I got a phone call the other day from a ‘concerned parent’. She had taken her daughter to a 4-H horse show (and they have been few and far between this year) and was extremely unhappy with one of the judges. In 4-H, the shows run on a ‘Danish’ system of judging which means for each class each child is placed blue, red, or white- depending on the performance of a horse and rider. A blue ribbon means hardly a mistake was made, red ribbon represents one or two mistakes (possibly a missed lead or broken gait in a class) and white ribbon means you need to go home and practice some more. The judge is always available after the class to answer any questions a child may have regarding their performance, what they did correctly and ways to improve.

I personally like this way of judging which encourages the youth to “Make the Best Better” (the 4-H Motto). For instance if you got a red ribbon in reining, maybe you ought to go home and practice the maneuvers you had a struggle with and go for that blue ribbon next time. The youth (in a sense) are competing against their own performance!

The State 4-H program has embraced a new method the last two years of evaluating a judge’s performance….good or not so good. If three complaints come in, a judge is notified, and possibly taken off of the judges’ list. Anyone can file a complaint or a “grievance”…uncle, aunt, by-stander, youth, grand-parent, etc. Is this fair?

Running my own business, I totally understand that it is very seldom the people that are “happy” post a good report on your website. The 3 or 4 complaints I have had in the last 10 years were nonsense, and cameras prove it. Does someone in the audience watching only their child in a class see the comparables as well as the trained eye of the judge? Do they understand a cross-fire, hallow back, or that a “slow” horse is not always a “four-beater”? Usually not.

The last two years I have served on a judges’ committee to schedule judges for our county and region. Many do not want to come any more. The pay is low, and sometimes a judge is asked to travel a long way. Due to Covid this year, there are no concession stands to offer a judge a soft drink or even a burger after a long sweaty day in a hot, dusty arena. Many are not happy with the evaluation process after the show.

We have had instances in our county where judges were arrogant, rude, did not follow or know the 4-H rules, and were showing up late and leaving early. Even talking on a cell phone while they were judging. The show committee should address these issues.

I believe a “check and balance” system is ok…once in awhile…but we need to be careful, because the pool of judges who feel criticized and not appreciated might not come back to help again.

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