Ask A Judge: In-Hand Question (“Judge 1”)


I want to know why, in the In-Hand division, we never see a Western or Hunter or Classic Pleasure, or even a Dressage horse pinned Grand Champion. I don’t consider “Because they don’t show” an adequate answer. Maybe I’m way off-base, but I suspect that they no longer show in-hand because they didn’t win. My follow-up question is, “What would it take to make the in-hand classes truly about type and conformation?”

“Judge 1″ Answer

All horses, no matter what division can show in the in hand classes. It is a section that is to be judged on the breed standard and proper conformation. Some people feel that if their horse does not trot sky high they do not have a chance at winning. If judged properly, and your horse has great conformation, this should not be the case. If you recall a few years ago at the Morgan Grand National a very famous WC Gelding was also the WC Classic Pleasure horse. He has perfect breed type and conformation. There where many geldings trotting way higher than him but he won.

Being a trainer and judge I think divisions have gotten so specialized, more performance orientated, that Amateurs who show their own horses do not have interest in watching their horse show in hand. They want to show themselves in saddle or harness and showing in hand does not provide them with entertainment or enjoyment. Not having as many big breeding farms, who want to show in hand to size up their stock, has hurt the division as well.

11 Responses to Ask A Judge: In-Hand Question (“Judge 1”)

  1. Nancy Savage says:

    Judge 1 RIGHT on. I have been very busy and did not finished commenting on the judging of halther class. Form to function. The best halter horse is the horse that has the conformation will breed on, remain sound and live on to be a 40 year old working horse. Nancy

  2. Tom Savage says:

    Halter classes go back to the days when horses were a tool not an art piece. It is where breeding stock came from and those horses chosen as the best were just that. Temperament and conformation were the main attributes looked for because the person who owned the horse had to use it daily and without those attributes the horse was of no value to him. With these attributes the horse was smart and a pleasure to work with (temperment) and remained sound throughout its long life (Conformation).

    IF you can find an old “Morgan Judging standards” pamphlet you will see that they actualy had pictures depicting conformation flaws such as rye tail, cow hocked, sickle hocked, U Necked ect..,. There was also a rule stating that judges “SHALL” require that the horse be stood squarely to be judged. This was necessary because stretching a horse out (Parking a horse) hides several conformation flaws. I believe that this rule still exists but to get around it they redefined the word “Shall” in the rule book to mean that it is up to the judge if he wants to or not. They have modigied the rules to allow excess weight and bands to hold that weight on to the foot. The rule says that height of action should not outweigh way of moving. Level used to be the standard and above level was a flaw.

    If you are looking for fareness and an adherences to the rules you will seldom find it in the halter class which is a shame because that sets the standard for the breed and is where good breeding stock should be selected.

    I have usually seen the best

  3. Mocha Mom says:

    Thank you Judge 1 for answering my question. I understand that a horse of any performance discipline is allowed to show In-Hand, and I believe you when you say that there have been occasional exceptions. However, your answer implies that, in general, the horses with the best conformation are the Park horses. I have been under the impression that you should look for the same qualities in a horse, no matter what discipline you plan to use the horse for, (form to function.) If that is correct, there should be good In-Hand horses in every division.

    Also, as an Amateur Owner I am interested in having my horses shown In-Hand. However, it seems that the In-Hand classes require so much “performance” that the horses are too worn out to perform well in the riding and/or driving classes. In my perfect world, In-Hand horses would be judged standing squarely and moving quietly off the rail to be sure that both the walk and trot is square. A horse that is all fired up and misbehaving cannot be properly assessed and should not win. In that perfect world I would also like judges to give reasons publicly. :-)

  4. Alicia says:

    Hi Mocha Mom!
    First off, you and I seem to agree on just about everything, and I want you to know that I greatly respect your opinion and think you have very valid points. This is just one of the rare cases that I happen to disagree with you. :-) So here it is… when you read the breed standard for a Morgan Horse to say, a western enthusiast (regardless of breed), a hunter/jumper enthusiast, and a saddleseat enthusiast, and then ask the panel what type of horse would our breed standard best describe, I think they would all agree that it fits very nicely with saddleseat work. Western horses tend to have straighter shoulders and lower set on necks as well as dropped croups. Hunters are more stream lined with longer backs and again, lower necksets. Too, ask any hunter/jumper person, and they’ll tell you that conformational faults that Morgans are crucified for, such as over at the knee and cow hocks, are things that are very desirable in hunters (knees) or western horses (hocks). Then, to add to it, think about the showring, where as a general rule, extreme examples tend to come out ahead of average examples, and I think you see extremely laid back shoulders, extremely long necks and extreme motion, all things that tend to make for an extremely good saddleseat horse. I am not saying that I think that it is right or wrong, but I think that may be where it stems from. Morgans are an upheaded breed. Also, given that it is by and large professionals handling our in-hand horses, there is more emphasis put on performance because professionals don’t tend to mind the rearing, sometimes kicking, in-hand horse. THAT I very strongly disagree with, but again, I think thats where it stems from. I had a client ask me to show her beautiful western pleasure Morgan In-hand last year. I refused, and she was quite insulted. Her horse has beautiful conformation! I explained that, although her mare has the best legs in the barn, a stunning head, and a great croup, most of the horses in that class will have those things as well, or they wouldn’t be showing in hand. Which means that the ribbons are going to be sorted by who has the very best this that and the other thing. I went on the explain that her mare has a bit of a straight shoulder and a neck that is set on a too low. Hence, she is a western horse. For some reason, those faults tend to be very heavily penalized, more so than a club foot or poor hindquarters. Therefore, I thought showing her mare was a losing proposition at best. What I didn’t tell her is that I would have been the odd duck in the ring, because as you said, no one shows their western horses in hand, and I won’t be the only one brave enough to do it to be then punished with a last place ribbon for my efforts.

  5. Alicia says:

    PS– I also agree with you in that I think that the horses should HAVE to stand square to be judged at some point in the class. It is amazing how much you can improve a weak hindquarter by stretching it out a bit!

  6. Mocha Mom says:

    Alicia, I certainly don’t mind when you, or anyone, disagrees with me. I’m just glad you think that what I have to say warrants some thought and are willing to blog. My opinions are just that – opinions, based on my observations and experiences. I make no claims to TRUTH or even REALITY, and I like hearing a different perspective that frequently ends up changing my opinion. I have to say that the great thing about this blog is that I keep learning things.

    Everything you say makes sense and explains why there are more saddleseat type horses in the In-Hand classes. However, we are only rarely (never, in my case) showing against other breeds and it saddens me to think that western and hunter type Morgans are less ideal. So now of course, I have another question. If Morgans are more of a saddleseat type of horse why are the hunter pleasure and western pleasure classes often the biggest classes at our shows?

    It sure would be great if more handlers were willing to be brave in the show ring, although I’m sure that you had to be both brave and diplomatic explaining to your client why you didn’t think that showing her western pleasure horse In-Hand was a good idea. On the other hand, how else will she learn how her horse stacks up as a breeding horse? Unless she already knows what she is breeding for, how better to learn whether or not her horse has breeding potential. Sometimes the school of hard knocks is the best teacher. Do we show just for the exercise, or to show off how much money we can spend, or do we show because every show is learning experience? One person I know told me that she showed to get pictures, but that’s a whole other story.

  7. Alicia says:

    Good morning!
    In regards to my client showing her mare In-Hand and having her learn the judge’s opinion that way: I am extremely cautious with my clients money, and I could not justify sending her horse to the ring in a class I knew her mare wasn’t appropriate for. I feel that when my client pays me for my professional advice. it is my job to not only tell them what I think is best for their horse, but also what is best for their wallet. It was a very dollars and cents issue. I could write a small article on why I think hunter and western classes continue to grow while EP and Park continue to diminish in size…. in a very small nutshell, and I would be happy to expound when I have a bit more time, here it is: I think a lot of breeders aim for the In-Hand, Park and Pleasure divisions, and because those divisions are generally won by the same phenomenally great horses at each show, you take your 4th place EP horse and place it in another division. Again, this is a very popular trend in the hunter division. There are many, many hunter and western horses that could be good classic and English Pleasure horses, but for some reason, it seems like it is okay to have a third place western horse, and great to have a third place hunter, but a third place EP horse is unsuccessful. Or at least that is the feeling I get sometimes. Almost like, its okay to have a good, consistent western horse, and good to have a competitive hunter that consistently brings in the top four ribbons, but your EP horse had better win that blue. And the western and hunter divisions do seem to be a little less intimidating to the newcomers to the breed. In my barn, more than 3/4 of my saddleseat riders started with me either already having started in another seat or wanting to ride another seat. It is after they get into the show world a little bit that they switch to saddleseat. But again,, theres a lot more to that too, i think. There really is a lot more to this theory of mine, but I have to get to the barn to work horses… I would love to finish this, but that is kind of a brief overview.

  8. ChillyOne says:

    If you really look at the best horses in any division, you will see some things they all have in common – correct conformation i.e. laid-back shouler, long hip, long arm, neck placed high, to name just a few. Treble’s Tanqueray is an excellent example of this. These conformation points are what make a horse versatile, and part of what makes a Morgan. The biggest difference between the best horses in each division is their brain. I know a young hunter that has an AMAZING shoulder and hip, is capable of going level easily, big open step behind with a neck set on high. When he was started it was assumed by the way he’s built that he’d be a saddle seat horse. His brain just didn’t want to do it – he is insanely happier being allowed to stretch out and really cover ground. This horse will probably be a top hunter in the near future, but he’s built like a correct saddle seat horse.

    I think the confusion comes from the fact that people *think* a hunter should have a neck set lower, or a western horse should have a straighter shoulder. When in reality what happens is that the straight shouldered horse ends up in the western division because of the shorter stride it takes because of the shoulder; some hunters end up in that division because of where that neck is set – they can’t get the high head set because it’s not built to do it.

    Then we have the problem of breeding for a division as opposed to breeding for a good Morgan. Because of misconceptions previously stated, someone breeding for hunters is choosing the lower neck set in the mare and stallion because they mistakenly think that is what is required. It’s not. What is required is correct Morgan conformation.

  9. Alicia says:

    Right on Chilly One!! I totally agree!

  10. amie9191 says:

    What a great topic!

    For me personally….I wouldn’t be able to afford the shoeing for the saddleseat horses LOL. I also think that some western & hunter horses can be maintained at home and thats a big plus….at least in my book.

  11. learning says:

    I have been to shows that have suitable to be classes (western and sport) because the only horses that win in-hand are the English type so people with hunt and western horses wouldn’t show. This was a way to get them to show in-hand.

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