Cornbread Thinks: Judging in the Bigs

There is a manure load of money to be realized in the Bigs, events with $100,000 minimum. Prize money is actually the little money in cutting. Big money is a mare having 20 babies selling for $50,000 apiece. Or a stallion breeding a full book of mares for a couple of decades at $10,000. Each.

Somebody has to decide which pony got the job done best. All cutters are experts. We should be able to decide who was best amongst ourselves. Right? Honey Baked Hams will be franchising in the Middle East before that works.

Until then, we will stick with the five judge/monitor/video review system. The one we have been using for 25 years. It is complicated. It is expensive. It has more moving pieces than a Swiss watch. It is as fair as humans can make it, eliminating anything that could even possibly have the appearance of unfairness.

The basics: The Judges are sequestered. By rule and by etiquette, the judges are invisible to us. No visiting. No passing fat envelopes. No handshaking. Maybe a head nod to a 30-year friend. No jokes. No foolishness. All business. A sincere seriousness to the task. The 24/7 escort drives them to meals, the hotel and the show. He meets them at the judges’ stand for cow changes and escorts them to the judges’ room, then back. He stays with them in the judges’ room. He is a shadow. Why? Think about it. Answer later.

These women and men have each judged thousands of runs. They have a minimum AAA rating. I often look at the judges sheets at shows. What is impressive is how little variance there is between judges. This consistency shows a very thorough training. It is not cookie cutter because credits are subjective, not very definable.

The rules of judging are well written. The penalties are clear, it was or it wasn’t, maybes go to the rider. Credit is opinion, personal preferences, the human factor. West Coast, cow horse, fancy finesse, ears forward, ears pinned back, cow smart – the stuff that makes the world go round. A judge may like a horse to launch and land a little past a cow, all cocked and locked while another sees the horse as out of position. One judge’s big “A” is a little “a” to another. A quit on a cow spinning like a top on the wall can look hot at an angle. Help can get in the line of sight. Some famous movie star in the audience could be a distraction. Runs have been known to get Western. A judge can miss something. This is why we have two videos – the one from the middle camera and an overhead – and the monitor (different from the escort).

Any run scored 196 or above that has a discrepancy involving a major penalty is reviewed. There is a little-known, but strictly enforced rule – judges are not allowed to have any discussion whatsoever between themselves about runs. None. That escort question? To make sure there is no discussion between judges about runs, eliminating undue influence.

Judges do not discuss runs. Ever.

The review takes place in a separate room, away from everyone but the monitor. There is little discussion about what is seen. There is great emphasis on not influencing the judge. It is voice recorded. The monitor may answer questions about the rule itself, but little else. If more than one judge is involved in the “miss,” each will review the run in private. Two video monitors, one for each camera, regular speed, slow, stop action, everything. Each judge watches, then confirms or corrects. This can go both ways, penalties added or removed.

A lesser-known provision – if a contestant thinks they were scored wrong, they may request a review with the monitor. The most crucial issue when a run is being reviewed: Can this be clearly and unequivocally shown to the contestant? I strongly recommend you review the video and judges’ sheets with someone who will tell you what you don’t want to hear before you ask for a review. Crow in small doses is easier to digest. I have recipes.

I wish I could make a deeper cut on this and will later. I believe our judging is the best it has ever been. Judging, like cutting and life, is not a destination. It is a journey of continual improvement. Hundreds of people and thousands of hours have gone into what we have.

Russell McCord, director of judges, is the herd boss of this outfit, not the inventor, not the creator, did not write one single rule by himself or in a vacuum. He gets not near enough credit and way too much blame. The responsibility he and the monitors carry at shows is immense. Not just from riding herd on the judges, but as a matter of personal pride and professionalism.

Make no mistake,

Cornbread Thinks: We are blessed.

You can reach Cornbread (Jimmy Bankston) at [email protected] or find him on Facebook.