Master Horseman Jack Brainard Explains How Horses are Treated and Judged at Road to the Horse

Road to the Horse

Road to the Horse is different to judge than any other horse event. Four horse trainers (Craig Cameron, Van Hargis, Martin Black, and Stacy Westfall) will compete to train four horses in one weekend—using kind training techniques and educating the crowd to do the same. The horse and trainer are critiqued separately— the horse is judged according to his willingness to work, the trainer on his or her ability to accurately read the horse’s personality and needs while using kind, constructive techniques. To help understand how the four trainers will be judged, we sat down with longtime horse show judge and veteran Road to the Horse judge Jack Brainard. Here, you’ll find out what all five judges will mark—you’ll also get a sneak peak into what it’s like to train horses in such a short amount of time.

Q: What have you done to be qualified as a horse-training judge?
A: I’ve judged horses all over America for 50 years. I’ve also started hundreds of horses myself. I have some ideas about how a young horse should be started and the other judges do, too.

Q: How is this atmosphere different or similar to training horses at your own ranch?
A: You want a stress free environment here or at home. There isn’t stress put on these horses at the show. These are absolute green colts. There’s no way to get these horses as quiet as they do in two days’ time if the trainers put stress on them. They’re using kind methods— working without punishment, without force and without stress.

Q: How does the crowd and busy environment play into the training process?
A: The environment is full of horse lovers— they appreciate horses and are eager to watch and learn. In the ring, the horses quickly learn that the safest place to be is in the center of the pen with the trainer. When the trainers get the horses in the center, they pet on them and make them feel all the more safe. The crowds aren’t an issue because the horses are safe with the trainers. It couldn’t be done any better.

Q: How are the horses judged?
A: When we’re judging these horses, we have to remember that they’re all individuals. Each horse has to be trained differently. As a judge the fi rst thing I do is read the horse before I look at the trainer. The horse tells you a lot about how he’ll have to be handled. If the trainer can read the horse, he or she will know what to do with him.

Q: Do the judges work together or individually to make a winning decision?
A: The judges get together before the contest starts to talk about what should happen and what to do in certain situations. We plan ahead. Once the competition has started, we stand squarely in the middle of the 4 pens and watch all the horses and trainers at the same time. We judge with the same criteria, but we’re working independently. We each have a score sheet with separate columns to judge the horse and the trainer. We want a confluence of opinion rather than one judge’s decision about how it should be done. We put down our scores and turn them in, but we don’t know what the other judges said. It’s fair because there are lots of eyes watching. We’re not talking to each other.

Q: What will make you add or subtract points from a trainer’s score?
A: We mark down if trainers put too much force on their colt to get a certain result. We pay attention to the equipment used on the horses—and how it is used. We don’t want anything that will hurt the horse. Overall, we know what the horses looked like at the start of the session and who has done the most in the period. However, we also remember the differences in the horses. Just because one trainer got the most done with a horse in a certain amount of time doesn’t mean that he’s the leader. Someone with a tougher horse may have gotten a lot done considering how long each step took and how the horse responded. If you do a good job on a significantly tougher horse, you’re going to get points for that.

Q: You’ve judged Road to the Horse before—what will make this year’s event different?
A: I’m looking forward to this year because we’ll have four clinicians. That will give us more variation. It will show people even more training techniques. It adds trainer types and horse types. This makes it better. Any time you can broaden the field of competitors, it’s a better contest.

For more information about Road to the Horse, and to purchase tickets, visit, or call 325-736-5000. Tickets are still available for the 2006 event. Sponsored by Horse & Rider, HiQual, Purina Mills, LLC, John Deere, Horsetrader, EZ-All, Prime Performance Nutrition and Samson.

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