Ask The Judge


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Lauren Asks

I have had my 16 yr. old Arabian quarter horse for about 4 years now. When I bought her she was kind of a "just for fun"; horse, until I started getting serious about showing. In four years i have taken her from not placing to getting firsts at 95% of our shows. Last year, we had a confused jump spot and went sliding into a fence, and after that she lost all confidence. I decided to join 4-h for a little extra practice jumping in the show ring, and she's excelled beyond belief. However, well I was there I was looking at the western pleasure horses and I'm very interested with it. I have my horse to a nice quiet jog. However, when i ask for the lope, she well only 3 beat for a very very short time and it is often not very slow. when I try to bring her back to me, she tosses her head up and stops. I love her to death but getting really frustrated! Please Help!

thank you,
lauren and polo

Judge Anne Johnson's Reply

Hi Lauren,

Congratulations on all of your success with Polo. It sounds as if it is the job she likes the most. I'm the first one to say anything is possible but it would be unusual to take horse from success in show jumping to western pleasure. Usually they are built quite differently for their jobs. Plus, your mare is 16.

Since she has a nice jog and will lope for a few strides, I would suggest doing just that in a round pen. Jog, transition to the lope for two or three strides, ask for the jog. Polo  is probably more used to long strides for jumping and gets anxious or physically uncomfortable for what you are asking for right now. And your seat and riding position might not be quite western yet either.

Actually, I have a client right now with a similar horse. This mare actually could go to a show in walk trot western pleasure but loping or cantering slow is just about impossible for her because of her jumping background and large frame. So, as another option, you might walk trot classes and see how it goes.

Good luck and thanks for giving me such good information.

Anne Johnson


Millie Asks

I am a 50+ rider just entering the showing world with my 10 yr. Arabian gelding after being a 4-H show mom for years.

I am doing hunt seat with him, but would like to show him halter. I cannot find out what I am supposed to be wearing to do this! He has a well-fitting show halter so he is set. I see exhibitors in hunt seat clothes, sweats [shudder], and a few in blazers. IS there a apparel? I took him in our first class in a "C" show with what I thought would be okay, but felt my Western showmanship outfit [minus the hat] should have stayed in the trailer. We've done our work and are prepared to show, I just want to look "correct" while doing it. What would a judge want to see...I just want to be able to move easily and not show my arms to the elbows when I set him up!

Thank you for any help you can give me!

Judge Anne Johnson's Reply

Hi Millie--

Way to go! It's great after all those 4H years that now you are getting into the show ring.

There aren't any specific rules on your attire for showing Arabian halter. I think it's important to wear something you feel comfortable in and something that compliments your horse. No glaring distractions.

I've seen people wear beige or yellow with a grey horse, for example, and it makes the horse look dull and dirty. Sometimes, when people lift their arms to show the horse, their top is too short and they are showing a lot of skin, too!

Black slacks and boots/shoes are always a good bet. Sweaters, jackets, blazers with some color are all good, too. Neat hair, number pinned securely, good accent jewelry all complete the picture. Unless you are showing a stock type horse with a heavier halter, I would stay away from the western showmanship look. If a horse is shown hunter, braided with a bridle in showmanship (and there are adult showmanship classes), then wear your hunt outfit.

Hope you have years of fun!

Anne Johnson

Mel Asks
I have a 2 yr old palomino QH with an amazing mane and tail. The long, thick, and stark white kind! I plan on showing all around with her, especially reining and western pleasure. I have always traditionally pulled and banded, but I really don't want to with this mare. Is it against "the rules" at stock horse shows (like APHA & AQHA) to leave the mane long? Also, do you think it will cause any decrease in appeal for her in a western pleasure or showmanship class?

Thank you!

Judge Anne Johnson's Reply
Hi Mel

Keep it long and beautiful! And if anyone wonders, you can point out all of those great reining and working horses that have it just the same way. There is a point that it can get too long or too heavy and distract from the appearance or cause safety issues (horse steps on tail). So you have to exercise some judgment and plenty of care. I'll bet you are going to have a great time showing her!

Anne Johnson


Sara Asks
Hi my name is Sara and I have a six year old American Saddlebred Mare. This is the first year I have really shown her. I ride her huntseat because she doesn't seem to have to motion for saddleseat. I'm wondering what the judges are looking for in a hunt seat saddlebred. Some judges seem to really like there head set longer and lower and some cranked right up in a frame. My mare is about in between and didn't know what direction I should go with her. 

Thanks Sara

Judge Anne Johnson's Reply
Hi Sara

I think hunter pleasure and hunt seat equitation are overall two of the most poorly judged classes. (Not that I have a strong opinion on the subject!) So I understand your confusion.

You seem to understand what your mare can and cannot do and that's a great start. Think about what a hunter should be able to do---long sweeping strides to go cross country, range of motion to jump. If a horse has its head all cranked up, it can do neither. The head and neck serve as a balance for movement. 

Focus on what is correct and what is specified in the show rules and not on what a judge might want. In your training, make sure your horse is supple, responsive, drives from the hindquarters, performs the transitions and gaits to the best of her ability. Choose judges that have a reputation for knowing the difference. Then you'll do just fine. 

Thanks for your question,
Anne Johnson

Emily Asks

Hi my name is Emily. I've just started riding hard core about 2 years ago. I'm 15 now but started riding at the age of two. I am training a 6 year old Polish Arabian now and i seem to have my hands full. He was doing great at first, but now he barely lets me put his bridle on and he cringes once i throw the saddle up on him. I love him to death but I can't seem to handle his roudiness anymore, he's thrown me off a couple times, injuring my head and back. What can I do to calm him down to make him rideable, without making me injured for life?? Also he is extraordinarily fast and I want to do speed with him, but its his first year, should i take the chance on him becoming hot??? Please help me!!!

Judge Anne Johnson's Reply


When situations like this develop, I think you need to objectively consider the source of the problem. Is it physical, training, or attitude?

First, find out if the cause is physical (needs work on teeth, sore back, lameness, etc.). Horses respond in the way you described because they are trying to get away from pain.

Training--maybe he has been rushed in his training or does not understand what you want. Maybe you are not communicating correctly with him. In "loving him to death" you may have spoiled him so that he does not respect you. Horses are not pets.

Go back and examine what originally was working when he was going good and then what changed and when and you might have your answer. With issues like this, I have my students start over from the ground up. Slowly. That can mean respect, responsiveness and calmness from the very basics of leading, lunging, tying, stall manners, etc. If it's an attitude or training problem, it generally shows up right there. My students don't get back on the horse until everything on the ground is going perfectly. Often, it is simply the way they have been communicating with the horse.

Once you start riding him again, take it slow and keep training sessions short, productive, positive and a happy experience for both of you. So you both will be looking forward to the next time!

Good luck,
Anne Johnson

Roberta Asks

I went to a horseshow last month and couldn't believe what I saw: professional trainers smiling and looking for the judge while riding, I thought only students did that. That is distracting and I am sure the judge did not like it. As a judge, do you like when riders are constantly watching where you are?


Judge Anne Johnson's Reply

Dear Roberta,


The judge has a responsibility to stay away from arenas and show grounds prior to judging and during breaks should be sight unseen. Courteous smiles and hellos are fine but beyond that, it can become a problem. And for those exhibitors who persist in "showing" their horse before the show, well, it also gives the judge a chance to observe the faults, too!


Tiffany Asks
I started showing AQHA when I was 8 I was on the congress team every year until I was 16 I got out of showing when I got married . my husband and I have recently purchased a great impressive bred gelding, I am training him myself, the problem I'm running into is the inconsistency in what the judges want. I have gone to some shows to see what has changed, some places not much as far as the horse is different but in others it is, also I have seen women in some very inappropriate clothing any help would be great i would hate to break and train the little guy only to have to change it all.

Judge Anne Johnson's Reply
Frustrating isn't it?

Years ago, a friend of mine had a daughter competing in a beauty pageant. The trend was overdone pastel gowns and equally over done big hair. In the finals, her daughter came in with a very simple black gown, a soft hair style and small ruby earrings. She won the contest hands down.

I love that story. 

When it comes to choosing show ring attire, always select something that you feel good in and compliments you and your horse. You'll show better. Sometimes you'll see people showing in things that went out of style in 1963 and you wonder if they have seen a horse show since then. So don't go to that extreme either!

As far as preparing your horse, know the written rules, class specifications and breed standards and show accordingly. Trends can get crazy. Judges can have a bias or simply be wrong. Go with what is correct and what your horse can do. Select the shows and judges that have a record of getting it correctly, too. 

If you are doing it right, don't change to go with the crowd or what a particular judge wants that day. And don't quit...enjoy getting your horse out there!

Anne Johnson


Charity Asks
I was wondering if you had any tips on slide stops. Do you want to back up after every stop. I have an Arabian mare that would be  great in reining, but we can't afford to send her to the trainers so we're doing it ourselves. I've started her on it, spins, rollbacks, and stops, but i was wondering if you had any helpful hints that will get her to dig in and "sit" better. Thanks for all your help!!!!!

Judge Anne Johnson's Reply
Hi Charity-

Conformation will determine how a horse can stop. Generally this means you want strong loins, a long hip and good hocks. So begin by observing how she stops naturally on her own and what she's capable of doing.

You need arena footing and shoes that allow the horse to stop correctly for reining. Visit with your farrier and local trainers for suggestions.

Attend a reining show, ask lots of people about how to train for a good stop and you'll get lots of different answers! But there are some common basics. One, make sure you are riding balanced and that she is moving straight and balanced. Give your stop cues when the leading leg is under her body and the hind legs are suspended. I think backing her and immediately loping her off in a collected fashion will help you get her using her back and hindquarters but I wouldn't back her after stops too much. It can take away from rewarding her for a good stop and pretty soon, she'll back up when you don't want her to. Don't over do and know that your training can effectively progress a little at a time.

This can be a terrific learning experience for you and your mare. If you have the opportunity, try taking a lesson from a good reining trainer on one of their horses. 

Reining is rapidly growing just about everywhere. There's a lot happening with it in the Arabian industry, too. I happen to have my mare Bonita San Olena going to the Scottsdale Half Arabian Reining Futurity in February and there will be about 45 horses in that class alone. She'll be shown by Randy Paul who just won the NRHA Futurity in Oklahoma City. Now, I think that will be a lot of fun! But it also shows a blending of interest across the breeds.

Hope you have a lot of fun with your mare, too!

Anne Johnson

Vernette Asks:
I have shown and ridden for over 40 years. I graduated from the Morven Park International Equestrian Institute in 1982. I am working with 4-H now, and I feel I am fighting an uphill battle, as the trend especially in quarter horses is to four beat at the canter/lope. Please help me get the word out. The canter/lope is a three beat not a four beat gate. It sickens me to see these horses winning championships when they are unable to do a correct lope. The only way to change this trend is for judges to stop placing these horses. Slow and collected is good, disengaged and four beating is bad. Please help.

Vernette Ohlinger

Judge Anne Johnson's Reply

I'm with you 100%.

This year, I took two of my young students to the Paint World Show in Ft. Worth. We were watching a western pleasure class from the end of the arena. At the lope, every horse was jammed up to go so slow the only way they could even move was on a two track. Not one was going straight, much less doing a true three beat lope. It was obscene. These are terrific horses and they all were asked to look crippled and lethargic. It's the training, riding and judging.

People need to keep in mind what a western pleasure horse is enjoyable ride that will get you somewhere. My goodness, if you were on a ranch riding one of these, the cattle would die of old age and the girl would be married off before you ever got there! It's my opinion that a good share of the newer trainers and owners have not had the opportunity for the practical uses of horses and are more inclined to be arena riders. Trends get started and the judging perpetuates them. If you have a class of nothing but four beaters or two trackers, you have to place them unfortunately. I've attended judges seminars from a variety of breed associations and every one of them tell you not to use four beaters. Sometimes there's just a disconnect,
politics, or no other choice the way it looks.

Recently, I spoke with one of the top trainers of AQHA World Show western pleasure champions about this very subject. He felt people were moving away from the four beating, artificial trends and producing horses that move. I hope so. At all levels, if just a few do it right and win, it may change.

You've raised a terrific and frustrating question. People at all levels need to take responsibility to be better educated on this subject and get it right. Thank you so much for opening up this topic.

Anne Johnson

Hannah Asks:
I have a 7 year old Arabian mare that I am training. I've had halter trained horses before, but this is the first time I've attempted to train one myself. I've gotten her to where she will set up great, but I don't know how to keep her in that pose, with her neck stretched out. Do you have any tips!? Thanks for you time.

-Hannah and Kyrah

Judge Anne Johnson's Reply
Dear Hannah and Kyrah,

There is a process in training halter horses just as there is for performance horses. Several steps are involved and you make sure each one is solid before going on to the next one. This is a bit over simplified but might give you some ideas to work with:

1. Reinforce the "whoa" command . Whoa means whoa with no extra steps or movement.

2. Teach her to plant her hind feet correctly and stay there. To get the favored "split", walk her and watch the footfall of the left hind foot. As it leaves the ground and is arcing to land, say whoa. She'll plant it and move the right hind forward one more stride.

3. When that's solid, give her the command to "step" sideways with her front legs. This will move them out from under her and get good body position. Moving the horse forward will usually get them to start walking and you loose everything.

4. Reinforce whoa.

5. By bumping upward on the halter, you'll set her back on her hindquarters. Then get her attention for ears and neck. Don't pull forward or stretch too much. She won't tighten her back and the shoulders can appear straighter than they are.

6. Lots of reward when she does it right! And quit when you are ahead...don't over do it!

Anne Johnson

Chalise Asks:
Hi my name is Chalise and I was wondering what type of braid would work well with a six year old Friesian? He has a very long and wavy mane and tail but I was mainly wondering if there would be any need to braid the tail for barrel racing?

Thank You,

Judge Anne Johnson's Reply
Hi Chalise-

Friesians are so distinctive with those great manes and tails! I can't think of a need to braid his tail unless you were trying to grow more length. Or he was knocking over barrels with it or stepping on it! I'd say, enjoy his look unless it is somehow getting in your way, then braid the tail and/or mane for safety. 

Anne Johnson

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