Pro Judging Tips: Q&A with Horse Judging Coach Walter Taylor, Plymouth, WI

In honor of iCEV Horse Judging Week, Walter Taylor, agricultural educator at Plymouth High School, shares insights and tips on coaching horse judging.


Why do you feel participating on a judging team is so important for students? How does it bring students success in the future?

Participating on a judging team presents students with the opportunity to apply their classroom, laboratory, SAE, and FFA experiences to a career skill set that industry and high-education are looking for in employees and learners. With a wide-variety of CDE selections, there is something for everyone. Coming from a chapter that has over 100 members and is quite diverse in student career interests, we pride ourselves on ensuring students are well prepared for their various events through classroom extensions, industry representatives/alumni coaches, and providing access to research materials to build their knowledge base. CDEs are authentic with the knowledge and skills needed by today’s agriculture industry.

When I started five years ago at Plymouth, the group already had a knack and a success streak with CDEs. Students already have witnessed the success of former students and can see the benefits that these contests have provided those students. Many of our teams start practicing at the start of school in September, with a select few that run year round. Those year-round teams have students that are both successful in FFA but also in our local 4H program events. This relationship works symbiotically as both organizations strive to develop quality agriculturalists.


What are the important qualities of a judging team member?

Important qualities of a member striving to master the content and skills associated with a career development event include: self-motivated learner, one who applies 21st century skills during practice, helps to make all team members accountable for performance, asks quality questions, practices outside of scheduled meeting times, contributes research findings to practice and our website study pages, and someone who enjoys the event because it relates to their future career.


What advice do you have for students that might be interested in judging?

  • Find a career development event that matches your future career.
  • Research the event topics and knowledge tested.
  • Be an advocate to assist your teacher and/or coaches in finding information.
  • Be open to learning new, in-depth concepts.
  • Find industry personnel in the community that could give you a perspective of what they do on a daily/yearly basis. A great opportunity for a job shadow.
  • Find time in your schedule to practice with the team.


How do you prepare your students before each event?

  • Practice times need to be set early; students need to know their available times to plan around work schedules, sports, homework, and family activities.
  • All CDE contest study pages are mostly developed on our department website. They are password protected, resources are linked and secondary usernames/passwords are given to students. iCEVonline is one of many resources we utilized. Students like our CDE study pages and iCEV because they can work on learning content and concepts at their pace during practice and individually on their own time.
  • We are blessed to have several coaches that donate their time, talents, and monetary funds to foster success and learning.


How do you prepare students to give oral reasons?

We gradually release the students to the concept of oral reasons. Working as a group to prepare reasons and articulating that set individually. Then they complete one set per practice, up to all two, three, or four depending on which regional contest we attend. Again, students have access to watch and learn from the iCEV reasons after each class, a template is created for fundamental formatting, and several university practice resources are available.


What advice do you give to struggling students?

  • If you don’t struggle a little, you are not challenging yourself hard enough. Agriculture is constantly changing and students need to evolve with the trends in evaluation, just like their educators, and industry personnel.
  • If you do not understand concept or a practice class, do not be afraid to ask for help. We have all struggled at one time or another, but found knowledgeable people to assist with our learning and growth as students.
  • Attending practices regularly will help your overall understanding. The hands one experiences at a practice can be hard to replicate, just like a lab a teacher prepares. Attendance is an important attribute of a team member and for the workforce.
  • Attend contests, learn from what you did not understand, tell you coach that, and be ready to learn that information or be a self-motivated learner to research that content after the event.


What are some common challenges a judging team can face and how do you help your students overcome those challenges?

Challenges occur frequently with managing a successful CDE team practice and event competitions. Life is full of hurdles that students, families, educators, and industry professionals face every day. If a student can learn effective time management for all of their involvements, then they will have mastered a skill that is essential for the rest of their life. This is why I require the team members to develop a common time that all three or four members can meet at least once a week to touch base on what they are learning, complete a skills portion of the event, and guide them on what they need to have prepared before the next meeting.

By no means am I perfect at this process, but we are getting more efficient at coordinating these practices and providing the proper resources for students. ICEVonline has greatly assisted my efficiency with providing REAL content resources for students to harvest knowledge and prepare for skill performances.