Show Judging – Never Taken Lightly
It's quite an honour to be invited to judge ones favourite breed at a big County Show like the Suffolk, or even grander - Royal Windsor. I was actually asked to do both this year, but the Suffolk was better organised and got there first! I'm glad of that... having just moved south to East Anglia, it saved a lot of time and made a lot of sense.
First it was the Lusitanos in hand, and later the Ridden Classes. The in-hand was for the young stock, 3 years and under or 4 years and over. Not a great turn out, but I liked the fact all the horses looked quite different from each other both in type, stature and colour... when too often we see a plethora of greys who look as though they've all popped out of the same model! Also, there were quite a few mares and that was a pleasant change. One always has to take account of the fact that they will be longer in the back than the short-coupled colts and stallions.
What really impressed me was how well some of the handlers ran! This is a pleasure to see as there is nothing more irritating to a judge than to see a nice youngster trotted up when obviously there is a lot more to show... but one just doesn't see it!
When it came to the Ridden classes most of the riders wore Portuguese costume ... which is very smart... and fully in keeping with a county show. Sober colours in stark contrast to some of the flowery hats that the stewards were wearing. In the crowded dining-room for judges and officials, it seemed the Suffolk Show had turned into Royal Ascot overnight!
When it comes to judging Ridden, I always think it a pity that judges don't ride the horses at a Breed Show, as in a Working Hunter class. I'd enjoy that!
Going down the line, I am always meticulous in looking at legs and feet as well as general conformation. Matters like the silhouette of the horse - how the neck rises up and out of the withers - broad loins, dropped crupper, well muscled shoulders and thighs as well as hocks well under - are all features of a Lusitano that conforms to the breed standard.
As for movement, one is looking of course for 3 good gaits as well as a quiet acceptance of the bit and the ability to go easily and willingly forward when asked to do so. Incidentally, the horse I put first in the purebreds was the only one whose rider thought to ask for an extended canter. It was balanced and fluent... Well done her!
That is a movement very important to the Lusitano or Andalucian working outside with the cattle in the fields. They must be able to advance or retreat swiftly at a moment's notice.
The hardest thing at the end of the day is when no particular horse shouts out at you. By that I mean that you are longing for just one animal to be so special, so striking, so stunning that you know without a single doubt in your heart that he or she should be placed first.
This didn't quite happen at the Suffolk although the first 3 horses were very lovely and worthy of their prizes. I shouldn't complain however; it's even worse when 3 horses shout out and you can't decide which one deserves the trophy! That can be very tricky indeed.
Having judged all over the world - the PRE (several times) in the USA, Australia and New Zealand, and Lusitanos in Britain, Portugal and Brazil as well again, as the USA - I would never say it is easy judging. I am very very hard on myself and very dedicated to making the right decision... so it can be quite a stressful experience even at a local county show.
People spend a fortune on their horses and especially getting them to a venue and back home again. Entry fees are not cheap, neither is fuel and often it means giving up important work and earnings just to show your horse in public. Every horse deserves to be judged in the most meticulous way and with the same attention to detail, even if you don't feel it is worthy of a place at the end.
I have the utmost respect for the organisers of any show and it will be a very sad day if this great tradition of taking your horse out in public was not rewarding in some way. I try my best to be encouraging whenever possible.... and hope that is reflected in my work.