Dr. Matt McMillan judges a horse and rider as they go through a reigning pattern

July 6, 2017

Successful 4-H horse shows require parents, children, and professional volunteers to come together and create an experience for the kids who participate. But there is usually only one entering the arena wearing a jacket and tie, the Horse Judge.

Dr. Matt McMillan has been judging horse shows since he was 19 years old. “My first show, I drove from Lubbock, where I was in college at Texas Tech, to Lamesa. I got paid $35 to judge the show and I think it cost me more to drive there and drive back” says Matt, chuckling. He went on to get his certification with both the Paint Horse Association and the American Buckskin Breeders Registry Association.

As a horse judge, heads turn when he enters before an event. The job commands respect, as it involves a thorough knowledge of, not only horses, but the requirements of all the events they will judge. There are so many details involved in some events that a scribe is required to write down their scoring so the judge doesn’t have to take their eyes off the horse and rider. The judge will tell the scribe “penalty one, plus half, minus half, penalty two…” which they then mark on the score sheet. The judge must follow the set patterns for the day, while watching for the subtleties such as lead changes and how the horse holds his body. The horse and rider lose points if they don’t work the pattern as close as possible, but also if the horse fights the rider’s commands.

Each event and class has its own requirements, but there are a few qualities that Dr. McMillan looks for overall. “There are so many different classes and different rules within each class, but really you’re looking for a horse that’s willing to do his job. You want a horse that looks like they are fit and well fed. You want to see a horse that walks in there and looks good, shiny, bright, and like he wants to do his job. After that you want to see an athlete, you want to see one that’s broke, one that just performs at a very high level. That could describe any class that you’re looking at.”

The work is long, and being a horse judge takes dedication to horses, and the 4-H community. The shows usually last two or more days, and the judge is present and working for each and every event. Dr. McMillan notes, “I have a pretty complete list of every show I’ve ever judged and it’s close to 100.”

His dedication to the overall horse community goes beyond just 4-H. He is on the equine committee of the American Feed Industry Association, and recently, he signed onto the American Quarter Horse Association research committee. This year, he will read 40 proposals, and help in deciding where to allocate research funding.

Hi-Pro Feeds has always been invested in quality feed with top nutrition. As our Equine Nutritionist, Dr. McMillan formulates Hi-Pro Equine feeds available in the US. Outside of work, however, he embodies the Hi-Pro spirit of being equally invested in the communities we serve.