British Equine Collectors' Forum

For All British Model Horse Collectors

Holding a Photo Show

Please Note: This was written as a guide to holding mail in photo shows, where you post off hard copies of photos to the judge. Some of the advice here is also very useful if you wish to hold a Online Photo Show.

Photo shows are great fun to hold - you get to see other people's collections, good and bad, and get a good idea of how to improve your photography. You can also see what the competition is like, which can be valuable.

If you wish to hold a show to make money for yourself - DON'T DO IT!

If you are sure you are responsible enough to look after other people's photos and return them on time and want to have fun, go for it!

Holding a photo show can be very rewarding, but the Golden Rule is BE PREPARED!  Some of the following may sound a bit daunting, but don't be put off.  As long as you know that to expect and what to do, you shouldn't go wrong. We will give you guidelines to work in and around, but you can only find the method that suits you best by having a go.

Decide on the size of your show

Holding a show can be very time consuming: first you have to sort entries, then judge them, sort them again and do the results.  The more classes you have, the longer it takes.  It will take a good afternoon to judge 10-20 classes, depending on entries. If you are inexperienced, then 10-20 classes would be an ideal starting point and should not be too overwhelming. 

Class list

Choose your classes with care and pick classes you feel confident about judging.  Do not include classes for breeds/events you know nothing about, as you will only make hard work for yourself and upset your entrants if you bodge the judging! 
It is not a good idea to make your classes too open. A class such as Open Stallion will bring in Arabs, Thoroughbreds, partbreds, natives, heavies, etc., and even an experienced judge would have a difficult time weighing the merits of a partbred Morgan against a pure-bred Arab. Open classes also attract a large number of entrants, which makes the job harder. 
However, do not go to the extreme opposite, for example by having a class for Greek Stallions, as you would be hard pressed to get one entry.  Pick popular breeds or have a show with a theme, e.g. native ponies.  A general mixture of breed classes will normally get a good level of entries.  Another way to make judging easier is by dividing the show into separate sections for Original Finish and Customised models, so that like can be compared with like.

Advertising the show

You need to advertise the show.  Smart adverts always give the appearance of a professional show and will grab those extra few entrants.  It is best to advertise in places like MHU, you can also advertise in club or society newsletters, or you can advertise on the internet in groups like the American based online model horse community known as Blab, or on one of the many Facebook groups like the British run model horse page British Model Horse Collectors.

Show rules and fees

You will need to have rules for your show, i.e. number of entries, closing date, judging date, etc. The closing date is important - always make it a minimum of 10-12 days after the publication date of the magazine that you advertise in.  This will then give people time to get their entries sorted and sent to you.  On the other hand, do not make the date too long after the magazine comes out.  Model people are notorious for forgetting things, and this can often happen with shows that have been advertised in the previous month's magazines!  If no closing date is specified, then showers will assume that you will accept entries right up to the day of the show.  It is best to choose a weekend, as you will only get one delivery of post.  (If you receive the first post and start to judge the show, and then the afternoon delivery turns up with more entries, you can find yourself in a mess.)  Alternatively, judge the show in the evening.  If you set a closing date prior to the show date make it a maximum of 3 days before, as any longer will mean you will be keeping photos too long.

Next you must decide on your entry fee. This is entirely up to you. It will depend on what awards you are offering, and the size of the show.  Make sure you charge enough to cover your costs. The main expense will be the awards, if you decide to offer any. Some people like to give commercial awards, but whilst these are often popular with newer showers, older ones tend to find them a bit of an embarrassment (even if you have only been showing a couple of years you can accrue quite a quantity!) and so tend to prefer shows without awards and thus lower entry fees!  Don't forget that getting the results photocopied can also cost a lot of money. Commercial copying can cost between 5p-10p per side for A4.  If you or a friend have a generous boss who will let you/them use the photocopier at work this can be a real saving.

The most common entry fee is the set fee, e.g. £1 for unlimited entries.  You can also charge per photo or per photo per class.  If you choose the latter, it will encourage those who only have one or two photos, but in turn could put off seasoned showers with a lot of photos. To stop this happening you can put a ceiling on the entry fee, for example, 10p per photo per class up to a total fee of £1. This will stop the less scrupulous shower flooding the class, so that no one else gets look in. If you wish, you can limit entries to, say, five per owner per class: this can make life easier when it comes to judging, as it means you don't have to sift through hundreds of photos in each class!

Always insist that full details are on the backs of photos, especially the owner's name and address.  Do not judge a photo that lacks this vital information!  Apart from the model's name, the breed should always be stated.  Something that you think is an excellent Welsh D could be showing as a Welsh A!  The convention is that all details including the customiser's name, and that of the photographer, should be given. If the owner's name is not on the reverse, use a pencil and note it down on the photo back.  If you find at the end of the show you have a photo with no name and address, put a note on the bottom of the results stating the model's name and make, and ask the owner to send an SSAE for it to be returned.

Two rules that are so basic they are sometimes taken for granted apply to ridden classes.  These are:

  • All ridden entries must be 4 years or over,    
  • No brood mare may enter Ridden classes. 

Remember to include these on your schedule!  Having said this, try to keep your rules basic, clear and simple?. Over complicated rules put people off!

Receiving the entries

When the entries arrive, there are various ways of dealing with them.  The best is to open the packet to make sure everything is there, including entry fee, SSAE and, most importantly, photos!  If all is present and correct, carefully file them all together in a big carrier bag or cardboard box.  If the SSAE or entry fee has been forgotten, you are quite within your rights not to enter the photos, or you could enter them and ask for the missing items when you return the results etc.  It will be very unlikely that the photos are missing, but then again it has been known! 
ALWAYS check that the number of photos in the envelope matches the number stated on the packet.  If no number is given, count them carefully and make a note on the SSAE.  This will ensure you return all you receive.

You may like to sort entries into their classes as they arrive.  Use a separate envelope or similar for each class and make sure the class number and name is clearly marked on it to save confusion on the day.  Always keep entries safe and away from damp and wet.  Pets, especially rodents, can be another source of destruction, as can young children.

Photos are expensive and time-consuming to produce, so look after them well.  If for some reason any do get damaged, then write with an apology and enclose £1 per photo to pay for a reprint.  NEVER send a damaged photo back without an apology or compensation.

Judging the show

The first thing to do, if you have not already done so, is to sort the photos into their classes. Make sure the surface you use, whether a table or the floor, is clean and dry, and that no one (animals included) is likely to come barging in on you!

There are numerous criteria to bear in mind, but basically conformation, breed type, condition of model and photo should be taken into consideration.  A good book on breeds is an essential for the novice and experienced show holder alike - Elwyn Hartley Edwards Ultimate Horse Book (published by Dorling Kindersley) is a very helpful reference for breed descriptions.

Armed with your trusty breed books and all the knowledge you have ever gleaned about breeds and conformation you can start to judge.  As you look through the entries, keep these principles in mind:

  • Don't be fooled by fancy customs: they may look good, but can have more serious conformation faults than some OFs.
  • If you have a particular favourite make or mould, be honest with yourself: it may be your favourite, but it could have some bad faults.

Some people are expert photographers, and bad models can be glamorised, so look carefully!  However, if you have two identical models, or two of equal quality, then go for the one with the better photo/set up.  People who take the trouble to present their models well should be rewarded for their time and effort. Remember, though, that photos aren't always taken by the model's current owner, so be sure to check for a photo credit before making your decision!

Ridden classes are difficult.  Not only is the horse important, you must take the tack and rider into consideration, too.  A bridle should have all its parts - you may decide to forgive the lack of a noseband, but should not accept a missing throatlash or browband (except when using manufacturers own tack, e.g. Magpie, Julip, etc, these usually do not have a throatlash on their bridles.).  The bit should appear to be 'in' the mouth.  Reins should be neither too short nor too long, and should be held correctly in the hands of the rider.  The saddle should have a girth, stirrups and irons.  The rider should be clothed in appropriate show dress, including a hat (bowler, hard, top or skull cap, depending on the class) and boots (generally long for adults, jodhpur boots for children.  Long black boots with brown tops should only be worn by huntsmen.)  All these things should be looked at and an overall opinion formed.

Performance classes can also be complex.  As long as the model is reasonable, conformation/breed type does not count so heavily.  However, the tack and rider are important (above criteria apply), as are the other props - fences, dressage markers, etc. Above all, the horse should look as though it can manage what it is meant to be doing.  Props should be appropriate, look good and help to form a set up which is pleasing to the eye and is in proportion to the horse and rider.
Please note that correctness is important, e.g. no martingales in dressage and no English tack in Western classes, to mention a couple.  This is where reference books become invaluable!

Now you are ready to judge your show.  You need to note down the number of entries in each class and decide how many places you are going to award. For large classes, it is best to look through the entrants and sort them into 'possibles' and 'no-hopers'.  Return the no-hopers to their envelopes right away, and concentrate on the possibles.  You may have to go through this 'weeding-out' process several times before you have finalists.  Often a winner will be easy to pick - the hard work comes in deciding how to place the remainder!

Alternatively, you may want to list all the entrants and award them points.  For example: 

 Name  (10pts) Conformation   (10pts)    Type (5pts)    Photo  Total 
 Satin   3   1 2 6
 Thunder   8 8 3 19
 Mollie      10 10 5 25
 Sally   8 9 4 24

If you are having ridden classes you will also need sections for tack and rider etc.  Once the points have been totalled, the horse with the highest score wins, the next highest is second, and so on.  Double-check your decision before confirming the results. These are only two methods of judging, but they seem the most popular.

As you judge each class write down the results, including the owners initials, and the number of entrants.  A key list of owners initials, e.g. SS - Sally Smith, PP - Polly Perkins, EE - Edna Everage, etc, should be printed with the results. If you find you have two or more owners with the same initials, confusion can be avoided by including the second letter of the surname, e.g. Laura Jones - LJo and Linda Jarvis - LJa. 

After you have judged all the classes you will need to judge the Championships.  You may want several championships and then a Supreme Champion, or if it is a small show you may have just one Champion and Reserve.  Normally, the first placed models from each class will be judged against one another to find the Champion, so remember to keep these to one side.  Once you have decided on your Champion, you may wish to bring the model that was second to the Champion in its class forward to compete for the Reserve Championship.  This is done in many real shows, and is a chance to reward good models from exceptionally strong classes, which might otherwise lose out to an inferior model.  Versatility or Performance Championships are sometimes judged on points, giving the model that enters the most classes the best chance.  However, this can sometimes mean that a model that enters a lot of classes with indifferent photos will beat one that only enters a couple with truly outstanding ones!


After you have finalised all the placings you need to produce the results sheet.  Very few people only offer personal results: although there is nothing wrong with this, you should always state that this is what you intend to do on your schedule, and keep entry fees as low as possible.  Most showers like full results, preferably typed -  they look neater, and you can fit more on a page (saves money on photocopying!).  It is a nice touch to print pictures of winners or Champions, but though results do not need to be fancy they must be legible and clear.  Always get them typed and copied as soon as possible.  If there is a problem/delay with the results, it is only fair to return people's photos within 2 weeks and forward the results ASAP at your own expense.  Never say full results will appear in a magazine unless you are also giving personal results.

The Aftermath

You now need to sort everything out. First sort the photos, returning them to the owner's wallet/SSAE.  Always double-check the names on the back of the photos.  Sometimes photo backs are not clear, and it may be possible to mix up the present owner with the customiser or previous owner.  Always check you are returning as many photos as you received!  Don't forget to include awards and results when you repack the SSAE, and make sure you return the photos with any protection they came with - card, bubblewrap, photo wallets etc. A word of warning - even the best showers forget to put their names on the packets.  so, note the name on the packet in pencil - it is all too familiar to have wallets and pieces of card left over at the end of a show! It is up to you if you want to send a 'Thanks for entering' letter, or include a note to this effect on the results sheet, but it can be a nice touch.  Once everything is in, seal the envelope securely.

People?'s SSAEs come in a variety of sizes and conditions.  If you are giving certificates etc. and these are bigger than a standard photo, or your results sheet/booklet is likely to be quite big or thick, it is wise to state in your advert the size of  envelope you require. Normally a A5 or A4 is quite adequate.  If you just request a 'large SSAE' it will usually be fine, but be prepared as some people's ideas of large are very understated!  It is always a good idea to have a few spare envelopes for the people who send one which is a tight fit for their photos, let alone anything else.  You can fold certificates up, but it is a shame to spoil all your hard work.  If you need to supply an envelope, just tape the owner's SSAE to the front of it. The condition of some envelopes can be bad, and some may have been used several times, so make sure you tape them down well.  It is always wise to tape both ends of a flimsy SSAE down, whether requested to or not, so a reel of wide sticky tape is a must!

The only thing left to do is to post everything off.  If at all possible, it is best to take the envelopes to the Post Office, in case anyone has not included sufficient postage. (That said, however, it should be the responsibility of the owner of the photos to ensure that this is not the case.) Do not post photos over a Bank Holiday - the less time an envelope spends in the post the better!


  • Always judge the show on (or as near as possible) to the date advertised.
  • Always take care of people's photos.
  • Return results/photos quickly: 2 weeks should be the maximum time to keep photos.
  • Always fulfil promises: if you offer awards/prizes, make sure you give them.
  • Never keep anyone's photos because you like their model.
  • Never be biased on judging: judge each model for what it is not who owns it or what make or mould it is.
  • Enter a few photo shows first to see how things are run.

Good luck!

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