Chatting with the judge: Rich Fitch

Michigan 4-H horse show judge Rich Fitch shares his personal perspective on his favorite classes, pet peeves and the best piece of advice he’s been given.

Ritch Fitch judging a horse show. Photo credit: Rich Fitch
Ritch Fitch judging a horse show. Photo credit: Rich Fitch

I’m excited to continue a series of Michigan State University Extension interviews with some of your favorite horse judges from around Michigan. I spent some time with one of these industry professionals recently, Rich Fitch. Here’s what Rich and I chatted about.

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

Rich: My favorite class to judge would be equitation/horsemanship classes. I really enjoy watching youth work with an animal that outweighs them by several hundred pounds, guiding their horse to do whatever the pattern requires. It is amazing to see how young people can do the different maneuvers while working as a team with their horse, whether walking, backing, turning or doing whatever else the patterns requires. Seeing the correct leg position, watching the rider's hands on the reins, observing the bond between this team is a beautiful sight.

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

Rich: What makes the top showmen shine in this class is the way those riders never stop showing to the judge. Be a wrong lead, a bauble in their turn or they forget to do the pattern perfectly – the fact that those riders continue as if they are not fazed by these errors is what determines that they are the top showmen that day. My motto is "never let the judge see you frown."

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

Rich: I guess the trend I have always had problems with would be the "fancy clothes" that riders feel they need to wear to impress the judge. I think the gaudy clothes are pretty, but often a detriment to those riders that cannot afford them, especially in western classes. The sparkles and bangles are so costly and certainly not necessary for showing a great moving horse. A good example of this is judging the fuzzy shows, with no show clothes, but clean horses.

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

Rich: The best advice I ever received was from my dad. My dad was a dairy farmer and a carpenter. He really did not like horses at all. One day, when I was about 14, I was riding Buddy, my grade gelding. He reared up with me, so I unsaddled him and put him back in his pasture. When I went into the house my dad asked me why I was done riding so quickly. I told him the story of the rearing horse incident and he said, in a very stern voice, "Get back out there, saddle that horse up again, and ride him. If you don't fix this problem, he will always rear up so he can avoid work." I remember these words from him every time I feel like I want to quit any activity. He was a very wise man and my goal is to be like him.

Thank you so much, Rich, for spending a bit of your time with me. I loved hearing some of your thoughts!

For more in this series:

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