15 Hunter Jumper Show-Day Secrets from the Judge
Updated May 10, 2023
First, remember judges are human. They are pretty opinionated humans, but still human. They make mistakes, and sometimes after a long day of judging, they reflect and wish they had pinned a class a little differently or didn’t look down at the exact moment a mini-disaster happened. They miss things. Life experiences will impact placing certain riders or horses in a class.
With this in mind, here are the top show-day secrets from a hunter jumper judge’s perspective.
1. Be On Time
Most hunter jumper shows have over thirty classes per day. At 10 minutes for a flat class, 2 minutes for a course, and many un-judged warm-ups in between, the last thing any judge ever wants to do is to wait for entrants to get into the ring. Judges have great respect for those individuals ready to walk into the ring ON TIME.
2. Be Willing to Go First
This one is similar to being late. Be prepared, and please don’t leave the judge waiting to start a class. Be the first rider. If you go first and put in a winning round equal to another, the judge will certainly give the better ribbon to the person who does not hesitate to go into the ring.
3. Trainers – Don’t Yell During Classes
For example, yelling “no,” or “change it,” or “diagonal,” “wrong lead,” or “more heel.” The list goes on and on. Of course, the level of the horse show will decide how much the judge ignores these comments. However, these comments can actually draw attention to a rider on the wrong diagonal or lead. Obviously, if it becomes a life/death situation, then, by all means, yell instructions!
4. Don’t Run Over the Judge
The judges won’t miss you riding too close. It’s hard to miss with the dust flying and won’t get you any extra points. Unfortunately, they will assume the rider cannot steer or needs more practice with “floor craft.”
5. Perfect “Floor Craft”
In ballroom dancing, there are certain dances that “travel” around a room, and in those dances, the “leader” needs to constantly be watching other partners and trying to predict dancers’ moves to avoid any collisions. It takes practice and experience to really get good at this. Riders need to practice this more. If a horse has to break because another rider cuts them off, the judge will penalize the pair who did the cutting and ignore the pair's break.
6. Stay Positive
Judges can only judge what is in front of them. They miss things, especially in large classes. Some horses will also show better than others. Don’t be discouraged—keep showing! Every judge has their own opinions, but it’s just that— their opinion.
7. Check Legal Equipment
Check with your organization's rule book if you have questions about tack, equipment, or show clothing. Keep in mind, some judges have certain pet peeves when it comes to equipment. Some judges don’t like spurs, while others don’t like bats/whips/sticks in certain classes. These are opinions and have nothing to do with the rules.
8. Wear Gloves
A rider without gloves doesn’t bother some judges but will bother others. Wearing gloves is so easy to do that it’s recommended when appropriate.
9. Wear Clothes that Fit
You don’t need to purchase a pair of $400 breeches, but make sure your show clothes fit well. Otherwise, your outfit will only detract from the look you are trying to present to the judge, making it more difficult to judge equitation classes. Look for form-fitting, neat clothing, boots reaching to the knee, hair properly captured under your helmet, etc.
10. Check for Lameness
Please put your horse’s interests first. If your horse’s soundness is questionable, keep him at home. Some horses will come up lame at the showgrounds. If this happens, contact a farrier or veterinarian and scratch them from the class.
11. Review Your Overall Look
Come with clean, neat, presentable tack. Your horse should be well groomed, of good weight, have a healthy coat, trimmed whiskers (depending on your discipline and show organization), mane appropriate length for discipline, etc. If you need help with pre-show grooming, speak with your trainer or riding instructor.
12. Keep Your Horse Sweat-Free (Summer heat aside)
The summer heat has a big impact on this particular tip, but it is hard for a judge to ignore a lathered horse entering the class. They will wonder why the horse had to be ridden to that point before entering the ring. Now, if you are riding in the middle of summer, the judge will understand why your horse is sweaty.
13. Make Numbers Visible
Please make sure the judge can see the entry number. Pin the number on your back or to your saddle pad for easy visibility. Not seeing numbers is a major pet peeve for judges. They either have to ask for the number or not include that rider in the pinning.
14. Do Not Chew Gum
Gum is very distracting and can be a choking hazard while riding. If you are chewing gum, make sure to remove it before mounting or entering the class. As it is a choking hazard, most riding instructors have a rule against chewing gum in the saddle, too.
15. Mistreating Horses
This goes without saying. Quickly disciplining a misbehaving horse is one thing, but there is a line between that and excessively correcting. Be careful not to cross it, as it will not be tolerated. The horse always comes first.