Why Local Horse Shows Lose Good Judges

Photo © Lauren Mauldin


For the last fifteen years, I’ve judged regularly with my USEF ‘r’ (HU/HE) license. Living in north central Vermont with few other judges around, I often have to drive a good distance to judge. I offer horse show managers a discounted mileage rate to keep costs down, because I love judging. I’m fortunate to have regular clients, and believe I serve a purpose in the part of the world where not everyone wants to drive – especially in winter.

Recently, someone asked me to judge a show in Pennsylvania in May, but I had to turn them down. It wasn’t due to lack of interest or a time commitment, but rather that I’m not eligible to renew my license this year.

You see, none of the shows I’ve judged have been USEF rated. As an ‘r’ judge, I judge small horse shows whose numbers are declining. In order to save money, many have chosen not to affiliate with USEF. In the past, needing the credit for my judging jobs had never been a problem. I just focused on the horses, and didn’t notice when every single one of my jobs became unrated.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

As smaller shows shrink and disappear, IEA and IHSA become stronger and more popular. I judge many of these shows, especially IHSA, and work with some of the top programs in the country. While these two organizations have formal relationships with USEF, judging IEA and IHSA does not count towards my license accreditation. The dichotomy didn’t make sense to me, so I wrote a letter late last November to the USEF Licensed Officials Committee regarding my situation. Although I have followed up requesting the courtesy of a reply from the Committee, to date, I have not heard back from them.

A USEF employee emailed me back originally, stating that the subject of allowing IEA and IHSA judging jobs to count towards license requirements had come up before, but was always dismissed. They granted me a license extension in 2018, but I was warned that it is not a good idea to ask for an extension more than once.

Then life happened, as it often does. My eleven-year-old son has epilepsy, and he was on a risky medication regime for much of last year when he needed 24/7 supervision. I could not make a push to find rated jobs as I didn’t know if/when I’d be available to travel.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

I know my place as a judge in this industry. I serve small shows in the northern areas where not many others want to travel. When my kids are older I plan to seek my big “R” license, but until then my jobs have to be mainly school, college and unrated hunter/jumper shows.

In one month last year, I judged Dartmouth College IHSA, Skidmore College IHSA, horsemanship at the USHJA Horsemanship Quiz Challenge Nationals, and St. Lawrence University IHSA. These were all quality shows, but none of them counted towards my license. Despite being hired regularly by such institutions, USEF does not consider me legitimate.  If the goal is to revitalize horse shows and grow membership from the grassroots up, shouldn’t controlling the quality of judges willing to officiate at that level be important?

Looking at USEF’s response and the way the rules are written, I see the writing on the wall. I will give up my license this year. I’m sad about it, but it appears I cannot win this fight.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

As I shared the news with horse shows I’d worked with before including Cindy Ford at Skidmore College and Mary Dreuding at St. Lawrence University, they expressed frustration. “I can’t believe they’re letting a good judge go on a technicality,” Cindy told me.

I can’t believe it either, but here we are. The next time you’re frustrated with the judging at any number of the wonderful local shows around, remember how hard it is to find and keep good judges.  There are a lot of reasons it’s hard to find great judging at that level, but this technicality should not be one of them.

Lilli is a lifetime, passionate equestrian who enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience with all levels of horse enthusiasts.  She is a former professional rider and trainer in the hunter/jumper business who is looking forward to stepping back into the Adult Hunter show ring as an amateur this year.  Lilli lives on her family farm in Waterbury Center Vermont with her husband, two children and beloved horses and ponies.