In the summer of 2016, Jill Paxton marveled at how easy it was to connect with residents of a small city in the Czech Republic, a country that had once been dark and isolated behind the Iron Curtain.
“When you share a common passion, all cultural differences disappear,” said Paxton, describing her whirlwind summer as an international horse show judge. Her passion for horses and her expertise in several breeds took her across the Atlantic twice and to Denmark and Germany as well as the Czech Republic.
The Director of Equestrian Studies and Equine Business Management, Paxton plans to retire at the end of 2016. Her travels as the holder of seven judge’s cards have provided opportunities to network for UF’s equestrian studies and equine business management programs across the U.S. and Europe. She came by judging naturally.
Growing Up in the Show Ring
“My mother was a judge for the American Horse Show Association (now the U.S. Equestrian Federation), and I remember traveling with her to big shows and even handing out ribbons,” Paxton recalled. That was in the days of large multi-breed shows when judges and some members of the audience dressed in formal attire.
“My mother wore an evening gown when she judged at Madison Square Garden in New York. That was the tradition for evening performances,” she added.
By the 1970s, Paxton held large and small “R” judge’s cards for hunters/jumpers and hunter breeding, and also ran hunter/jumper clinics. She also judged some unrated dressage shows. Then, daughter Shannon became interested in western riding and paint horses. Paxton’s judging took an equine “right turn.”
“Shannon liked her horses ‘low and slow’,” Paxton laughed. She retired her USEF cards in 1996 and earned her judges’ credentials for the following organizations: American Paint Horse Association (APHA), Appaloosa Horse Club (ApHC), Pinto Horse Association (PtHA), American Buckskin Registry Association (ABRA), the National Snaffle Bit Association (NSBA) and Pony of the Americas Club (POAC).
While Shannon was riding her way to state, regional and world titles, Paxton’s reputation as a judge grew outward from her home state of Iowa. She received invitations to judge the POA Nationals, the Appaloosa Youth Nationals and World Show in 2015, the APHA German National Championships in 2014 and the ABRA World Show in 2016.
Riding, Ribbons and a River Cruise
The summer of 2016 was, perhaps, Paxton’s most memorable as a judge, and a history buff. It began shortly after UF’s commencement, when she traveled to Denmark in May to judge an APHA show. She returned to Ohio, and then crossed the Atlantic again to conduct some clinics in Soltau, Germany, and then on to the Czech Republic for another “Paint” show.
Paxton’s family had always wanted to take a river cruise in Europe, so she was able to meet up with them later in the summer for a Rhine River trip. Then it was back to Germany to judge an APHA show and the Appaloosa European Championships.
“I’m a history buff,” Paxton said. “The architecture and people were wonderful, but when you are judging you feel like more than a tourist. When you share a common passion, like we do with horses, you have an opportunity to learn about their culture and our international similarities.”
Realizing the value of travel for networking in the equine world, Paxton has encouraged UF riders to show and accept internships in other countries when possible. Students from both the English and western programs have worked and traveled in Germany, considered by many to be the equestrian epicenter of Europe.
“Riding is a national sport in Germany,” added Paxton. “They take more time to present awards. They play the national anthem and take formal pictures of each ribbon presentation. During the trail horse classes, I saw many people sitting on blankets to watch the riders.”
Horses are also gaining in popularity in South and Central America, and the Middle and Far East. The growing interest represents more opportunities for University of Findlay graduates, who want to train, become professional riders or riding facility managers. One thing that most countries have in common is that their equestrian programs are all looking for youth participants. “There has been a declining youth population in equestrian events. Our heroes used to be cowboys and cowgirls. Today’s heroes are different,” Paxton said.
Are there any significant differences in judging horse shows in Europe?
“In the cutting horse events at the German nationals, they were leading cows into the ring one at a time. It was pretty quiet,” she recalled. “In the U.S. the horses work several cows and it gets pretty wild.” Still, there seems to be more commonality than differences.
“Trends change in the horse world,” added Paxton, “but the basics are still the same. All of us are forever progressing.”