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Rachel Kosmal McCart is a lifelong horsewoman and the founder of Equine Legal Solutions, PC, an equine law firm based in the Portland, Oregon area. Rachel is a member of the New York, California, Oregon and Washington State bars and is admitted to practice before the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon and the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Rachel currently competes in three-day eventing.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Unfair Show Judges - Can't We Do More Than Just Complain?

Recently, I attended a large, four-judge Paint Horse show. Typically, with a multiple-judge situation, perhaps only one of the judges might be selecting winners based upon criteria other than their performance, and it's not typically very obvious. However, at this show, all four judges seemed to be playing politics. Sitting in the stands, I was irritated when I saw an obviously lame horse pin fairly high in the Amateur Western Riding, but I was downright disgusted when I saw several off-pattern Amateur Western Horsemanship exhibitors take home points instead of getting the gate. These were fairly deep classes, so there were plenty of other exhibitors to choose from. And working from the wrong side of the cones was certainly not a subtle departure from the pattern. I couldn't help but think that if I, a relative nobody, had been on the lame horse or off pattern, I would have certainly have walked away empty-handed.

The ultimate irony: not even six months ago, I had actually written a letter to APHA recommending that one of the judges be approved for a judge's card. Based upon his training history and success in the show ring, I thought he'd be an excellent choice for a judge, someone with current skills.

All the way home from the show, I considered what I could do, and I was tempted to submit a follow-up letter retracting my earlier comments. But, after the benefit of a good night's sleep, I realized that sending a letter to APHA might be political suicide. While I know from representing a client in a dispute with APHA over a retracted judging card that APHA pays very close attention to feedback received on judges (good and bad), it can also share that feedback with the subject judge. The members of the APHA Judges' Committee also read that feedback, and some of the members might be friends of the subject judge. Sure, I'll go out of my way to avoid showing to that judge in the future, but I won't always have a choice - he may judge the World Show.

Still seething, I wondered what I could do. Then, I remembered last fall's Paint show in Spokane, where the show management had put out comment boxes and readily encouraged exhibitors to submit comments on the show, including what they liked best and least about the show. What a great idea that was! Seeking exhibitor comments at shows would allow management to gain valuable feedback about what they could do to make sure that exhibitors come back the following year and help attract new exhibitors. Surely, in a suffering economy with sky-high diesel prices, attendance is a paramount concern for show management.

In a situation where comments can be anonymous and numerous comments are submitted, there's a real opportunity for constructive feedback. After the show, management can review all of the comments submitted, note patterns and discard obviously anomalous comments, thereby producing a fairly accurate picture. Show management already has the opportunity to submit reviews of judges (particularly temporary judges) to the association - why not make the most of that opportunity by including exhibitor feedback? After all, without exhibitors, there would be no show!


APHA Amateur said...

I have also witnessed time and time again the politics in the show arena at APHA approved shows.
We have shown for over 20 years, some quite successful; however, the judging in the last four years has seriously declined to the point it is ridiculous. I have had novice spectators question the placings of classes with valid concerns. It has become so very blatant and when I had the chance to ask a trusted APHA judge why? He replied that when APHA tried to initiate a scoring system in accordance to their rules of pattern classes(because of all the exhibitor complaints) the judges flat refused to comply. The plan was to make the scoring sheets available for exhibitors to see where they needed to improve plus it would make the judges more accountable. The judges do not want to be held accountable to the standards written out in the rulebook; hence the judges seemingly have taken on an "I don't care" attitude, with no regard for the discipline criteria as set forth in the rulebook.
In my opinion, until APHA EC Board will deal with this issue and make these judges more accountable OR encourage a new set of judges to come forth; the problem will only get worse.
The NCHA fixed this issue in their association, the AQHA is working on it, and since APHA is one of the last associations to "deal with issues" I predict it is going to be at least five more years before exhibitors see a change.
To speed along the process, I would encourage all exhibitors and especially those with video taping of "complaints" to contact each of the Executive Board members; along with APHA.

Amanda said...

Rachel. I hope you still look at the comments from this blog. I have been showing at an open show series in the Cntral Ohio area. All of the judges that come here are pooled from the current Ohio 4H judges list. Recently, I have been to three shows where the judging is so substandard that it is pathetic. In one show, an English flat class was big enough that it had to be split. During the callbacks, the judge returned a rider that had cantered on the wrong lead during the entire ride of the first split. During the final judging ride, she was on the wrong lead for most of the class, but finally fixed it at the end. As if bringing her for a callback wasn't bad enough, he pinned her second for the class. When questioned about his placings, he said "The were no riders or horses that really stood out to me, so I had to choose the best of the worst". I then asked "So you're telling me in a class big enough that it had to go in two splits, every rider was on the wrong lead, or had the wrong diagonal in the trot"? He said that wasn't what he was implying, but I don't know what else he could mean by that comment. Yesterday, we had a jusge in a similar English class pinning reiders in places 2-5 that were doing sitting trots when they never called for a sitting trot, nor is it specified in the 4H rulebboks for this particular class.
Speaking of the lame horses, when it came to the Western classes, the obvious lame horses were pinning all day long here also. I mean these were horse that you could not tell the difference between a walk, a jog, and a lope. Every gait looked the same as the other.
So judging is out of control at the 4H and Open Show levels also.

My question to you is this: Is there any kind of complaint or sanctions that can be placed upon these open show judges that are from the 4H list?

Any help would be greatly appreciated.