Horse show tips from the judge’s perspective

Learn what the judges are looking for at the horse show!

Have you ever wondered what the judge was thinking under their cowboy hat? Well, I recently sat down with Michigan 4-H horse judge, Marc DeLisle, to discuss what things looks like from the judge’s perspective. It was a great chance to learn some do’s and don’ts for the show ring! Here’s what Marc had to share:


1. Be clean and neat. You don’t have to have the super expensive outfit, just be clean and neat.

2. Be prepared. Good results don’t come from working with your horse once a month. Develop the relationship between you and your horse to its fullest. Your horse has to trust you before they can perform at your expected level.

3. Watch classes that are before yours and look for signs of what the judge is looking for; (straight lines, pivots, turns, etc.). You can often learn something from exhibitors who are successful. Watch the YouTube playlist on Horsemanship Drills from Horses – eXtension.

4. Take time to break patterns up and look for key points to concentrate on. Long straight lines might mean straightness is important. Lots of turns and/or pivots might mean sticking your pivots is something that a judge is specifically looking for. Again, watch the classes before yours and make mental notes of what the winners did.

5. Measure your own performance prior to hearing the judge’s placement. A good judge will see good rides and will hopefully reward you for it, but remember judges are human too, and despite their best efforts, they may miss things. Be sure to evaluate your own performance and think of the judge to be an additional opinion.

Do not’s

These are things that will not disqualify you, but things that need your attention.

1. Don’t use your hat as a pillow because you slept on the way to the horse show. A poorly shaped hat makes for a rough first impression.

2. Dirty horses Scrub your horse! I understand that there are lot of “come as you are” shows out there. But if your horse decided to lie in its “dirty spot” and has a huge yellow spot on his barrel, this doesn’t help your show ring impression. 

3. If you are that person that is constantly playing with the reins or jerking on your horse’s mouth, stop! One correction hurts, but the next one gives you a one way ticket to Gatesville (meaning: You’re not placing under this judge). Train at home, not in the ring.

4. Do not be late! It’s always frustrating to wait for someone that just wasn’t ready or was day dreaming. “I will never forget listening to the gate person call a number three times and looking up and seeing her back to me just outside the ring. She was in a deep conversation with her friend that had already gone. I finally walked across the ring and leaned on the fence to ask her if she would like to play in our horse show today,” said DeLisle. “When she realized I walked halfway across the ring to ask her. She was embarrassed and totally blew her pattern. A lot of judges would just disqualify her and shutMark DeLisle, Michigan 4-H horse judge the gate.”

Looking for the Michigan 4-H horse judge’s list? Visit

Have any questions you’d like answered by a Michigan 4-H horse judge? Email them to Taylor at with the subject line: Newsletter judge question.

Marc DeLisle is a respected member of the Michigan 4-H horse judges list and Michigan 4-H horse judge’s advisory committee. Marc volunteers much of his time to Michigan 4-H and supports the numerous educational events throughout the year such as; 4-H Equine Educational Expo, 4-H Benefit Clinic, 4-H Hairy Horse Show, and much more!

Did you find this article useful?