Under a barn’s tin roof protecting them from the steady pattering rain, just more than 40 high school students judged horses while they themselves were being judged.
Some — including students from Freeburg and Mascoutah — had spent only a few hours of classroom time learning the basics of what makes a good horse. Others were old hands at the task, including students from Waterloo and Columbia, and had their own horses.
“I’m a pig guy,” said Freeburg student Cooper Secker. He said he had plenty of experience judging animals, just not horses, and didn’t think he was doing very well at the competition.
Columbia’s agriculture teacher and FFA sponsor Kara Cox brought one team and one alternate to the Horse Evaluation Career Development Event at Briarstone Riding Academy in Waterloo on Friday afternoon.
Columbia, Freeburg, Gibault Catholic, Mascoutah, Okawville, Waterloo and Wesclin high schools attended the event. Gibault sponsored the competition, which did not cost the high schools to attend.
Columbia student Makenzie Fulton, a sophomore, was confident in her abilities before the contest’s results were announced.
“I’ve ridden horses for a long time,” said Makenzie, who has four horses. “And this is what we study all the time.”
Makenzie was especially looking forward to the last class — the English equitation round — because it “is what I ride, so I expect I’ll be able to place it.”
The last round, however, proved a tough one for all including the judge Jen Robertson.
“We’re going to have to do something,” she called up to Briarstone owner Jena Larson Guldner, who quipped “that would have been tough to judge.”
Guldner then instructed the riders to add “rail work” and put the horses through more walking and trotting exercises.
The students and Robertson then placed the horses from one to four, with one being the best horse for the traits desired.
After students handed in their cards; Robertson announced her findings and added a “cut,” or a system that allows for some flexibility in scoring. If the horses share similar attributes, the cut is lower on a range of one to five. Higher cuts mean the horses had bigger disparity. For the last round, Robertson announced all cuts were one — the horses and riders shared similar attributes.
An earlier round had much greater disparity among the horses, with Robertson giving a cut of five between the third and fourth horses. The third horse didn’t have great traits, but placed over the fourth horse, a gelding.
A gelding is a castrated horse, and a mare is a female horse over the age of 3. “Geldings are not allowed in the mare class,” she said.
The judging system “all gets to how well the horse can do the function it’s supposed to do,” said Caroline Kish, FFA adviser for Gibault Catholic High School, which sponsored the event.
Freeburg FFA adviser Tom Range said judging animals is an important ability for someone interested in buying and selling.
“This is like a lab activity for them,” he said of his two teams of students who had been studying horse judging online.
“It’s a good day for practicing,” said Olivia Ree, a junior at Waterloo. “We don’t have to do well here to advance somewhere else.”