Judges Scott Hofstetter and Bill Talbert Answer The Questions You’ve Been Wondering About Hunters and Equitation

Photo by Lauren Mauldin


This year at the Colorado Hunter Jumper Associations Medal Finals, I was able to sit down with the two judges at the end of the show and ask them a few questions about their judging techniques. Through their many years of knowledge and experience in the horse world, including many years of judging experience, Bill Talbert and Scott Hofstetter shared some of their opinions from a judges perspective.

Do you, as judges, ever watch riders warming up in the schooling arena?

Scott: No, I think that that is separate from this. If you need to jump a cooler or get after your horse, that’s kind of a personal thing. We’re supposed to have a clean slate when they jump the first jump.

Bill: I agree with Scott, the judging starts when they walk in, and ends when they walk out.

How much do first impressions matter to you?

Scott: A lot. Especially on the flat, when they are warming up that’s the time when we can see them by themselves, maybe write their number down, and start judging them then.

Bill: A good turnout is very important, you notice a good, clean turnout right away, but you also notice a not so clean turnout quickly. So that first impression sets the tone for the round or class sometimes.

What is your opinion on a rider petting their horse and loosening their reins before they exit the arena?

A: Scott: I don’t really mind it, I like to see somebody be nice to their horse. So I don’t really count off for that as they are leaving the ring.

Bill: I think it is fine as long as it is gracious, but remains workmanlike, and they realize that the job is not done until they are all the way out.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

Does handiness (inside turns) matter more so than the quality of the distances with those difficult turns?

Scott: Absolutely not, and that gets confusing for some people, as you see people go for the inside turn, and then the distance doesn’t work out. I use that more as a tie-breaker, its not necessary all the time, but it can give the rider an edge when the tight turns are executed well.

Bill: We gave some high scores to rider who went on the outside turn, but kept on the track and pace. It just depends on whether the rider keeps the horse between their hand and leg.

Do you like it when riders go straight to the first fence, or do a nice opening circle?

Scott: I don’t always like straight to the first fence because a lot of times what people don’t realize is that we are still scoring and placing the rider on our card or calling something in. So in that situation, we may miss the first jump. If I told my rider to go to the first fence, I would make sure they looked at the judge and made eye contact to make sure that the judge and rider are in sync.

Bill: I agree with Scott completely, I think the placement of the fence matters greatly in this situation as well. If you are going straight to the first fence and you go through judges point of view, you will certainly catch the judges eye, whereas if it is close to the in gate, the judge may miss it.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

How do you score differently when it is the riders fault versus the horses fault for knocking a rail?

Scott: There is a rule now in the equitation, where the judge deducts four points off your initial score for every rail down. If the rider gets the perfect distance, but the horse may be a little tired and hits the fence, it could be an 85 minus four to be an 81. But if the rider chips the fence, it could be a 64 minus four to be a 60. So you could knock a rail down and still win an equitation class, it just depends.

Bill: I agree, and we’ve noticed since that rule has come into place, riders aren’t being over penalized for what may be a minor horse error when they are tired.

When riders come back to a work off, do you start them on a clean slate, or do you take into consideration their scores and rounds from before?

Scott: Depends on the type of class, but most classes, you bring in their score, and that is shown through where you put them in the line up. So we kept their scores from the first round in mind when placing them overall.

Bill: The show management here at CHJA Medal Finals did a really nice job on letting us know all the information we needed to know about what the riders scores were that we gave them from the previous rounds, so we knew where they were placed before we tested and those scores were taken into consideration when ranking the riders at the end.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

Does name brand clothing or tack matter to you?

Scott: I don’t notice the name brands, I am more of a traditionalist, so anything that is standing out I really don’t like. For example, bling on the belt or hat, or a weird colored jacket that stands out I do not really like.

Bill: I am conservative as well, we always go back to the old traditions of the fox-hunting. Sticking to the conservative colors, remembering the foundations and using traditional clothing is what I like the most.


Do you look at rider’s facial expressions?

Scott: I do, I like to see the rider relaxed, having a good time. Sometimes riders will have a little bit of a bad jump and land and shake their head, when I maybe didn’t think it was as bad as they thought it was. I look at the horses face and tail as well because those tell me a lot.

Bill: I agree with the duality of it, the combination of the horse and riders expressions. I  watch a lot of the horses tail, ears, and eyes as those tell a judge a lot about how the rider is riding.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

What is the very first thing you notice when a rider walk into the arena?

Scott: Boots, how clean and how well they fit.

Bill: I notice cleanliness and how confident a rider is. It lets me know if the rider is     comfortable and looks like they know what the job is for the day is.