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Youth participate in horse judging contest during Big Wyoming Horse Expo

Written by Gayle Smith

Douglas – They were all ages, and they came from several different counties, but they all had a purpose. As youth spent their time focusing on the horses in the middle of the arena, they were intent on picking out the very best one.

During the Sixth Annual Big Wyoming Horse Expo, teams of young people and their coaches traveled to Douglas for the Youth Horse Judging Contest. Although most of the students were either 4-H or FFA members, some just came because they were interested in horses. 

Judging event

Thirty-six students judged four classes in this year’s event, according to Converse County 4-H/Youth Agent Missey Dunaetz. 

Two classes were halter, and two were performance classes. Halter classes were aged Quarter Horse mares, and stock-type geldings. 

“Stock-type geldings were a class of mixed breeds of stock-type geldings. They were judged based on their usage for ranch work or stock cattle work,” she said. 

The students also judged classes in reining and western pleasure.

The intermediate and senior contestants gave one set of reasons where they justify their placing to a judge. The juniors answered one class of questions. 

Dunaetz said those contestants also had the option of giving reasons just because it was good practice for them. 

“We just wanted them to come in and tell us what they liked or didn’t like,” she explained. “They gave us just a few sentences so they start to understand reasons are not so bad. The questions were about observations they made during the class.”

From the students

Megan Sagner, age 9, and her friend, Allie VanWhy, age 10, both came from Chugwater to compete in this year’s contest. It was both girls’ first time competing.

“I came with my coach last year,” Megan said, “but I just observed.”

The girls had differing opinions on what part of the contest they felt was the most difficult. 

“I thought western pleasure was hard because I couldn’t watch four horses at once and see all the mistakes each one made,” Megan said.

Allie found reining hard to judge because she didn’t have enough knowledge of the event to make informed decisions. 

“We just didn’t talk about it much in horse judging class, so when I got here, I forgot how to judge it,” she said. 

Megan is not a 4-H member, but she does belong to the Platte County Horseman’s Association. Allie said her family has horses, and she rides whenever she wants. Both girls enjoyed traveling to Douglas for a chance to participate in the Expo.

Judging at the Expo

Dunaetz explained that the judging contest at the Expo is a four-class event that moves rather quickly, so youth have an opportunity to watch the professional clinicians, visit the vendors and mingle with the horse people. 

Although they didn’t hold a clinic before the event, the youth agent said most of the coaches had their contestants prepped prior to the event. The kids learn about horse judging by watching videos and attending area horse shows and events. Some even travel to ranches to judge horses, she noted.

Providing opportunities

The most important part of a contest like this was to give the youth an opportunity to brush up on their horse vocabulary and gain more experience giving reasons. 

“It is basically a practice competition before they go on to state or other competitions,” Dunaetz said. 

It also gave the students the opportunity to meet the new University of Wyoming Horse Specialist Jenny Ingwerson, and her students and horse judging team members. They jumped in and really helped pull off the event by serving as team leaders, taking reasons and offering support to the students, Dunaetz said. 

She is also grateful to the organizers of the Horse Expo for once again allowing the students to take part in the event. 

“This contest is really a joint effort between the Expo staff and us,” Dunaetz said. “We really appreciate the opportunity for the youth to take part in the Expo.”

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..