7 Things Horse Judging Taught Me

Friday, January 13, 2017 - 10:00am
Meg Drake

7 Things Horse Judging Taught Me

I grew up immersed in 4-H and FFA. Many hours throughout my childhood were dedicated to showing cattle and horses and participating on livestock and horse judging teams. All of these were and still are popular pastimes for youth living in rural Kansas.


show cattle

I learned countless life lessons during these years. Some of my fondest memories date back to traveling across the country in judging vans. For those who participated/participate in livestock and/or horse judging, you know all about judging van adventures.

Some horse judging adventures were extremely pleasant, like traveling to a local horse ranch on a cool spring day, to evaluate top tier athletes. Others not so pleasant, like giving up 23 points on a class you placed backwards, or “busted” for those up-to-date on judging terminology, after failing to see the same attributes the official committee saw.

horse judging

But, back to the life-lessons part…here are 7 life lessons I learned from judging horses.

#1 How to win with humility and how to lose with grace

Winning is awesome. We all love to win. I quickly learned however, that you can’t win them all. This is especially true when it comes to horse judging. There are so many different factors that go into winning contests. Sometimes you just have to accept and understand the fact that the cards aren’t always going to fall in your favor. When this happens, it’s important to congratulate your colleagues and simply move on so you can begin preparations for next weekend’s judging contest.

horse judging

#2 Always look at the big picture and don’t get hung up on the small stuff

This was one area where my tendency to over analyze actually hurt me in the long run. Any judging coach will tell you that it’s always important to keep the big picture in mind. I can recall arguing with teammates about classes where I put the horse that broke gait last simply because, well, he had a break in gait! I missed the fact, however, that two other horses broke gait, one of which was completely lame and attempted to bite its rider when asked to pick up the left lead. Again, big picture in this sense ruled a break of gait completely obsolete. Which leads me to my next point.

horse judging

#3 Bucking, biting, and kicking is NOT allowed

If a horse, at any point during a judging class were to buck, bite or display a kick-out it pretty much meant they were going last (unless big picture told you the entire class displayed one of these mannerisms). Point being, having a bad attitude is unacceptable. This translates into every day life. You could wine, complain and/or throw a temper tantrum over a contest not going your way, but odds are if you display this kind of behavior, you’re probably going to be last in the game of life. Okay, so maybe that was extreme, but you get what I’m saying.

#4 Root for your teammates

When your teammates win, cheer for them. It’s as simple as that. When you encourage and push your teammates to succeed, your team succeeds. It’s the same in life. When you help, encourage, and collaborate with your work colleagues, you are helping position your brand, company and/or product for success. Winning individually is cool, put prizes for the high-team were always cooler ☺.

horse judging

#5 Defend your opinion

Anyone who has participated in judging events knows that “reasons” are a large part of the competition. Once all classes have been judged, contestants are ushered on to the next phase of the competition, reasons. This is when contestants defend their placing of certain classes; these classes are typically predetermined before the contest. Contestants take elaborate notes on these classes and begin preparing for an oral presentation where they are required to defend their stance in front of an official judge. Through lots of practice, I became confident in my ability to defend my personal stance/opinion. This skill is something that has helped me tremendously throughout my adult life.

#6 Travel light

So maybe this isn’t considered a “life lesson.” Regardless, traveling across the country and in one instance Europe for judging-related purposes has taught me how to be a light packer. When you’re crammed in a judging van with 12 other people, odds are there is not much room allocated for luggage, hence why I quickly learned to pack light and pack well.

horse judging

#7 Balance is key

When judging a halter class, one of the first things I learned was that balance trumps all other attributes, like muscle, refinement, size, etc. I think this is relevant to life, as well. It’s important to maintain a healthy balance when it comes to commitments like work, extracurricular activities and spending time with family and/or friends. If you’re like me, we sometimes get too caught up on commitments that we forget to take a moment to just smell the dang roses.

horse judging

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