The Joys Of Judging Horse Shows

Judging a horse show at any level is no easy task but it’s one that most of the time I thoroughly enjoy. I enjoy seeing the different horses and spending time with horse people. I also enjoy getting the opportunity to impart any nugget of information I’ve been blessed to pick up and sometimes I’m the one that gets to pick up a new nugget or two of wisdom.While it’s true that you can’t always please everyone you can always use judging as a learning experience. Sometimes the riders learn, sometimes you learn and sometimes you both learn.

Last year I judged a horse show at the Tri-State Exhibition Center in Cleveland, Tennessee. The show was hosted by the Reinbow Riders to benefit the Therapy program there. You can get information about the Reinbow Riders at:

To my surprise, there were several draft horses that were shown under saddle in Western Pleasure and Saddleseat. While I knew that draft horses could be ridden, I had never seen a full blooded draft horse shown under saddle. Just thinking about judging them gives me cold chills. Not only were they extremely well mannered, but when they jogged or trotted out it was almost magical. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a horse present with as much power and presence as those horses did. To make it even more special, some of them showed in both Western and Saddleseat. They managed to adjust their strides and headsets beautifully for each, which is no easy task.

Photos courtesy of Christina Stewart –

Saddleseat Clydesdale Reinbow Riders Show
Saddleseat Clydesdale Reinbow Riders Show
Western Belgian Reinbow Riders Show
Western Belgian Reinbow Riders Show

This past weekend, I judged for the Smoky Mountain Horse Show Series at Stonegate in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was a full day starting at 8 in the morning. The day started with Hunter and Jumper classes and then progressed into Trail, Western, and Gaited classes in the evening.

This show is one of my favorites to judge for several reasons. One is the friendly atmosphere. The show management is always a lot of fun and the contestants are always very friendly and gracious. Another reason is the complexity of the obstacles. They offer more than the typical course set for trail and jumping which also provides an even greater atmosphere for horses and riders to school and learn. It’s not often that you see a course of this caliber at open shows.

View From The Judge's Booth
View From The Judge’s Booth

Another reason, and probably the main one, that I enjoy this show so much is the opportunity to help riders learn.  It’s not uncommon to see kids less than 5 years old in the ring. They’re generally very eager to learn and I tend to have a lot of fun with that. But it’s not always just the tiny kids that I get a chance to help. Sometimes it’s the teenager that’s never shown before that’s obviously a nervous wreck and isn’t sure what they’re supposed to do. This show lets me take the time to help those kids smile and relax and learn how to enjoy showing horses and in the end, that’s what is important.

If you’d like to see some pics from the Smoky Mountain Horse Show you can visit Keith Mooney Photography:

Smoky Mountain Horse Show series is run by Matt Lawson , Ashley Jenkins and Krystle Bridges. The show is located at two farms in West Knoxville. If you would like to see Keith Mooney’s pictures from the Smoky Mountain Horse Show Series you can visit:

Do you have a favorite show that you like to compete at? What is it about the show that you like?