When I was twenty one, I joined the Colorado State University Horse Judging Team.
I had always wanted to know everything there was to know about horses, so a program that was all about learning to evaluate horses seemed like a perfect fit for me. What I did not realize, at least not at first, was that collegiate horse judging is as much about public speaking as it is about actually judging horses.
And I was really, really, really not good at public speaking.
No joke. The semester I spent on the judging team was hands down the hardest and most stressful semester of my entire college experience. Probably I should have dropped out, but I am nothing if not persistent. Also, I really wanted to go on the Spring Judging Team Trip.This trip was a week long deep-dive into the world of top level Quarter Horses. The schedule included stops at a couple shows and some of the most prestigious ranches in Oklahoma and Texas.
This was truly a best of time/worst of times week for me. On the one hand, I loved the exclusive tours of amazing facilities. We met several famous horses, including Impressive...
this was before anyone knew about HYPP...and Special Effort, winner of the 1981 All American Futurity.
We judged reining horses at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma...
and world champion halter horses...
at Ted Turner's barn in Gainesville, Texas.
We toured the Lazy E stallion barn...and visited the legendary Poco Bueno's grave.
It was an amazing horse filled week.
Except... I never, ever got comfortable with giving reasons. And unfortunately for me, giving and defending reasons is the essence of collegiate horse judging.
I put on my judging blazer and tried my best. It wasn't good enough. I did fine as far as placing the classes went, but I got nervous and flustered when presenting my reasons. I ended up finishing in the bottom half of the individual competition.
Most of my teammates did better. In fact, CSU ended up sweeping the entire competition. That's me in the front row holding one of our trophies. I got that position because I'm short, not because I had any part in the victory.
My semester on judging team was not a successful one in the traditional sense of things. I tried so hard to be good at this, and I just couldn't get there. It was truly demoralizing.
Despite that, I've never regretted the experience. I learned so much that semester, both about horses and judging. I wasn't able to apply most of those lessons at the time, but I use them now every single time I step up to the live show judging table.