British Equine Collectors' Forum

For All British Model Horse Collectors

Judging at a Live Show – A Basic ‘How-to’

Some helpful advice that might keep you from going 'horse blind' the next time you have to judge a large class... If you're not the judge, this may help you to understand the problems judges may face.     

One of the most difficult jobs facing the hobby today is judging. As more and more Live Shows are being scheduled across the country, the demand for good judges is increasing.

There have been cases where judges have gone 'horse blind' or had a case of 'pretty horse disease' and their judging skills are then questioned. When suddenly confronted with so many good horses, they are like the person who 'couldn't see the wood for the trees'.

However we must have judges, and there is no reason why any good collector should not do a creditable job as a judge. Here's how to avoid some of the worst pitfalls and how to come up with the top 6 or 8 horses.

If asked to judge?

Nowadays many show-holders try to get experienced judges, so if it's your first show you probably won't be asked to judge.  If you are, and you don't know much about the breed or class involved, don't be afraid to say so and ask if someone else could do it instead or if you could do it jointly with someone more experienced (this is a good way to learn).  If there really is no one else, go ahead and do your best; people will be tolerant if they know it's your first time, and no one will actually eat you!

Biting the bullet ? Judging...!!

So let's pretend we have been called on to judge at the 'Plastic Ponies Live Show'. We are standing next at the Show Ring with the ring steward and they are calling in the first class. Some 40+ models appear in the ring, each one slick, shiny, and beautiful - Your problem, to select the best 6!  As you stand there shaking, you are left wonder how anyone could select the first six models from this outstanding group. It's really not that hard if you do one thing at a time. If you try to do everything at once and select your final models first, you may be in for real trouble.

Right here is a good place for one bit of advice. Start by carefully examining, the 'information supplied' for each horse - many a great horse has been let down by poor documentation!  And even if some of the horses are of freaky conformation, or have the strangest and roughest paint job known to man and belong in the nearest 'body bin' inspect them carefully. No owner should be able to say after the show that you did not even look at their horse! When an owner pays an entry fee they have the right to expect the judge to look their horse over carefully. So even if you knew when you saw the horse enter the class that he had no chance, look him over carefully. You might even learn something about conformation or customising...or at the least 'how Not to do it'.

Step one for any judge should be the 'elimination'. Before you select winners, you select losers. Get as many 'no-hopers' as possible out of the running. One of the best ways to do this is to have the 'no-hoper' horses removed from the ring - if class numbers are used turn over the numbers of the horses you would like removed or use bits of paper or some other way to identify the first set to be eliminated. Then ask the owners of these identified models to remove them from the ring - please remember to ask politely! Those that are left on the table are then still in the running.

You should look over each animal individually and carefully just in case you have missed one that should have been removed in the first elimination.  A second elimination may also be needed, but the class will be smaller now and much easier to handle so it may not be necessary.  The elimination itself is not too difficult. You are looking for the following things: Bad conformation, a wide variation from breed type and overall condition of the model.

  • If it's a OF then take into account the overall quality - does it have rubs or scratches, has it been repaired, does it have bad seams or factory blemishes etc.                                                                      
  • With a Custom or Artist Resin the quality of the prepping and paint work must be taken into account; is the work smooth and realistic?...if it is haired does it look real or is there glue showing etc? If it's been repositioned has the work be done well and correctly...or in other words are the 'moves' in the right places?

Ridden classes are judged differently - 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 throat lash or browband (except when using manufacturers own tack, e.g. Magpie, Julip, etc, these usually do not have a throat lash 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 (in at the bottom and out at the top for English reins and in at the top and out at the bottom for Western split reins...Romal reins are different your research!!).  The saddle should have a girth, stirrups and stirrup irons with the feet placed correctly.  The Rider/Handler/Driver 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 your homework!

Back to Breed Classes, most judges when judging horses will eliminate bad blemishes, poor condition, and poor workmanship. Crooked or wonky legs, or bad pasterns or hoofs, or any other bad equine conformation faults are sufficient to send a model out of the running. Bad breed type can also be eliminated. These may be otherwise good horses, but if they do not fall within the general conformation of the breed or sex, they have no place in the ribbons, and you can eliminate them form the running. This is your first step.

The second step is selecting the better of the top horses. In a small class, the second and third step may often be combined. Once again observe and compare the models 'way of going' - would it be able to walk or even breathe if it was real?

The judge should also observe and judge the animals at the lower end of the line, even though they know those are out of the running. Owners have a right to feel all models are given an equal viewing. When steps one and two are complete, and they can be done by any good judge, the best horses will then be chosen.

Also - any models that are wearing halters or bridles within the breed class will also need extra judging - make sure the headgear is correct for the breed it is on, (no Shires in Arab halters!), and you will also need to check the fit of the tack, are bits in the mouth, is the cheekpeice touching the eye, is the bridle too small or fitted badly? These small faults on an otherwise perfect model could mean the difference between a placing and coming nowhere.

Now the judge may be permitted to scratch their head for the problem is now in front of them. Up to this point it has been easy -- moving the poor conformation models or 'no-hopers' out of the running and keeping the possibles.  However looking at a small group and evaluating is a lot easier than trying to remember the merits of some 30 individuals. The judge can now look at and remember each horse, its strong and weak points. It is the inability of the human mind to see and evaluate 20 or 30 problems all at once that makes judges go to pieces. Ten or fifteen is not too difficult...honest!

Final placing in a strong class can be done almost entirely on breed type, quality, conformation, and lastly individual preferences. Weaknesses have already been eliminated. In smaller classes it is sometimes necessary to have a few animals near the top that have blemishes, or other undesirable features. If two animals are equal, compare their conformation and breed type once more. In the final analysis, if you just can't seem to find the best then decide which one would you own and breed from if you were looking at a real horse. Place the animals that way and you should never need to be ashamed of your placings.                                                                                                                                                                                        

The philosophy behind this method of judging is this. You admit the inability of any person to see, compare, and evaluate a large number of horses. So, you first eliminate as many as possible for lack or breed type and bad conformation. When you have 10 or 15 of the best left, you then can further select the better individuals from your top group.

Lastly you arrange them, within your head, in order of your preference, stressing breed characteristics. In these, each judge will vary, as one will feel a good head is more important than an adequate depth of girth or vice versa. Another will stress high withers, still another colour, and so it goes. These however are individual preferences, and no particular criticism is levelled at the judge for their preferences. But just let them place up a horse with bad conformation, poor breed type or a horrid paint job and it might not go down to well.

So, if you are asked to judge, don't throw up your hands and refuse. It is a job that has to be done. In the end, it is only one person's opinion, so judge the horses, putting the best on top and eliminating the unfit, and you will make more friends than enemies.

Basic Guidelines when judging...

  • Make sure the horses have entered the right ring at the right time, wearing the right number if numbers are being used, and any documentation is correct for the model etc.
  • The main criteria to bear in mind when judging, is basic conformation, breed type, condition of model and the general 'turn out', these should all be taken into consideration. 
  • Don't be fooled by fancy customs: they may look good, but can have more serious conformation faults than OFs.
  • If you have a particular favourite make or mold, be honest with yourself: it may be your favourite, but it could have some bad faults.
  • For large classes, it is best to look through the entrants and sort them into possibles and no-hopers.  Ignore the no-hopers 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!
  • 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, etc.
Important Note to Remember

All models that are of the same mould and of a similar condition should idealy be placed in consecutive order when being judged. After all it is the models conformation your are judging, so if there are 5 of the same mold on the table and you place one, then unless the others are of a poor show standard or in the incorrect colour/markings of the breed it is being portrayed as, then the others should be placed as well. This 'rule' is mainly used when judging OF models such as Breyers, Beswicks, Animal Artistry's and Northlights. Custom models and Artist resins are judged on other areas including quality of the prepping and the standard of the workmanship, painting, hairing etc.

Basic Rules & Standards to keep in mind when judging...

  • Dressage style Tack & Rider clothing should Not be shown or used in the English Ridden Classes.
  • No Western Performance entries in the Western Pleasure Class. 
  • Pure Arabians are never Palomino!
  • Native Ponies are normally shown 'natural' ie no plaits or trimming of manes or tails etc. Except Welsh ponies which are often shown with a small single plait in the mane just behind the ear.
  • Most Native Ponies have fewer white face and leg markings, except Sabino Welsh ponies & Pinto Shetlands. 
  • Morgans and NSHs are Not classed as Gaited breeds, though some individual horses are born naturally gaited!
  • Paso Finos & Peruvian Pasos shouldn't be shown in Spanish or Iberian classes, these should ideally be shown in the American Gaited or Other American classes or in a separate South American or 'Paso type' Breed Class.
  • British Spotted Ponies are not classed as Native Ponies; they are a type not a breed!

Judging Championships

After all the classes have been judged you may need to help judge the Championships. You may have several championships and these then go through to the Supreme Champion. Normally, the first placed models from each class will be judged against one another to find the Champion.  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. 

During the Judging - A note to the owners...

Try not to sit and stare at the person judging the class, as it can be extremely off-putting! Try to be prompt in removing your models from the ring once the class has ended, - and don't forget to write the name of any of your models that placed onto the results shee? - there is nothing more annoying to a show holder than trying to find out what came 2nd in a class when they are trying to write up the results to send out after the show, when the results are not written down on the day!! 

After the Judging is done....

Now, how have you actually done in the class?  If you've won or placed there's no harm in looking pleased - if you don't, people might wonder why you bother showing!  However, loud gloating will only get people's backs up, so show a little discretion. 

Remember the Judges decision is final!

If you don't place try to accept it gracefully, difficult though it may be.  Either your model was placed as it deserved, in which case complaining will only make you look foolish, or it did deserve better, in which case it will certainly get its recognition another day.  Arguments or whinges will only make things unpleasant for the show-holder and other exhibitors ...Remember even if you feel some of your models might have been hard done by - good manners cost nothing!  

Most judges don't mind explaining how they placed a class, as long as you phrase your question so it doesn't sound like a complaint.  This can be especially useful in ridden, performance or turn-out classes, as you may pick up some valuable tips which will help you do better next time.  However, don't approach them if they are obviously busy judging another class, or preparing to show their own models - judges are only human and may be impatient with you.

The great thing about live shows is that you get to see so many different models.  However, never touch or pick up someone else's model without asking them first: just think how you would feel if you dropped or damaged it!  This applies when you're judging as well as just looking around the show hall.  However if you are judging and a model has been laid on the show table (normally on a bubble wrap or fabric 'cushion') as it is wobbly or slightly tippy for example then it is taken as OK for the judge to pick it up to judge it properly...but with extra care of course!.

Finally Have Fun & Good Luck! 

Judging Standards

Performance classes:

  • Model is correctly and safely executing a maneuver that is appropriate for the class (includes proper anatomy, biomechanics and suitability of model for event).
  • Tack fit and suitability/correctness for event.
  • Accuracy of documentation, props (including dolls) and horse in relation to event presented.
  • Condition of model.

Inhand/Breed classes:

  • Correctness of anatomy, biomechanics, conformation.
  • Breed standards including colour that represents current (or historic with documentation) standards.
  • Overall appearance, finish, condition, workmanship.
  • Judge's overall impression.


  • Quality and execution of finishwork.
  • Accuracy/correctness/realism of customization (if applicable).
  • Quality of prepping.
  • Accuracy and realism of color for realistic or creative use of color for nonrealistics.

Collectibility classes:

  • Rarity
  • Age
  • Condition
  • Desirability
  • Judge's overall impression

Return to Main Guidesheets List

Go onto: Holding a Live Show