It seems as if there is a lot of controversy concerning judges these days. There are comments being tossed around questioning everything from the judge's integrity to their consistency. There is no doubt that, in recent years, there have been unfortunate situations in certain shows. Nevertheless, until you have been in the arena, with all that responsibility on your shoulders, I submit that it is difficult to understand what that lonesome figure in the center of the arena goes through in selecting the places for each horse.
In the next few paragraphs, I will try to share with you some of my experiences and the philosophies that I developed on the way to becoming a carded judge. Everyone's reasons for becoming a judge are different and they are the result of that person's life experiences. Those experiences then affect how each individual performs under pressure in the selection process.
This is my perspective.
The main reason I wanted to be a judge was because of my deep love for the Peruvian Horse. I have been accused by both American and Peruvian breeders of being a total addict. The other reason was because in 15+ years of being in the breed, although we have made some very wonderful friends, we do not have particular associations which could be perceived as being in anyone's back pocket, and we do not need any particular entity approval per se. Therefore, as I started my student judging, I committed myself to always picking the best horse as I saw it, regardless of rider, breeder or owner. I'm sure that I have made mistakes, and will make mistakes again in the future, but at least they will be sincere ones. I will guarantee that when you are in the arena as a judge, the pressure will be there to influence you in a subtle manner (and sometimes not so subtle!), by those of reputation or fame, and unless you have made a firm commitment ahead of time, the temptation to waver could overcome you.
I decided from the start to do as many student judgings during my training as I could. I wanted to have as much exposure from as many different judges as possible. This philosophy proved to be extremely wise and rewarding. I served under the following individuals during my time as a student judge: Ms. Angie Schmidt, Ms. Mimi Busk-Downey, Sr. Alfredo Elias Vargas, Mr. Charlie Brooks, Sr. Manuel Mazzi Casas, Sr. Fernando Ceruti Cogorno, Sr. Luis Vasquez Nacorino, Cheryl Hymas and Olaf Hein. In addition, I served as ring steward and interpreter for Sr. Jose Antonio Dapelo Vargas, which in essence served as another student judging opportunity, since I was able to observe and learn as he judged. My methods for judging today are based on the results of all the hard work, time and money invested during that training. I can honestly say that I learned from every single encounter. Both in what would work for me, and in what did not fit me. For those of you who have been in the breed for some time, you know what a large number of years of experience are combined in these individuals. It was this opportunity and exposure which allowed me to begin putting together my own philosophy and methodology. The other advantage to availing myself of as many student judging opportunities as possible is that I received exposure to a very large number of horses from all across the US. The fact I had never seen many of these animals before helped in practicing my criteria and methodology.
As I spent time with these individuals, I had a sense that these were very special times because never again would I have an opportunity to be in this unique relationship, that of a student judge. Because I understood from the beginning that judging required a great amount of concentration, I decided on a very specific approach to the time I would spend with these people. As a matter of habit, when I met them initially at the show and was introduced as the person serving as the student judge, I made the following statement to them. "Esteemed sir/madam. I am looking forward to spending these next few days learning from you. I would like for you to know ahead of time, that I will never initiate a conversation while you are judging. This is out of respect for you and because I do not want to disturb your concentration. However, I do not want you to interpret my silence as a lack of interest, because I am here to learn all that you would so graciously teach me. If at any time you have any questions or comments that you wish to share with me, I would be more than happy to discuss all that you want concerning these wonderful horses that we all so dearly love." In every instance they were extremely grateful and what usually happened was that they approached me and ended up discussing most of their decisions with me as the show progressed. I think the reasons for this are several. One is that I spoke Spanish fluently and the Peruvians felt extremely comfortable speaking in their native language about their National treasure. Another is that judges, regardless of nationality, each in their own way, love and admire the Peruvian Horse for the treasure that it truly is. Therefore it was only natural and enjoyable to discuss with someone else the thinking, weighing, and evaluating process.
Interestingly enough, it was here that I first began to experience some of the "flack" I had frequently been forewarned about. On a couple of occasions, people actually objected to the show committees because they could see the judge and I speaking with one another and they disapproved. I found it difficult to understand how these individuals, knowing that I was there as a student judge, expected the experience of teaching/learning to take place without conversation between Mentor and student. Even more surprising were the innuendos concerning what undo influence I might be exercising in the placings. I will never forget what one of the judges replied when approached by a representative of the show committee in regards to speaking with me. The judge said "I am here to judge and teach. If you think that Angel may influence my criteria then maybe you should have had him judge the show and I could have served as the student judge." There were some other choice words said by this and the other judge involved in this type of incidence, but out of respect to their confidentiality, we'll just leave it there.
As many who know me have heard me say more than once, when you are out in the ring you see, hear, and feel things that you don't from the outside, even hanging over the gate or sitting right on the rail. And if most of us are addicted to discussing our horses in any and every other situation - it shouldn't surprise anyone that the opportunity to observe, evaluate and discuss these wonderful animals with individuals whom I respected was, indeed, a great opportunity and experience!
I have now been a carded judge for several years and every time that I get the opportunity to judge I continue to learn something new. My experiences have been varied; I'm sure that I have pleased some, and that there are others that have not been so pleased. There are only a few neck ribbons available and therefore not everyone receives one. I can say that I have strived to give all exhibitors that have presented under me a positive experience, and have gone out of my way to give each and everyone a GOOD look in each class. As an exhibitor myself, there is nothing more discouraging then to feel that the judge did not even look at you once. The other thing that I strive for is to always have a reason as to why I place one horse over another so that if I am asked later, I am able to give a logical explanation for the placings. This is something that I learned during my time as a student judge, not everyone always has a reason as to why they do things. At least not always a concrete reason that they are able to articulate.
I firmly believe that one of the major responsibilities that a judge carries into a show is to guide, give direction and teach. If the judge doesn't execute, both by word and deed, in a manner so that this responsibility is carried out, then he/she has failed. These are times of change and transition that we live in. We must continue in our effort to guard the traditions and qualities that have made our wonderful horse what it is today. Judges are at the front lines, and therefore carry the major responsibility. We continue to need those of strong personal ethic and character to join in this commitment against the forces of personal self agendas, and of others who are well meaning but misguided. Becoming a judge is hard work and the task is, for much of the time, thankless. Nevertheless, for those who are truly in love with the Peruvian Paso, it is a higher calling, and therefore a responsibility that is discharged with pride and honor. For all of my like-minded colleagues, my heartiest congratulations and encouragement. For those who are thinking of joining the ranks, count the cost, and if you are willing to make the commitment, come on aboard and join us in this wonderful responsibility. If I can be of service to anyone interested in becoming a judge, or answer any questions, feel free to approach me or call me at anytime. I'm at your service.