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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

Young show horse judges need a pathway for good of the sport


ABOVE: The ASH junior judging competition winners at this year’s Sydney Royal. Picture: LORELLE MERCER

WITH so much conjecture about the lack of quality show horse judges and constant complaints about the “same old faces” appearing at each show, there is a real need for new blood in ring centre.

While three breed show horse bodies see the value of encouraging a new generation of judges, both Equestrian Australia and the Show Horse Council lag behind.

So how are new judges found? And what needs to be done?

The Australian Stock Horse Society’s Young Judges Competition aims to determine which competitor most correctly assesses a group of four exhibits. They run qualifying classes with the final held at Royal Sydney Show.

It is a well-thought-out process. The competitors judge the exhibits first and their results are then compared to those of experienced judges. Overjudges then assess the competitor’s oral presentation in combination with the judging results to determine a winner.

The Australian Pony Stud Book follows the same process for its young judges competition at their state shows.

The Riding Pony Stud Book Society young judges competition is far more involved and has an important addition: confidentiality, with written answers, interviews, details of conversations with officials and results remaining with the society’s development committee.

In the UK, the British Show Pony Society also holds a young judges competition, with many of the competitors who attend the training sessions often apply for assessment for adult judging panel when they reach the age of 25.

ABOVE: A young judge checking her scores with a senior one in the UK.

In the Australian show horse world, the Barastoc Horse of the Year Show once had a policy of having one young judge on the panel, but that was before it became the qualifier for the national titles.

Many of the young judges from that time went on to judge royal shows and national titles.

It was a case of being seen and recognised.

One of those to get her break as a judge at elite level through the Barastoc policy was Joanne Evans, then Joanne Gardiner, who was about 20 years old when she was appointed to the panel.

Joanne, whose parents Beverley and Peter were also show horse judges, was at ease in the role.

“When I did judge, I was confident and I guess the feeling I had was that I judged it as I saw it,” she said.

“I never worried about other people’s opinion, just judged what I saw and what I would like in my stable.

“After years of showing you know people have their own opinions, so you can’t worry about that. You have to just do what you want and don’t have to justify to anyone why.”

Although Joanne went on to officiate at Melbourne and Adelaide royals after Barastoc, she no longer judges.

“I don’t get asked to judge as I am not on any panels,” she said.

“I don’t believe in doing courses to be able to judge and don’t have time. I understand why the judging panels are there, but there is a lot of good judges with experience and knowledge out there and available but just not on panels.”

Joanne makes the good point that in cattle showing, there has long been a pathway for young judges to come through the ranks as assistant judges at big competitions.

Like it or not, showing is big business.

Both Equestrian Australia and the Show Horse Council have state championships and national titles.

Why can’t they, like the breed societies, run judging classes for the youngsters at their state shows, with the finals at the national titles?

Two classes for juniors and seniors at the state championships and then seven finalists from each state and territory at the nationals judging four unknown horses supplied by off-the-track sponsors – how hard could it be?

It’s such a simple and prestigious way of bringing through the next generation of show horse judges, it’s impossible to fathom why the two major show groups in Australia are not doing it.

It’s high time it happened.

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