FFA horse judging team wins big at Houston Livestock Show

Senior takes top prize, wins scholarship, buckle


photo or infographic by Tanis Price

FFA PROUD. Members of the horse judging team shows off their ribbons and trophies after a successful competition at the Houston Livestock Show. Members are Brooke Carr, Morgan Christopher, Maeghan Evans, Kendall Higgins, Paris Egbert, and Haley Higgins. Kendall Higgins placed first and Haley Higgins placed 3rd overall.

Most people classify horses by their color.  “Look at the pretty white one. I like the one with spots.”

The experts may know the breed. “That Appaloosa has a nice build. The Palomino has promise.”

Then there are the horse judges. The aficionados of all things equine. These are the members of the FFA Horse Judging Team

The high school’s FFA Horse Judging team has qualified to go to area competition on April 2nd after their second place team win in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Senior Haley Higgins placed first and her twin sister senior Kendall Higgins places third in a field of almost 500 at the event. 

“Horse judging is a skill that we should never allow to lose it’s value,” Haley said. “Horse judging is an important part of horse shows, and the way that they are judged has only changed slightly over the century. It’s important to have quality judges to encourage proper riding and training of a horse, healthy breeding, and ensure that horse’s quality of life only gets better as the decades keep rolling by. After all, you can’t win a horse show with a mistreated and unhealthy horse. Judging gives incentives to produce happy and healthy horses.”

The Horse Evaluation Career Development Event is different from many of the other FFA events. In this competition, students evaluate and rank horses based on breed characteristics, conformation and performance. As a team, students solve problems related to everything from the health of horses to the equipment and food used to care for horses.The students then go on to defend their decisions through verbal explanation in front of the official judges. 

“When me and my twin sister joined FFA, we started winning all of our invitationals, and our goal was to make it to state, but before we could accomplish that, we moved to Willis,” senior Kendall Higgins said. “We pursued our passion for judging here, and joined the Willis Horse Judging Team. Now we practice every Tuesday by watching videos and discussing them with our team. We hope to make it to state this year.”

Horse judging is an event where four horses in a number of different agility events compete against each other. The student teams place these horses in hopes they get as close as possible to the official placing.  According to Ag teacher and team coach Tanis Price, no team as WHS has ever placed at HLSR horse judging.

‘The last time we placed at a major show judging event was 2007,” Price said. “Most of the work comes from the students themselves and the time they out in outside of the classroom and practice.”

The key to a successful competition is that practice and studying as a team and on their own.

“My team and I prepared for this event by practicing the different groups, or classes, of either performance classes or halter classes,” freshman Brooke Carr said.  “A performance class is where you watch 4 horses do a certain pattern, or performance. A halter class is where you have 4 horses and you evaluate them on their structure and soundness.”

The amount of time and effort that goes into an event like this can be immeasurable, but it has definitely paid off for these FFA students. 

This is a huge accomplishment for us.

— Kendall Higgins, 12

My twin sister, Kendall, and I have been preparing for 4 years,” Haley said. “We worked with our former horse judging team everyday during lunch. We also hosted our own clinics and met outside of school a lot. Here at Willis, we have horse judging meetings once a week where we work with our team. Kendall and I also show our horses through 4-H in the same events that we judge, so we get a lot of practice just by competing ourselves.”

One of the biggest events for FFA students, the Houston Livestock Show is a big event when it comes to accomplishments and can help them be prepared for events like area and state.

“A lot of people underestimate how difficult horse judging can be,” Kendall said. “Every competition is different, with different horses and different judges. It is very opinion based, so trying to match your scores with the judges without discussing them can be really difficult. The HLSR competition is an extremely important competition, next to area and state. It was our biggest one so far, with almost 500 contestants, and 142 schools. I placed first individually, and Willis placed second in teams. This is a huge accomplishment for us. I won a buckle and a scholarship, whereas at other competitions the winners usually either get nothing or just a banner or plaque.”