Judging In North America
When I first came to live in North America, I knew my life would be different, which was one
reason I brought my Welsh Cobs with me. Continuing with Welsh would keep
something familiar and steadfast in my life. Surely, breeding and
showing Welsh would be the same the World over.
One of the first differences I discovered was that in North America judges are paid to judge a show. Coming from Wales, I wondered why this was so as over there this was not the case. Then I attended my first Welsh show. My, what a marathon job it is to judge in North America. Not only do judges judge all breeding sections but ALL performance classes too. Judging in North America is certainly not a job for the faint hearted or unenthusiastic. When I set out to get my judge's card, I also started a learning process that took in far more than I would have ever thought I needed to know.
For halter or in-hand breeding classes, the differences in showing were fairly easy to become acquainted with, although doubtless some exhibitors were horrified at how much I asked them to move their ponies out at the first show I judged. The main differences here were the searing heat (doesn’t get that hot in Wales), dirt rings, and the show facilities. Dirt gives better footing when it’s wet but doesn't have the wonderful give of the grass rings that we use in Wales. Permanent show facilities in North America, as a rule, offer wonderful stabling, fenced rings, wash rooms, etc. This is a striking contrast to the many shows in Wales that are often held in a kind farmer's field with temporary rope rings set up for the occasion and run several classes in a ring at the same time. These classes can be as varied as Shire, Shetland, Donkeys, and section A’s – all with no obvious ring divisions, but woe betide anyone wandering into someone else's space. Then there are the show jumps, already set up for later that day, to maneuver around. In North America, exhibitors have not only just their own breed at many shows but always their own ring – and all to themselves.
The basic run of classes are about the same, except that in the UK, Welsh classes are generally the same at each show, or at least they were in 1993. Each Section has its own judge and its own classes. Geldings are judged with the mares. All the judges and exhibitors know what is expected of them. Classes run quickly and smoothly. Of course, the classes are much bigger in Wales, but then there are a few more ponies over there. Each section has its own judge too, another reason the shows do not run as long.
Clearly, in the UK, judges are expected to do far less than in North America. They do, however, hand out their ribbons (rosettes) personally rather than delegate the task. IF you wish to do more than your one ridden class on your pony or Cob, you can compete in the Open classes with all the other breeds/types, e.g Working Hunter, Show Pony, Show Jumping etc. Another major difference between UK and North America show is that UK judges ride the animals, or sometimes have a rider assigned to them to do it for them. Smart exhibitors will fit the saddle to the judge, not to themselves.
Back to Judging in North America: obviously, I had a lot to learn, so I tacked this task the best way I knew how – by competing, watching, and asking questions.
Since Western Pleasure was alien to me, I decided to get my own cob trained Western by an expert so that I could better understand the classes. This was a lot of fun. I am not the world's top driver, so off went the other stallion, with me in tow, to learn to drive. Then, to learn the ropes and North American terminology, I groomed for a friend at the driving shows in Canada, quite a difference from driving shows in the U.K.
Last summer, I judged my first WPCSA Gold Show in Maryland as the performance judge. Did I know all the rules, as well as I could? I did, but not having been brought up with the varied and overwhelming number of different performance classes held in North America, it was a challenge. Did I enjoy it? I certainly did and also did what any self-respecting judge in any country tries to do, which is to give my best under whatever the circumstances. The first thing I had learned was "unto your feet be true." Standing from 7am to 9pm on hard ground can make even the soundest person lame. Good shoes are an absolute must. Judges walk many miles in the course of a show. Having been on both sides of the show ring, I always make sure that each exhibitor feels that he or she has had my attention. This gets harder after 10 hours but never impossible as long as judges enjoy what they are doing. I know I most certainly do. Anyone considering doing this job for monetary reward should forget it: there are easier jobs that are better paid!!!
Most Gold Shows are double judged for halter. I love this idea because distance between shows is yet another difference from the U.K. where the average show is around 30 to 50 miles away rather than the North American average of 200-400 miles. After the long drive to the show, come the marathon performance classes, which generally run straight after the halter and on through the following day or even days.
I am amazed to see the same Ponies and Cobs coming in such diverse classes as Western Pleasure, Hunter over Fences, and Carriage driving, and competing so well. No wonder we consider Welsh the most versatile breed in the world. Then there is the US division system, or group of three classes, similar in content but all slightly different, e.g. Class 1. Conformation English Pleasure under Saddle, Class 2. Working English Pleasure, and Class 3. Conformation English Pleasure Stake. There is some opposition to this system, but management has to offer certain classes for a show to receive WPCSA sanctioning. Although these classes can become quite boring, it is, in my opinion, up to the judge to make a real effort to introduce as much variety as allowed under the rules. For example, the judge can request different tests to challenge the riders and their mounts. These additions can also make judging somewhat easier.
Judges who grew up with the diversity of classes in North American shows probably find dealing with the vast amount of rules easier than I did. Nevertheless, I believe we can all learn to do new things well provided we approach each task with an open mind and the will to learn.
Judging performance in North America will always be a challenge but an enjoyable one. I will continue to give my best and hope that it meets the high standards set by the WPCSA. Exhibitors work hard to achieve top honours; judges should be prepared to match their efforts. Both are required before a show can be held, and neither will survive without the other.