Stop the Judge Bashing!

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

BY LYMAN T. WHITEHEAD

Recently, I was honored to be asked to officiate at the WCHR Week 6 Hunter Spectacular in Wellington, Florida. I’ve only had my large “R” judge’s license for a little over a year, so I was very excited to be chosen to be one of the judges. It was an eye- opening experience to say the least. The quality of the horses, the riders, the show itself was truly impressive. As always, it was the best of the best as far as hunters go.

Having competed at “Week 6” myself, as well as being an active competitor as a rider and trainer for over 38 years, I would like to think I have the credentials to identify quality horses and riders.  I’ve been to the rodeo, and I think my record speaks for itself. Those who know me can attest to this.

It was a great week…until the final day… my fellow judge and I were verbally attacked by a trainer and an irate parent. There was a discrepancy in the scoring of their pony due to a mix up between the score we gave over the walkie talkie and the score that the announcer announced. It was a matter of a mistake in communication technology. During this rage, both the trainer and the parent went so far as to call us “cheaters” for allegedly changing their pony’s score.  This confrontation, I might add, was without a steward, thereby violating a USEF conduct rule (see USEF rule GR 1304.13). When a steward intervened, they were shown our judges card so they could see for themselves that there was no “score changing” as they insinuated. Once they realized that their pony’s score was not changed, they pivoted and began to infer that our judging was at fault and the pony should have had a better score. This rant, which went on for close to 45 minutes, was within earshot of our judge’s booth and in full view of other exhibitors.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

As I’ve said, I have been an active competitor in the hunter ring for close to 40 years, so I’m not going to play as if I don’t understand the subjectivity of judging hunters. The hunter is judged subjectively. There is no clock, there is no finish line. There are no numbers of faults on a scoreboard.

Whenever you have something that is judged subjectively, you are going to have differences of opinions. This goes with the territory. As long as there are hunters showing, some people are going to complain about the results.

What my fellow judge and I experienced was not some disgruntled parent having a hissy fit at the in-gate. It was a nuclear meltdown.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

There were verbal threats made, laced with profanity. I have NEVER experienced anything quite like this. I would go so far as to say I doubt many judges have experienced an all out assault quite like this. This behavior is UNACCEPTABLE.

The point of this editorial is not to air dirty laundry. But rather, for exhibitors and trainers to understand that there are well defined rules to be followed if you have a question for a judge.  I can only speak for myself, but I do not take offense if someone has a question after a class. I’m more than happy to help them understand why I gave them the score they received. And, I might add, good manners go a long way.

Exhibitors need to have faith that the vast majority of judges act fairly and honestly.
And all try their absolute best to get it right. If you are in doubt of this, my suggestion is to apply for your judges card, take the clinic, sit with reputable judges that you can learn from, and GET YOUR JUDGE’S LICENSE.

I guarantee, you will change your tune once you sit in that judge’s booth.