Horse shows are exhilarating and terrifying. From the competition to the judging, from the costumes to the immaculately executed moves and tricks, riders have an overwhelming array of factors to consider when preparing for a horse show. One mistake can catch the judge’s hawk-like eye. One misstep can mean the difference between winning and losing.
From a judge’s point of view, being the one who has to make these calls is not any easier. In fact, it is all the more difficult.
Jim Hitt, judge and participant in the Region 8 Championship, has an extensive background in riding, training and showing Arabian horses. During the Region 8 Championship, he competed in Western Pleasure on a Half-Arabian junior horse named Getting ‘Er Done.
“I showed as a kid in local 4-H stuff,” Hitt said, “and in college I started riding Arabian horses. I helped a girlfriend of mine at the time that worked with young horses. We ended up with our own little training business while we were going to college, and it just went from there.”
Although he enjoys working with all-around horses best and doing a bit of everything, his areas of specialty are Working Western, Reining, Trail, Working Cow, and riding Pleasure horses. He is also a long-time active member of the Arabian Horse Association (AHA) and other committees.
“I became involved with AHA a number of years ago,” Hitt said, “first as a regional delegate to the annual convention. It was one of the things where even locally I felt like it wasn’t right to sit back and complain about things if I thought something should be different. I needed to be willing to get involved. Ever since then, I’ve been on a number of different committees and different things. I’m currently the Chair of Competition Advisory, and I’ve been a judge for 18 or 19 years. I very much enjoy judging.”
Regarding his experience with judging, Hitt explained how much he enjoys it and how judges do their best to be fair and unbiased despite perceptions of judges selecting horses based on riders and other subjective factors.
“I think it’s a great way to help promote the breed,” Hitt said. “We’re out there trying to do a good job and be fair. We’re not going to always be right, but we can always try to be fair.”
So the next time you think you should have won or believe judges pick favorites, remember these decisions do not come easily. In the end, judges are still humans who do their best at choosing winners who they believe worked the hardest to earn those sought-after ribbons. Showing is unique because while it comprises individual development, growth for the rider and horse’s relationship make this team sport incomparable.
“I think a lot of it is because it is individualized,” Hitt said. “Even though in a lot of classes you’re judged comparatively against other people, you’re still working at it yourself. You’re still going back to the drawing board every time you get on and do a lesson. It’s not only that you have to be right; your horse does as well. You’ve got to become a team. That relationship with the horse becomes very important. I think that’s one of the things that draws a lot of people; we’re in this, hopefully, for the horses and the fun. Everybody loves to win, and we all want to be competitive, but it should be because we enjoy doing it, care about the horses and want to be spending time with them.”