Get to Know Judges Julie Winkel and Rob Gage

By Mackenzie Shuman

Recently, I was able to attend a horse show where two prestigious judges, Julie Winkel and Rob Gage, were judging. Knowing these two judges had extensive years of riding and judging experience under their belts, I had the opportunity to ask them a few questions:

Q: What are your opinions on the automatic release equitation?

A: Julie: I think automatic releases are great and effective, but only if they are used correctly and not overused.

Rob: I don’t care if a rider uses an automatic release or a crest release. I just don’t like those riders who simply put their hands straight down to the withers; that’s no release!

Q: How much do the number of strides in bending lines matter to you?

A: Julie: As long as I see that the rider has an obvious plan and executes whatever number they get well, I don’t see it as a problem.

Rob: We actually had a bending line in the Maclay Regionals course that could be done in either a forward and direct six or a quiet and outside seven. We didn’t care which number the riders chose, so long as they did one or the other. We simply looked at how well they rode their choice.

Q: Do you judge work offs on a clean slate or take in consideration the first round?

A: Julie: I always combine the score from the first round with the score from the second round.

Rob: Work off scores are always added to the original scores.

Q: Do you get distracted by the different colored coats, such as the differently colored collars, light blue, green, and other colored jackets?

A: Julie: Yes, I do, I think that coats should always be conservative, navy or hunter green.

Rob: I don’t look much at a rider’s attire. So long as they wear an appropriate coat and hat, I’m happy.

Q: What do you think of helmet monograms?

A: Julie: I get distracted by them when they are visible or large.

Rob: I don’t care too much unless they are big and distracting.

Q: How do you judge if someone picks up the wrong lead going into a class but fixes it immediately? And with the wrong diagonal?

A: Julie: This is a major problem, especially in the upper level classes. Every detail should be accounted for when entering a class.

Rob: In a hunter class, if a rider fixes a wrong lead quickly, I don’t care. But, in an upper level equitation, that’s a pretty major error. In a lower level class, however, it’s just a few points off.

Q: Do you watch riders in the schooling arena and does that influence your judging?

A: Julie: No, I keep what the riders do in the schooling arena out of my judging considerations.

Rob: I never watch riders or horses in the schooling area.

Q: Do you notice brand name apparel?

A: Julie: Not at all!

Rob: I actually really wouldn’t know the difference in a rider’s apparel.

Q: How much do you look at a riders opening circle? What about closing circle?

A: Julie: I look at the opening circle a lot. It’s where I get my first impression of the rider and horse. For the closing circle, I do indeed look at it because I find it very important because it’s when I finalize my placement of them.

Rob: I like the opening circle to be efficient and not overly time consuming. Riders who meander around the arena must be careful not to accidentally circle twice.

Q: Does a trainer name or barn name influence your judging in any way?

A: Julie: That will never, ever, change the way I look at a rider or the way that I judge them!

Rob: Trainers often try to influence a judge’s score by by hooting and hollering at the end of a round, I find it annoying though. I already have a score in my head as the rider approaches their final few fences.

Q: If a horse is not braided in an equitation class does that influence your judgement?

A: Julie: It’s part of the overall impression, so yes it does influence my judgement.

Rob: I know many judges really care if a horse is braided. But there is no rule requiring a horse to be braided at any level!

Q: Would you rather see a posting trot or a sitting trot when approaching a trot fence?

A: Julie: I like to see the posting trot until three strides out, then a light seat. They should be sitting but still inclined slightly forward, never in a full seat!

Rob: I don’t care if a rider sits or posts to a trot fence, it’s their own decision. Just as long as the fence is executed well.

Q: When judging a flat class, how much do you look at the riders when they are working at will?

A: Julie: That is when I am getting all my numbers down in an initial order, so it is very important because it is my first impression.

Rob: Every judge I know watches the horses and riders as they are in the arena prior to the official beginning of a class. That’s a good time for the riders to “show off.”  Don’t waste your time just walking around too much.

Q: In bending lines, how much of a difference is it to you if they do a flying lead change or keep the counter lead?

A: Julie: If executed well, either is fine.

Rob: Of course it’s better to just land the correct lead, but if either is done well then I don’t mind which they do.

Q: Do you prefer riders to canter directly to the fence or do an opening circle?

A: Julie: Cantering directly to the first fence is not necessary, but it gives them a few bonus points if it is done well. And, I will minus some points, of course, if it is not done well.

Rob: I just depends on if either one is done well, and sometimes you can miss a rider if they go directly to a fence.