Hunter/Jumper Judges’ Pet Peeves

Thanks, Horse
Displays of good horsemanship, like thanking your horse after your round, will give a positive impression to the judge. Read on to find out about some show ring habits you should avoid.

While horse show judges frequently offer tips on what constitutes a winning performance, they rarely reveal what annoys or disturbs them. Two popular horse show judges shared the little things that irk them. Nancy Frost judges hunters, jumpers and hunt seat equitation and Jolene King officiates at western performance and reining competitions. Here are a half-dozen of their pet peeves:

1.  Schlocky attire.

The rules for attire at schooling shows are rather slack when compared to the traditional clothing expected at rated or circuit shows. No one expects competitors to rush out and purchase $1,000 worth of designer clothing to compete at a schooling show. But tank tops, t-shirts with logos, jingly-jangly jewelry, dirty boots and mud-encrusted half chaps have no place in the show ring, even at schooling shows. Surely, riders can do better. “Show some respect for your sport,” states Nancy Frost.

2. Obscured number cards.

After all the time and expense of preparing for a class, why do so many competitors neglect to properly secure their number? Attention to such a minor detail is important, whether the number is displayed on the rider’s back or on the saddle blanket. “Please, no slapping, flapping, crooked numbers. If I’m straining to see your number, I’m not watching your performance,” explains Jolene King.

3. Fashion trends run amok.

“Low rise breeches are all the rage right now, especially with junior riders,” says Frost. “But they can create a sloppy appearance if the tail of the rider’s show shirt creeps up and outside the waistband. I’ll be judging an equitation or medal class, where presentation and polish is so important, and here will be this rider with her shirt tails hanging out under her huntcoat.”

4. Circling and circling and circling.

In a large or hectic class, sometimes it’s necessary to cut across the arena or make a circle to avoid disaster. But if overdone, the rider begins to look out of control. Frost calls it, “Circling the wagons or playing cowboys and Indians.” Instead, she suggests avoiding collisions by coming in off the rail and maintaining a straight path that parallels the track of your competitors. “That’s called using the quarter lines of the arena,” she explains.  “Once you’re past the traffic jam, you can then rejoin the rail.”

5. Poor sportsmanship.

Emotions can get tense at a horse show, but there’s never a reason to take your frustration out on your horse. “While judges are trained to stay ‘in the moment’, nonetheless displays of poor sportsmanship are hard to forget or ignore,” offers King. “Besides being abusive toward the horse, it projects a poor image of our sport to spectators.”

6. Lack of preparation.

Every class has criteria that a judge uses to evaluate the performances. Competitors should know the specs before entering. Though trying new things is admirable, entering a class that requires some expertise on a whim (or a dare) is frustrating for the judge and tedious for the other competitors who are waiting their turn. “I’ll be judging a trail class and I’ll have riders who really have no clue about how to approach a bridge or open and close a gate,” says King. “It makes me wonder: ‘Did they even practice this at home’?”

Though they’re trained to be professionals, judges are only human. A first impression is often a lasting impression. Consider these pet peeves next time you compete and you’ll have a much more successful horse show.

Liked this article? Here are more insights from horse show judges:

The Softer Side of a Horse Show Judge

Dressage Judges’ Pet Peeves


  1. These peeves make so much sense that it should really be common sense to observe these basic rules. I always wonder why anyone would even consider entering a show without observing these points – I mean, don’t you want to be prepared for and look good at a show?

  2. I’m a Junior rider and I wear low rise breeches, and I was watching the video my mom taped of me in the horse show, and my shirt was hanging out! I’ll have to be more carefull next time. I don’t think the judge saw it because I placed first in my equitation class out of 12 riders!

  3. The rail thing is true. I always have to pass people in western pleasure because their horses are barely moving but i am not going super fast either.

  4. i have seen people who only want to win and when they finish their round, they hand their horse 2 someone else and wait until they see how they placed. if they didn’t place well, they will ignore their horse and do even worse:(

  5. It is horrible how people just ride there horse in a class and do nothing else with it at show. I understand that if you are in your show clothes and are going back into the ring like next asking somebody else to haul the full bucket of water(it always seems to splash on you), pick out your horses hoofs, or apply any enhancers or hoof polish. But if you are going to a show bring clothes to wear over your show clothes to groom, tack, and do the rest of it while you have time between classes.

  6. Your right , there is this girl i know , but i am her friend. She got 2nd and 3rd and she cried and whipped her poor horse Shy. Plus that horse isn’t even her , they she got mad and her mother go and pay the judge some money. My best friend saw it! but we had to go and get ready for the next class but the next class she won! but it was a pleasure class , i hope NONE of you riders do that!!!!

  7. I’m not a judge but I had to add in my pet peeve. When schooling your horse everyone should go the same way. Last show I was at the other students I ride with were going on direction schooling, then more people came and went the other direction. It was insanity and I left before anyone ot hurt. But really, let’s not be dangerous.

  8. My pet peeve- Seeing riders who don’t pay attention to there horse. It could be a schooling so or a high, “A” circut rated show- This is your teamate. Do the best to make sure that he is safe, happy and comfy. Don’t just hand him off to someone else while you go and gossip with fellow riders. The horse comes first!

  9. I was schooling at an open show and there were many other competitors in the ring. My horse bites, so he had his red ribbon in his mane. I called out my line and about three strides away I get some pony kid run right up my butt and jump the same time as I did. Then her trainer compliments her on how good that jump was and how that was the best jump of the day.

  10. Having shown both schooling and for a brief time a circut. Pet peeves include “stealing someone’s jump” I had a girl on a pony try that with me( my horse was extremely pushy) so after three times of almost head on collisions because she was to busy looking AT the jump, I allowed my pushy, big guy to play chicken w a pony… Bad sportmanship and wouldn’t recommend it however saw her a few years later and she not only remembered me but thanked us. Also, going the same way and calling in your place. ALWAYS call to your left if in warm up and cutting in to use the angles of the arena… Nothing worse than being cut off by a horse, especially one who bites. And DONT hand your horses off. I totally agree. My guy was MY BEST FRIEND and fortunately I loved being around all the horses I worked with. And always have your DAD check your gear for cleanliness, they pick up on mud or horse poop on your boots before mom ??

  11. How about a Hunter working on a loose rein with its head at its knees like a robot western pleasure horse? Hunters and Jumpers should have heads up and alert and looking ahead and forward-looking for that next jump on a rein with light contact.


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