One of the most rewarding and challenging jobs of being a judge is taking to riders about their performance. Judge’s often get put on a ‘pedestal’ and riders do not feel comfortable approaching the judge, and I believe that borrows from some truth, that some judge’s put themselves on a pedestal and are not approachable.

I judge many IEA (Interscholastic Equestrian Association) shows, and when the show is complete, riders are given the chance to come up and receive ‘judge’s comments’. I like to think that I am a good hearted, nice, normal human being, with a good, fair eye to judge. When I started judging these shows, at first I could not understand why every rider was pretty much scared to come up and talk to me. I quickly started to learn why. Most IEA shows are two days, and require a different judge each day. I began to hear stories of how other judges would ‘give their comments’ to the riders. I was dumbfounded! I won’t go into any details, but it was bad.

There was no finesse, no compliments, compassion with the constructive criticism, just the guillotine of ‘what you did wrong’.

I was heartbroken for the riders when I learned this. These kids travel all over, draw a horse they have never ridden before from a hat, and then go compete. They try their best on whatever horse/pony they drew, it’s not easy! I felt sad for our sport understanding that these ‘professionals’ were being this way with the youth in our industry. I realized that some of the youth will eventually become professionals, and is this how we want to teach them? Or teach them to be this way?

Being a professional in our sport is no small task. It is a hard job with a million up’s and down’s, but still, there is a way to be in that role. Of course the riders want to hear what they could work on, and they should, but that can be done in a positive, constructive way, not ‘you’re a horrible rider/get a new trainer’ way.

I think what’s so hard or complicated about this topic is you can’t tell someone how to be. Of course you can try but they will only change if they truly want to. The world doesn’t work that way, especially in the horse world. I try to do my part by being in truth and rightness, fair and professional, and educate. During my clinics I educate riders and parents on the type of judges, riders and professionals out there, so they have an understanding when they come across them. And while it is easy to focus on the ‘bad’ in our sport, there is also the good. There are countless professionals, judges, and riders who educate from a positive grounded place, and are always in the pursuit of truth and rightness. You may have to weed through a few, but they are out there :)