Animal judging – Horses

This series of articles will introduce animal judging – what it is, the life skills it helps youth to develop, where it can take youth and why everyone should try it!

The 2014 MSU Horse Judging Team. | MSU Extension
The 2014 MSU Horse Judging Team. | MSU Extension

This is the third article in a Michigan State University Extension series discussing how animal judging benefits 4-H members now and in all their future endeavors. Taylor Fabus, visiting instructor in the Department of Animal Science and coach of the MSU Horse Judging Team, provides insight on the collegiate horse judging program. Fabus has been coaching the horse judging team for 6-7 years and started assisting with the team when she was completing her master’s degree in Animal Science.         

Melissa: Can you briefly describe what horse judging is?

Taylor: There are two basic types of classes a student will evaluate in horse judging: halter classes and performance classes. Halter focuses on the structure and conformation of the horse: how sound they are, how ideally they are expected to move, how well they “work” in terms of riding or other activities. Performance classes evaluate the quality of movement of a horse and the ability of the horse and rider to work as a pair. Within each of these, there are a variety of classes where horses and riders can exhibit their specific skill set.

Melissa: As a coach, what are the biggest benefits you see for individuals who judge?

Taylor: Confidence for one. Whether someone’s opinion is 100 percent in line with what the officials decide or not doesn’t matter. When giving reasons or deciding the class order, you have to commit yourself to the decision, be proud of it and be ready to defend it. Judging is also a great way to gain content knowledge about horses, see what judges are looking for, and become a better exhibitor and spectator when you aren’t judging. In addition, being a member of a judging team provides new networking opportunities with other students and faculty members from universities across the U.S., as well as horse industry leaders. The Animal Science Department and MSU as a whole recognize the value of judging teams, as they are considered one of the capstone options for students to graduate.

Melissa: What has been your favorite part of coaching?

Taylor: Getting to know the kids is the best part! I love seeing them grow and learn so much in just a few months’ time. It’s very exciting! Coaching is one the most enjoyable parts of my job, especially considering I didn’t know this would be part of my job. In addition, I learn a lot from my teams. I’ve learned who I am as a coach and teacher, how I coach, how to work with the students to have them perform at their highest level, how to be a better equine exhibitor, and how to maintain a personal-professional life balance with my family, my teaching responsibilities and my coaching.

Melissa: Does the team travel? If so, where?

Taylor: Yes, we do travel to compete in contests. There are two major contests in the fall: the All-American Quarter Horse Congress in Columbus, Ohio and Arabian/Half-Arabian Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The travel is a great opportunity for students to meet peers who also judge and to see parts of the country they might not have seen before. All together, the team members miss about two weeks of classes in the fall, so they must learn time management and teamwork quickly. They must also communicate with their professors to make arrangements to make-up missing assignments, quizzes, etc. from classes.

Melissa: Besides content knowledge about horses, what other skills are developed in judging that will benefit individuals outside of the arena?

Taylor: Confidence. Every student learns and develops a skills set that includes public speaking and communication skills, which will help them with school, a career and everywhere!

Melissa: What career possibilities can come from horse judging?

Taylor: Being a horse judge can be a full-time international job, but it’s rare for students to purse this. Really, the skills the students develop help in any career path, especially if the individual wants to work in the horse industry. No matter the career team members pursue, they will use all the important skills they developed with judging: communication, public speaking and confidence.

Melissa: What if a 4-H member wants to start judging before attending college, where should they start learning about and practicing judging?

Taylor: Many counties have 4-H teams. If not, they are very easy to start and there a lot of great online resources. It only takes four people to create a team or a youth may compete as an individual. At the state level, there is a horse judging workshop and mini-contest on February 6-7, 2015 at the MSU Pavilion. Another opportunity is the Equine Educational Expo (E3), which hosts our state-level horse judging contest (along with hippology, horse bowl and communications) and will be held April 17-18, 2015. The other great thing about horse judging is that anyone can do it! This is a horseless horse project, so it can be a great introduction to equine science for a youth wanting to learn more or youth who do not have the space or means to care for a horse.

Melissa: Would you recommend 4-H youth try judging before they go to college?

Taylor: Absolutely, yes! It is a dream to have team members who judged in 4-H take it to the next level at MSU. These individuals could be mentors early on in judging and help less experienced students. We are starting to see this more and more in the horse judging program and it’s very exciting!

Melissa: Thank you Taylor for taking the time to share your experiences as the MSU Horse Judging Team Coach!

Next in the series will be an interview with Dr. Joe Domecq, coach of the dairy judging team. Other articles in this series include Animal welfare judging and assessment and livestock judging.

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