Why I Love Judging Trail Classes

Trail Class

I’ve previously expressed my deep love of judging leadline classes, but I also have another favorite set of classes to judge: trail.

Some judges dread trail classes because they “take too long” and are “sooo repetitive,” but I put trail classes near the top of my list of favorite classes to judge. Why? What’s to love about the humble trail class?

Just about everything. Here are just some of the reasons that I love judging trail.

It’s Relaxing

I know it’s not relaxing for the competitors, but as the judge, trail classes are about as good as it gets. At the smaller, local shows, trail classes are usually held last, so after I’ve stood in the sun and judged all day, it’s rather nice to find a quiet spot with a nice view and sit down (yes, sit!) to judge the trail classes. The slower pace of the classes provides a nice balance with the whirlwind of pleasure classes earlier in the day.

It’s Inspiring

Every class has its elements of teamwork between horse and rider/handler, but that teamwork is especially evident during trail classes. The combination of trust and bravery is truly inspiring. It takes bravery for a horse to enter the ring and approach new obstacles, and it requires a trusting relationship with its rider in order to navigate the obstacles safely. The same is true of the rider—trail classes require bravery and the ability to trust the horse. As a judge, watching these relationships never gets old.

It’s Interesting

Junior trail, senior trail, lead-a-pony trail, leadline trail—every class is different and interesting and a delight. I enjoy watching the reaction of a green horse as it encounters a new obstacle for the first time; I love seeing the bored expression of a been-there-done-that horse as it placidly plods over the hundredth wooden bridge of its career; I love watching a horse’s ears prick with interest when the envelope is procured from the mailbox and waved around for my benefit. I love the expressions of concentration on the face of a rider and the encouraging pats on the horse’s neck when the class is over.

Trail Class

Actually, when it comes right down to it, I think the only thing I don’t like about judging trail is when one of the obstacles requires navigating a gate, because that can get somewhat—how shall I say this?—tedious. It’s an obstacle that just seems particularly difficult for many horses. So I don’t exactly cry when I discover that the trail patterns don’t include a gate obstacle….

Samantha Johnson is a freelance writer and the author of several books, including The Field Guide to Horses, (Voyageur Press, 2009). She raises Welsh Mountain Ponies in northern Wisconsin and is a certified horse show judge. Follow her on Twitter: @miraclewelsh.


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