Learning To Judge

Showing model horses is a fun and challenging hobby.  There's always something new and interesting to learn.  The biggest challenge in our hobby, though, is finding enough skilled judges to judge shows.  Region X has a great solution:  Schooling shows!  These shows are clinics for teaching judging, and they're a lot of fun - I'd love to see them spread around the country. 

At a schooling show, you get to learn from an experienced judge, and everyone judges every class.  Participants judge at the same time and once everyone has finished recording their placings, everyone places ribbons for their top three or four models.  After that's done, the experienced judge judge asks for a volunteer to explain his/her placings so we can all learn from her point of view.  Then the experience judge places the class the way she sees it and explains why she's picking what she does. 


 Region X Schooling Show after placing[Models in Pony Breed class, being placed by participants]


There's no criticism of how anyone has judged, but as the day goes on, we've all learned that each person has a bias toward certain aspects of judging and we've all broadened what we're looking at on the table.  For instance, early in the day, one person tended to look mainly for rubs and yellowing (condition issues) as a basis for her placings, while another participant used mainly mold conformation, and another got a lot of information from the model's tag (was the breed correct, and the horse's color correct for the breed?).  As we heard from each person through the day, we all began incorporating all of those things better, as well as simply learning to see details we may have been missing earlier.

Region X Schooling Show learning from Robin

[Robin Briscoe discusses models in the European Warmbloods class]


At a Region X schooling show, each participant brings horses to enter (no more than one per class), but the horses we bring aren't necessarily our best show models.  We want to learn and to teach, and the show isn't about bringing home ribbons, so we may bring models that are uncommon to see in the show ring, or assign a different-from-usual breed, or bring one that is yellowed or has a bent leg.  One person at the schooling show I just attended brought a Man O' War so covered in dust that he looked like he'd just rolled in the mud.  It was a perfect conversation starter for the class: " What would you do, as a judge, if a dusty horse was entered in a class?  Would you just ignore it, or would you call the owner aside and suggest she "groom" him?"  Different opinions were given, and since the judge has the final ruling, no one was wrong.  If you're judging, you decide what to do.  Our experienced judge for this show was Robin Briscoe, and she said that if she were judging a Novice Show, she'd talk with the owner, but if it was an Open Show, the owner should already know better, so she'd judge around it.
Region X Schooling Show Copperfox Connemara Mare with placing markers
 [Different placing markers used by participants.] 

Along with everyone bringing models for the classes, each participant brings markers to indicate their placings.  They could be regular ribbons, or they could be absolutely anything that either is color-coded according to standard placings, or has a placing number on them, 1st - 4th.  At the recent show, one person brought commercial ribbons, a couple made lovely neck sashes, one printed custom stickers, one used color coded tongue depressors, one printed card-stock placing markers with her own artwork on them, one used color-coded candy, and one used poker chips.  It's not expected that participants will want to keep and display ribbons from schooling shows, so feel free to use anything that visually indicates 1st - 4th. 

Schooling shows usually only have about a dozen classes, since each class takes a lot longer than a regular show, and everyone is encouraged to ask questions and share their observations.  They are usually themed.  Theming can be breed, collectability, performance, even color.  Each has things to teach us that help us judge - and show - better.

I hope you'll take this to your local show group and encourage them to hold a schooling show.  We need more judges, and it's a great way for everyone to learn and gain confidence!

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I think this Schooling Show idea is fabulous! I’ve live-shown since the 80s and judged since the 90s and I’m always learning something. I’ve mentored new showers and had future judges shadow me. At my recent live-show I conferred with another extremely intelligent, well-qualified judge over a couple classes and I so appreciate her sharing her knowledge. I would love to host one of these schooling shows as not only do they expand knowledge of the model horse world, but of the real horse world, too. One never stops learning!

Trina Houser

This would be a cool idea to bring up at a local 4-H Horse Cub meeting. It might be something the kids would be interested in, and would introduce versatility of the hobby to a whole new audience. 4-H and FFA already have live horse/livestock judging competitions, so model horse shows/judging might be an activity a county/district/or state level 4-H horse competition could add. I know NC has a statewide hippology contest as well as other horse related competitions :)


This is such a wonderful idea!! I would love to learn to judge.


This is what I do in my Intro to Model Horse Showing workshop at Breyerfest. This is such a good exercise for judges and showers of all levels. I believe it is so important for the shower to understand what the judge sees. Thanks so much for a great article!

Liz Cory

Awesome! This is a great and helpful article! I also live in Region X, so I am familiar with schooling shows, and I agree that they should be spread around. :)

Adah Richards (Spotted Dreams Studio)

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