When I was invited to judge the supreme at national championship show 10 years ago, I was vastly relieved to see a well-known producer coming into the final. “That must be a good horse,” I thought.
It was, of course, a deer-in-the-headlights moment — I’d never judged before and was terribly nervous that I’d do something daft. I did pull myself together and, with my fellow judges, assessed each of the finalists fully and fairly, although that producer ended up winning because he had the best horse and showed it to perfection. He was Allister Hood and his equine partner was Captain Hastings, the partnership who had claimed the supreme horse title at that year’s Royal International.
But you could argue that this was a case of “facey judging” — when the judge looks at the face on top, rather than the horse below — a subject that has had social media frothing at its collective mouth this season.
As a former showing editor of Horse & Hound, I have heard a lot about facey judging, though I confess that I thought it had abated somewhat in recent years. Not according to Facebook; it has been the subject of much heated discussion in the past few weeks.
I have no doubt that some degree of facey judging did go on during my H&H tenure, and that it probably still does. Showing is a subjective discipline and, though the societies have rules in place that are intended to stop judge back-scratching, you can’t legislate for human foibles.
Of course, it must be galling if you feel that you have lost to an inferior animal because of face recognition or, worse, some sort of old boys’ network. However, the place to register your displeasure is not social media, but with the showing society concerned. While it may make you feel better to vent your spleen on Facebook, you run the risk of libelling people who give up their free time to spend their days standing in a muddy field in all weathers to watch countless horses. Without them, there would be no showing.
Equally importantly, what some competitors seem to forget is that, while a producer may not necessarily have the best horse, he or she will have schooled it to perfection so that it is ready for the judge to ride, will be immaculately turned out and set off by their own showmanship. They also have craftsmanship, knowing how to get their horse into the right place in the ring for the judge to see it at its best.
And facey judging isn’t always what you think. Some years ago I was privileged to judge the supreme at a major show. One of the competitors was, I think it’s fair to say, not universally popular. On the day, I thought he and his horse made the best overall picture and I wanted them to win. However, my fellow judges thought another horse was better and outvoted me, which is how it’s supposed to work.
Afterwards, though, someone who had watched from the ringside said to me, “I’d have killed you if he had won!” This, too, is bias, so I guess it can work against the showing world’s faces as much as in their favour.