It’s hard to believe but the summer horse season is starting to wind to a close. It seems just yesterday we were anxiously awaiting the promises of Spring and its glory.

Soon, we will be attending the season’s final horse shows and gatherings. We have practiced all year and the horses are just reaching their peak performance. The championships of most breeds and divisions seem to finalize each September so these last few weeks of August can be “crunch week” for the horse show enthusiast.

During these final weeks, prior to the championship shows, last minute details can make or break the decision between champion and reserve champion in the show arena. What exactly does a judge want to see in their exhibitors? That is an age-old question and one that merits a lot of prior consideration.

As a horse judge for over 25 years, one of my considerations is that “First Look” as you enter the ring. You have practiced all year, you know your division, now is the time to shine. Present yourself to the judge as a winner. Show confidence as a well turned out exhibitor with their horse.

One of the thoughts that go through most judges minds as we judge a class is “Which of these horses would I most like to ride or own?” That simple question brings the class into focus for us and it makes it personal.

Most horse show classes last only a few minutes, 10-15 being the average. However, you as an exhibitor, only have a few seconds to capture the judge’s eye. From the moment you enter the ring to the moment you leave, your performance must exude ease and confidence. Communication between you and your horse should be nearly invisible. The best riders and exhibitors seem to make what they are doing appear effortless and easy. To achieve this level of confidence you need to practice the little things. Practice your entrance to the ring, your execution of each gait and even practice standing in the lineup waiting for results. These little things create the big picture.

Take a long hard look at yourself and your horse. Have friends take photos and videos of you when you are showing and then critique yourself, harshly. Ask yourself if this person came in front of me when I was judging a class, would I think the horse and rider were prepared, conditioned and confident? If you see some issues that need to be fixed, now is the time to do it.

Look at your overall impression. Are your clothes neat, clean and fitted? Baggy clothes make you look like you are moving even if you aren’t. Present a clean workmanship appearance to the Judge. It does not matter if you have a custom outfit or one “off the rack” it needs to be tailored correctly to your body type. Look at your color of outfit as well; does it compliment the horse’s color and you? Sometimes a splash of color, even if it’s subtle, will make you more memorable to the judge in a large class.

Look at your horse’s condition. Is he fitted, groomed, clean without stains and properly clipped? Are his hooves trimmed and well groomed? Are his saddle and bridle or halter clean and well fitted? The little things make the difference, not only are they a safety issue, but they let the horse perform to his best because his tack fits him properly.

Most importantly, practice your division and know the rules of your class. Know which gaits will be called and what tests will be asked. Do your homework and come prepared to the ring. Exceptional exhibitors allow the horse’s expression to come thru so the entire performance is enjoyable to watch.

Happy Trails!

LORI RICIGLIANO is a horse judge, trainer, riding instructor, equine photographer and clinician. She also hosts a weekly syndicated equine radio talk show “Hoof Beats with Lori”. Lori has held her horse judges license as a USEF / AHA — “R” rated licensed horse judge for more than 25 years and currently operates Ricigliano Farms Horse Training and Riding Academy near Kent, Minn. She can be reached by email or phone for any questions at 218- 557-8762 or riciglianofarms@gmail. com. Her website is www. RiciglianoFarms.com

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