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Leading The Way: 5 tips to be an exceptional showmanship judge

Katie Coyne for Progressive Dairyman Published on 30 April 2018
Judging showmanship

Every dairy youth project member who steps in a show ring has the opportunity to excel at showmanship. Unlike type classes, where winners can be purchased or raised by others, in showmanship it is all up to the exhibitor. As a showmanship judge, it is your responsibility to be exceptional at the task.

Truly exceptional showmanship judges have five things in common:



1. Know how to work the ring. As soon as you arrive at the show, survey the ring, ask the show committee questions, and create a “game plan” to achieve the most success for you and the exhibitors. The plan should include these points:

  • Identify where you will make the first line-up.

  • Provide youth adequate room to make a smooth transition out of line.

  • Decide how you will pull them into the line-up. Lining them up in the same order they entered the ring works well with very large classes as a way to make further evaluations. Another option is to pull them in line in preliminary order of your placings.

  • Always be sure youth are presenting their cattle in a clockwise circle. Neither animal nor showman looks good going counter-clockwise.

2. When showmen enter the ring, wait until all exhibitors are in before beginning close inspection or asking questions. This gives all of the class participants the opportunity to move efficiently into the ring walking forward – and it gives you, as the judge, a strong evaluation of how the youth and their animal are working as a team.

When the class is complete, verbally ask or motion for the youth to stop and set up their animal; then, carefully evaluate each pair with close inspection. Depending on the level of the show, it is not always necessary to ask a project question. At local or regional shows, if time permits, ask an age-appropriate question.

Questions to ask in a showmanship contest

At the national level, there may not be time to ask each participant a question. At this level of competition, they should have some working knowledge of their project. However, a knowledge question can be used as a tie-breaker in a close contest.


When doing close inspection, only look at four to five animals, then step back to the centre of the ring and ask all participants to move a few steps; instruct them to stop and set their animals up again.

This allows you more evaluation time, gets the animals moving and gives youth a chance to fix any problems they may have had. Then continue with your close inspections, repeating this process until all of the participants are evaluated.

3. Give youth a chance to succeed. Judging showmanship is not about waiting for a misstep to occur or to point out mistakes; it’s about teaching and developing youth.

Too often, I’ve watched showmanship judges simply ask youth to set up their cattle and then place exhibitors based on which calf moves first. This is not how to place a showmanship class.

A showmanship contest is a test to see how well youth have prepared, so let them show you what they know. Don’t hesitate to pull them in and out of line two to three times so you can see how they work with their heifers.

If you see an obvious problem as an exhibitor enters the ring, you can help the youth fix it. For example, if a halter is too big, go over and adjust it for the youth while giving them some tips and explaining the importance of proper sizing.


Animals can be unruly because they are tired, sick or in heat. If it is clear that is the case, put the exhibitor at ease by letting them know you are going to evaluate them on how they handle the situation, not the animal’s behaviour, which is out of their control. It is the judge’s job to know the difference between an animal worn out from a long day and one not broke to lead.

4. Know the showmanship guidelines and follow them. In both the U.S. and Canada, there are uniform guidelines developed with hours of input from top showmen.

Leaders from across the continent have diligently taught youth these steps to perfection.The Purebred Dairy Cattle Association website, Holstein USA and Holstein Canada all have excellent information available.

Attend judges’ workshops and learn the guidelines. It is not up to you as a judge to decide whether or not you are going to utilize the most recent rules developed in 2011; you’ve agreed to use them by signing a judge’s contract with the show. 

Brief summary of updated showmanship guidelines

5. LOVE working with youth. Showmanship is about three points:

  • Making an animal look its best
  • Knowing the showmanship rules and guidelines
  • Having fun

In a perfect scenario, if the first two points are followed, the third will be achieved. When youth enter the ring, greet them with a smile and a “hello” to put them at ease. Encourage them throughout the class to relax, listen, watch and have fun showing what they have learned.

When giving reasons, be sure to compliment the positive and only give one negative reason. If time permits (and it always should), go down the line and let each youth know what they can do to improve for next time. Even the person who places last should know there is always a next time and leave the ring with a new confidence.

Remember: You are not standing in the middle of the ring to find faults; rather, you are there to encourage and teach youth to keeping doing the right things. Youth, parents and leaders will appreciate a positive experience, and you’ll have the opportunity to judge more shows.  end mark

PHOTO: Judging showmanship is not about waiting for a misstep to occur or to point out mistakes; it’s about teaching and developing youth. Courtesy photo.

Katie Coyne
  • Katie Coyne

  • Dairy Youth Consultant
  • Email Katie Coyne