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Horse judgers refine skills at Horse Expo

Written by Gayle Smith

Douglas – As the black and white Appaloosa traveled toward them, the judges took in many things about the horse at once - the way he traveled, his conformation, and the way he handled. As the handler stopped and set up the horse a few feet away, the young judges had an opportunity to walk around the horse critiquing it for both its good and bad points.
4-H, FFA and collegiate students who were interested in learning more about judging horses had the opportunity to attend a horse judging clinic and contest during the Second Annual Big Wyoming Horse Expo in Douglas on April 30, coordinated by UW Equine Specialist Amy McLean.
“We had about 30 students sign up, and I believe most of them were 4-H members from Wyoming,” said McLean. “They judged three practice classes – reining, hunter under saddle and a halter gelding class.”
McLean said the three classes the students judged are typical of what they would see at an actual contest.
“They were standard classes,” she explained. “Usually, at most contests, there are at least four halter classes, hunter under saddle, western pleasure and reining. Some contests also have trail, Western riding and hunter hack, too.”
The Big Wyoming Horse Expo was an opportunity for the students to evaluate some high-quality horses and learn from some of the best clinicians in the United States.
“Earlier in the day we hosted a short seminar, and Keith Thomas, who is a National Reining Association judge, went over what to look for in reining horses. He not only showed the students what to look for, but covered what penalties can occur for certain maneuvers. He was very thorough, and talked to the students about what to look for while they judged the class,” said McLean.
Thomas’s wife Stacy Thomas is also an AQHA professional horseman, and she instructed students on what to look for in hunter under saddle classes.
McLean said the couple also showed the students and their coaches how to find information about horse judging, where to order videos and where to attend horse shows where they can practice.
“There’s lots of information about horse judging out there, you just need to know where to look for it,” said Stacy Thomas.
“The biggest advantage of an event like the Wyoming Horse Expo is the opportunity for the students to see the horses live,” she continued. “When students are learning to judge horses, they have to learn a lot of it from magazines, handouts and videos. I think the opportunity they had to evaluate high quality live classes was very beneficial to those students who attended.”
Although McLean said students had a lot to take in that day, she hopes they walked away with more desire to continue to judge horses.
“We had students there from those who had never judged before to those who had competed in national competitions,” she explained. “My goal was to show them how to enjoy horse judging, and hope that they took something home with them that day that would make them want to continue judging horses.”
“I think learning how to select a horse will make them a more responsible horse owner someday,” she continued. “They will know how to sort out horses based on their conformation and how they are built, to how they perform and can be used in a certain performance. It will also make them better riders, and help them with life skills. It helps them learn how to make decisions and sort out priorities.”
Most of all, McLean said it also helps students become better speakers and develop oral speaking skills.
“The older kids have to give a set of oral reasons defending their placing or decision of how to place the class,” she said.
McLean said she didn’t know if horse judging would be a part of next year’s expo, but she is hoping to add it as an annual event.
“It is a great opportunity to get kids at the Horse Expo and let them not only judge horses, but see what the rest of the expo is about. They not only get to see some high quality horses, but also some top notch clinicians,” she commented.
Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..