Chatting with the judge: Amy Franks

Learn more about MI 4-H horse show judge Amy Franks’ personal perspective on her favorite classes, pet peeves and best piece of advice she’s been given!

I’m excited to share with you all a new series of Michigan State University Extension interviews with some of your favorite horse judges from around our state! I was lucky enough to spend a bit of time with one of these industry professionals last week, Amy Franks. Amy is a long-time member of the Michigan 4-H Horse Show Judges List and lives with her family in Paw Paw, Michigan. Her “day job” (when she’s not horsing around) is teaching Physics and Life Sciences at Portage Middle School. Here’s what Amy and I chatted about!

Taylor: What's your favorite class to judge and why?

Amy: Showmanship is my favorite class to judge because it allows me to have the most interaction with the exhibitors. From the moment the showman is ready and waiting at the cone to when they have completed the pattern, there is continual and first hand interaction with the exhibitor and horse. Because of this, I will rarely have a ring steward do the close inspection. I also love seeing the connection between the showman and horse. Great teams take a lot of work, which becomes very apparent in showmanship.

Taylor: What are your favorite things in that class that help the top exhibitors shine for you?

Amy: Things that I enjoy seeing in showmanship include a showman with his or her horse properly set up at beginning marker ready, waiting for my nod with that look of confidence that says they are here to win the class. When the pattern begins, I immediately look for the exhibitor’s hand on the lead. I get really excited when I see a soft connection between the showman's hand and horse’s lead as they navigate through the maneuvers, as though the lead is not even there. I also enjoy seeing a brisk, business-like walk, if the pattern calls for it. Slow, dragging walks are not exciting to watch. Correct set up for any breed is also very important to me. I am surprised at how often I see poor set ups and penalties accordingly. I also appreciate a business like presentation from exhibitors where every maneuver has a purpose. Exhibitors who use the pattern markers consistently throughout also earn high marks on my card. I am also a fan of brisk backs, when called for. Nothing sets apart a pattern like a horse and showman team who can back quickly, smoothly and correctly.  

Taylor: What trend in the show industry would you like to see leave anytime?

Amy: A trend in the horse industry I would like to see leave are age inappropriate show attire. For instance, this year, I saw a rise in “corset-like attire” in the 13-15 and 14-18 year age groups. Personally, I found it very distracting and noticed I was not watching the rider and horse as closely as needed. Instead, I was contemplating why a young girl was wearing a “blinged out” corset. I am a fan of simple elegance. I do appreciate the beautiful crafted showmanship and horsemanship outfits, but it does not make a pattern any better.

I still find coaching from the rail very distracting, especially at the 4-H level. Personally, I feel that if you need to be coached outside the rail at a 4-H event, you must not be ready. Often times, the coach or parent “helping” does more harm than good, especially when I hear someone yell, “Wrong lead!” That seems to happen at almost every show!

Taylor: What is the best piece of advice (in regards to the equine industry) that you've ever received?

Amy: The best piece of advice I was given was to never take your eyes off the pattern. In showmanship or horsemanship, once the pattern begins, I will not take my eyes off the run. The moment you drop your eyes, you can miss something. Showmanship and horsemanship patterns are so well executed these days that one cannot afford to look down for even a second.

I was also given some good networking advice early on in my judging career. The advice was to take any job you are qualified to do, even if it means costing money out of your own pocket. My first couple of years on the list, I remember traveling to the other side of the state many times for shows that put me in the red. However, it helped make many connections within the industry and helped to get my name out there. Consequently, more jobs followed because of this.

Amy, it was such a joy to hear your thoughts from the middle of the show arena! Thank you so much for sharing! Stay tuned for the next article in this series with judge Jennifer Kiser.

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