Please direct your questions to the
Editor of the
magazine and they will be forwarded to me. To submit a
question I'll need your name and address and also the specifics
surrounding your question if it concerns a recent shows.
Meanwhile, you can help to build this
judging program by becoming proactively involved. Become
familiar with the rulebook and put your horses in the right
divisions. Know what separates mediocre horses from good
horses from great horses based on the Standard. Then, train to
the standard and look at your horse as critically as a judge will
look at him.
Be honest about your horse's gaits.
If you are over-riding so that the horse is pacing or slick pacing,
Use adherence to the standard as your
criteria for evaluating your own placings at the show as well as in
evaluating the judges.
Forward your comments, based on
specifics, not on general likes and dislikes, about the judges.
Use the evaluation forms available at the shows in the officer area
to give your educated perspective on what happened during the show.
In this inaugural season for the new
judging program, we begin the process of growing together. In
time, this program will stand as an example of how horse show
judging should be done. The goals are quality, consistency,
adherence to the rules, and fairness to each exhibitor. In the
final analysis, nothing else is or should be acceptable.
Cherie A. Beatty
Independent Director of Judging