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!