Thursday, May 9, 2013

Judging clinic

Recently, my friend and fellow performance enthusiast, Susan Hargrove, conducted a very interesting judging clinic on her Postitively Perfect Performance blog.  Here's the official description of  the Zippo ProjectThe premise here is to judge a series of entries in a Western Pleasure class where everyone is using the same model.  By removing the horse from the equation, there is no "I don't like Zippo" or "Oh, I love this model so he'll be first" basis for placings. The judging will be based strictly on the correctness of rider and tack.

The class was judged by four separate judges, who gave very detailed reasons for their placings.  Although long, the comments are well worth reading, as they provide a lot of insight into how nuances of presentation affect overall impression.  Kudos to Susan for setting up this most wonderful teaching tool!

And yet...  

When I judge performance, presentation is not the first thing I assess.  My primary emphasis is on the horse's actual performance--what he's doing and how well he's doing it.  In my world, performance always trumps presentation.  With this in mind, I decided to set up my own virtual Western Pleasure class where everything but the horse has been removed from the equation.  

The first entry is Breyer's Huckleberry Bey.  
Breyer #1473 TS Black Tie Affair, Huckleberry Bey mold, photo by Breyer
Although Arabians do show in Western Pleasure, Huck is not a Western Pleasure candidate.  He's much too high headed, he's moving far too fast, and that knee action?  That's not what the judges are looking for!  Compare his frame to the two Arabian Western Pleasure horses below, and the problems should be obvious.
photo by Heather Moreton
As far as I'm concerned, there is no way that even the most accomplished performance shower with the best tack and dolls, can turn this horse into a winning Western Pleasure entry.  Not surprisingly, he goes straight to the bottom of the placings. 
photo by Heather Moreton
The next horse is the Breyer Strapless.   At first glance, she seems almost as unlikely a Western Pleasure horse as the Huck.  After all, she's a braided hunter doing a long hunter-y trot.  I would argue, however, that in the right hands, she's a viable Western Pleasure candidate.
Breyer Strapless mold, repainted by Danielle Feldman
For starters, the braided mane is a non-issue.  Western Pleasure horses can be shown with braids.
And that big trot?  Many shows do require entrants to perform an extended jog.  Granted, the typical extended jog is not as big or as fast as Strapless' trot, but the difference is not enough to eliminate her completely.
Here's where presentation can make or break an entry.  Strapless is a fairly borderline Western Pleasure mount.  With poor to average tack, a straight-out-of-the-box Breyer doll and no documentation, she's going to join Huck at the bottom of the class.  For the purposes of today's class, I'm placing her third.  However, she could easily move up a notch with an upgraded, well fitting tack set, a stylish and good riding doll and some expertly tailored documentation.  
The third entry is Breyer's Giselle.  This is a fairly generic type horse performing a pretty average trot.  She doesn't scream Western Pleasure, but she's close enough that it's tempting to show her in typical show ring Western Pleasure set-up.  I know because I've done just that.  My entry looked nice, but the NAN cards went to horses which were better suited to that type of competition.
Breyer #711111 Stage Mom, Giselle mold
Were I to do again, I would show her in Ranch Horse Western Pleasure.  This flavor of Western Pleasure is a much better fit for her raised head, tousled mane and more active gait.
Once again, this is where presentation takes precedence.  Giselle has the ability to be a fine Western Pleasure mount, but she needs to be set up properly.  I'm placing her second today, mostly because I think she's more innately suited for the class than the horses behind her.
The last entry is Breyer's Zippo Pine Bar.  This model was specifically designed to represent a modern stock breed Western Pleasure horse, and it shows.  Everything about Zippo says Western Pleasure.
Accordingly, there's no special secret to showing this model in a Western Pleasure class.  Just add some tack and a doll and he's ready to go.  Assuming those items are of at least average quality and there are no major errors, this horse easily tops today's naked Western Pleasure class.
In summary, this class had a clear winner, a close middle pair and an obvious loser.  It's possible that differences in presentation (i.e. tack, doll) could affect the placings, particularly between the second and third place horses.  However, nothing is going to make the fourth place horse a winner, and it would take a fairly large error (and extreme excellence on the part of one or both of the middle pair) to knock Zippo out of the top position.

Judging performance is a juggling act, with a multitude of factors affecting each decision.  Hopefully this post, as well as the Zippo Project that inspired it, helps give some insight into some of the things that can make or break an entry.


  1. Phenomenal!! I was greatly impressed by your blog entry today. Do you think you could do one on Proper breyer OF's for English and Jumper? Thanks!


  2. These were very informative! Thank you!
    If you state that a horse and rider are in beginner walk-trot-canter equitation, can they place in an English class? Or would judges just see this as a person being lazy with their entry?

    1. I'm not sure I understand your question. I have no issues with a Western Pleasure or Hunter Under Saddle entry being "recycled" into an Other Western or Other English class as an equitation entry. Although the classes may look superficially similar, they are judged using entirely different criteria. I would not want to see a Western Pleasure class entry paired with documentation about Beginner Equitation, however.

      Does that clear things up or just make them more confusing?

      When in doubt, you should always ask the judge. Most judges have no problem fielding "which class should this go in?" questions!

  3. Great article! I loved the "Zippo Project", and when i judged it myself, i came fairly close to what the judges picked. I had the #1, he was rather obvious, and then others were spread out. I hope they have another thing like that. Could you possibly do something like it? Just give five horses or so, and let us practice our judging skills? I would love to judge, but i need some more experience. Thanks!

  4. Awesome Post as always and I'm so happy that I got to be a part of it :)

    Heather M

    1. You have no idea how much I appreciate your photo library, Heather. I always know that I can rely on you for exactly the right picture!

  5. Thanks for the link to the Positively Perfect Performance site, I had forgotten about it! One of the most common entries we used to see in the UK in Western Pleasure was the ISH, which I never rated that highly since he's staring off into space. How would an ISH fit in with your placings?

    1. I'd put the ISH in the middle group, probably closer to the bottom than the top. On the plus side, he's a pretty model and the right type for the class. However, he's standing (and some judges don't like to use standing, and worse, he's inattentive.

      Still, it's not an impossible pose. A lot of classes do ask the entrants to halt on the rail, and I have photos of them standing there in much the same position as the ISH. Ideal? No. Unplaceable? Also no.

      As usual, it comes down to presentation and relative merits of the competition. In some classes, a well dressed ISH probably deserves a good placing. At bigger more competitive shows, he's likely to be left by the wayside.

  6. Really enjoyed this post, Jennifer - would love to see more of them!