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  • Writer's pictureLiz Moorman

Enriching the Stock Horse Show Community: Empowering Amateurs & Boosting Participation

In the world of equestrian sports, the distinction between amateur and professional roles shapes the landscape of competition and judging within the breed associations like the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) and the American Paint Horse Association (APHA). Recently, there's been a proposal stirring discussions within these associations- a potential rule change allowing amateurs to step into judging roles without compromising their amateur status as riders. While this rule change seeks to enhance the judging pool, it also sheds light on the declining participation in stock horse shows.


AQHA Judges

The Role of Amateurs in Equestrian Pursuits

Amateurs form the heart of the equestrian communities. Their engagement often revolves around personal passion, growth, or recreational pursuits rather than pursuing horseback riding as a profession. This distinction is crucial in understanding their role both as riders and potential judges. Amateurs ride for personal endeavors, enjoyment, and often for the sheer love of horses.


Importance of Amateurs in Judging Roles

Allowing amateurs to assume judging roles within breed associations like AQHA and APHA could bring transformative change. It opens doors for a broader spectrum of individuals with diverse perspectives to contribute to the judging landscape without compromising the integrity of amateur showmanship. This shift would enrich the pool of judges, infusing fresh viewpoints and ensuring fairness in evaluations while safeguarding the amateur rider's position.


Addressing Declining

Beyond the proposed rule change, addressing the decline in stock horse show participation is pivotal. Factors contributing to this decline range from shifting demographics to barriers hindering newcomers' entry. To counter this trend, implementing strategies becomes imperative. Educational workshops, diversified classes, mentorship programs, and inclusive marketing strategies are avenues to rekindle interest and attract a more varied participant base.


Arguments Against Allowing Amateurs to Judge:

  1. Amateur Lack of Knowledge & Experience:

  2. Defining Amateur and Professional Roles:

  3. Potential Bias and Subjectivity:

  4. Substitution for Amateur Lesson Giving:


However, it's important to note that similar concerns exist even with professional trainers serving as judges. The industry already accommodates professionals in dual roles as trainers and judges without impeding fair evaluations. Additionally, judging primarily requires assessing and applying established standards rather than riding professionally.


Upholding Standards in AQHA Judging Approval Process

Becoming an AQHA-approved judge involves stringent criteria:

  • Current AQHA membership in good standing and age above 25.

  • Approval from the AQHA State Selection and Judges Committees.

  • Passing a rigorous Judges Qualifying Exam encompassing rulebook tests, live and video judging, and interviews evaluating expertise in various events.

  • Recertification and continuous education are mandatory.

  • Strict deadlines and limitations on re-application after denials ensure the maintenance of high standards.

  • A non-refundable application fee of $175 is mandatory.


AQHA Halter Class

It's important to note that while the proposed rule change might open doors for amateurs to pursue judging roles, obtaining an AQHA breed card (or any breed card for that matter) remains a rigorous process. Not everyone who applies will be granted a card. The criteria are designed to ensure that approved judges possess the necessary expertise, commitment, and understanding of diverse events within the breed association, maintaining the highest standards of judgement and fairness in evaluations.


Strengthening the Grassroots: Amateurs in 4-H/Open Show Judging

While the proposed rule change might open avenues for amateurs to pursue their breed cards, it's essential to recognize that not every amateur will seek this status. Instead, many might opt to contribute at the grassroots level by obtaining their 4-H/Open Show judging status. Engaging in local shows as judges allows amateurs to be the backbone to every industry (regardless if someone is starting out in the light horses). Assisting this fundamental level fosters a supportive community, and by participating in local shows as judges, amateurs act as crucial ambassadors for their breeds. They not only maintain the integrity of competitions but also serve as approachable figures, encouraging newcomers to join our side of the equestrian community. This grassroots involvement establishes a welcoming environment.


Existing Practices in Other Associations

It's worth noting that several prominent equestrian associations have successfully implemented rules allowing amateurs to serve as judges without affecting their amateur status. Associations such as the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA), National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA), Australian Quarter Horse Association, and the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) have embraced similar provisions. For instance, the NRHA outlines that amateurs seeking judging roles must not have received remuneration for certain activities related to training or showing horses, emphasizing a separation between professional activities and judging roles. This approach has been implemented without reported issues, showcasing the feasibility of allowing amateurs to contribute as judges while preserving their amateur status and commitment to the sport.


Conclusion: Embracing Growth while Upholding Excellence

The proposed rule change signifies a pivotal moment in the evolution of stock horse shows. Allowing amateurs to step into judging roles while preserving their status as riders signifies an opportunity for growth, diversity, and inclusivity within breed associations. Pairing this with proactive strategies to address declining participation ensures a vibrant and sustainable future for the stock horse show community across various breed associations. It's vital to appreciate the rigorous process set by the associations, ensuring that approved judges maintain the highest standards of expertise and fairness in evaluations.



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