Politically Incorrect

Horse Show Ribbons

“Showing is so political.”

“The judge was practicing politics.”

“We’re nobodies so it wasn’t politically correct to pin us.”

How many times have you heard those excuses when your barn buddies come home from a show, ribbonless? They blame it on politics, a reference that has nothing to do with voting parties but more with the ribbons being decided due to favoritism.

Personally, I’ve heard these political comments since I was a kid. More recently I heard it from the mouth of a western pleasure competitor, who was lamenting losing a futurity championship.

“Apparently we didn’t have the right person training our colt,” the woman told me. Right there, in line at the feed store, she was purporting that her tobiano colt deserved the title, but, “we didn’t have So-and-So riding him, and he always rides the futurity winner, so consequently the judge gave the blue to the horse he was on.” Then she shifted her weight to better balance an armful of grooming supplies and added in a hushed whisper, “Everyone knows it’s all just politics.”

I about dropped my tub of psyllium right there. As a horse show judge I can’t help but take offense at yet another claim of politics. Speaking for myself and my judging peers, we make a concerted effort to not care who is riding a certain horse or which trainer is barking instructions from the back gate.

In fact, last weekend I judged a large county-rated show at a very posh show site. A long-time trainer friend of mine, who lives not far from me, brought several horses to the show. When a small flat class entered the ring toward the end of the day, I realized that one of her horses, a little bay gelding, was among the group. He seemed sweet and dependable, but he was outmatched by the competition. When the entries lined up at the conclusion of the class, I started reading the results on my scorecard to the announcer. As I got to the end of the placings, I about dropped the walkie-talkie. The ribbons went to sixth place and there were seven entries. Guess whose horse was the lone entry that left the arena without a ribbon? The one belonging to my trainer friend.

Guess I’ll be dodging her next time I spot her in my local Target, huh?

No. She was good-natured about it. She knew her horse didn’t move as well as the other horses. “We were just here for practice,” she said. “It was important that he behaved in the group, that’s all.”

Now that’s the right attitude to have! And I wish more competitors would be that way. Instead of accusing the judge of playing politics I wish they’d consider the more likely reasons they didn’t win. Maybe the other riders made fewer mistakes or demonstrated superior horsemanship skills. Perhaps the other horses were of higher quality or simply performed better. I know it’s tough to consider those possibilities, but it’s more productive than taking the easy way out and simply blaming the judge.

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Cindy Hale
Cindy Hale’s life with horses has been filled with variety. As a child she rode western and learned to barrel race. Then she worked as a groom for a show...


  1. Ahh, very true. I’ve heard some people say “oh that’s why I don’t show, it’s all politics” well then you wouldn’t be showing for the right reason then anyway. I don’t show for ribbons…I show for the fun, the competition, and the experience for my horse.

  2. Remembering driving hundreds of miles to a horse show where none of us were known and the girls winning handfulls of ribbons – many blue. An honest horse show should use ‘out-of-town’ judges.

  3. My trainer used to tell us sometimes, “Well kids, you just got out rode today.” It was a hard truth, but then we just went home and practiced more. We were never allowed to blame the judge, which I agree seems to happen a lot these days.

  4. I don’t doubt that you are an honest judge, & there are many out there, but there is also definitely politics at play in the showing world. I don’t compete, my anxiety doesn’t allow it, but as an observer at many shows I have seen blatant judging bias towards the ‘well known’ riders or the ‘favourites’. I applaud the judges that don’t succumb to the pressure but when an obviously lame horse beats out a sound, relaxed & accurate horse sometimes it’s hard to have faith.

  5. I recently started showing with a new association and it is very refreshing to see that the judges do not play favorites, everyone walks in on an even playing field!!
    My past show experience was at my county fair, where most of the competitors were riding quarter horse congress caliber horses, saddle covered in silver and crystal crusted western outfits. When you walked into a class you already knew who would take 1st – 3rd because they had the best horses, outfits, and equipment. The rest of us were fighting for 4th through 7th. It was very discouraging, and this is a county fair and should be a learning experience, not a breed circuit. So I see that in certain venues there is some ‘political bias.’ But it is more fun to show in an environment where everyone has a shot and it comes down to who shows the best that day!


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