The same old rumblings about the marks system seems to be erupting, with competitors berating judges. I’ve said before that I’m not a fan of the marking system. Putting marks on paper leaves judges open to scrutiny, as well as the poor stewards recording and adding them up. I prefer to collaborate with my co-judge, put our arguments over for and against each horse, and then both pick the best animal. I find it so bizarre that some judges don’t communicate.

There’s nothing more disheartening as a judge than not knowing who your winner is — quite often we are as surprised as the competitor. It’s not uncommon that the winner will be the horse both judges didn’t mind, but who could have been one judge’s third place.

With the standard of animals so high these days in the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) qualifiers, if a judge is going to score a horse, it’s often not representative of its quality. The majority of the horses may be of a good standard, but to choose your winner you almost have to over-score the preferred animal and under-score the ones you don’t want.

It can be discouraging for competitors going to look at the marks, but often it is not a true reflection on the animal and the competitor is none the wiser as to their place. You can’t give all good, similar scores or you end up with a lot of joint marks and no clear winner. If you are judging without marks, you still have to pick your winner and so on down the line.

Pull-ins are imperative

The arguments in favour of marks amuse me. You often hear: “At least it stops the corrupt judges.” Why does it? They can easily ditch a horse with a low mark. It’s just a number on a piece of paper and no explanation is given. The no pull-in system puzzles me too. If a judge can’t pull animals in from a first impression, they shouldn’t be judging. It makes the go-round pointless and often alerts me that they are either lost or waiting to see who comes in to groom.

I often hear competitors complain that a judge has given their horse a different conformation mark each time they have judged it, but you have to judge a horse in relation to what else is in the class. I give a benchmark score and then compare other horses against it.

The standard of showmanship in the conformation phase is lacking. Some competitors don’t know how to stand up a horse properly. Common mistakes include feet too close together, a turned-out foot, horses too stretched out, standing downhill or in a dip, for example. It’s no wonder the marks differ. The conformation is important and you are there to show off your horse.

What was wrong with the original format? To be confined to putting a show horse’s performance down as a number is frustrating. In the original system, if I had two horses that both caught my eye, I would make a decision on a final walk round, which is an art in itself to do correctly. Or I’d simply choose the one that looked like a winner, still sparkling with its ears pricked at the end of the class. Why can’t we let our judges have the freedom to choose the animals they really want to win, without the restriction and rigidity of marks?

Ref: Horse & Hound; 9 June 2016