The horse-judging guru looks forward to helping implement a new system at this year’s Road to the Horse.

Although the theme for Road to the Horse 2019 is the Wild Wild West, Bill Enk expects things to be “buttoned up” when it comes to judging the event. As the event’s new judges steward, Enk is excited to be officiating the popular colt-starting event this year.

“I like to think of myself as the judges’ coach, or a facilitator to help the judges do their job,” he says. “I’m looking forward to Road to the Horse. I’m going to be there to help implement a new judging system and also to help the judges get on the same page and function as a team. I’m anxious to work with them, and also to learn from them.”

judges judging at road to the horse
Judges will score competitors on a 70-point scale, and add or subtract points based on execution.

In September, Road to the Horse officials met with four former event judges, including Enk, to refine the rules and enhance scoring sheets. Event organizers have searched for ways to enhance the event year after year, and this meeting was an effort to ensure that sound horsemanship continues to be rewarded in the final outcome. Enk, of Paso Robles, California, has trained horses for many years and also holds judging cards in a number of organizations. He also is the director of judges for the National Reined Cow Horse Association.

The winner of Road to the Horse is determined by five judges, which this year include Sandy Collier, Mike Kevil, Cody Lambert, Bryan Neubert and Jeff Williams. Enk says that the day before Road to the Horse begins, he and the judges will spend hours reviewing prior runs, comparing notes and working to be “fair and consistent” in judging the event.

“We’ve got that whole day on Thursday to do that,” Enk says. “We’re going to sit down and go over all kinds of things. It’s going to be like a training camp for a professional sports team. And we’ll talk about the new judging system, which is putting a new structure in place so that the contest is judged correctly.”

In years past, Road to the Horse was judged under a system that scored certain aspects of the competition from 0 to 10 or 0 to 15. This year judges will utilize the “70 system,” in which a 70 is considered average and points are added or subtracted to that score based on whether something was executed well or poorly. Factors such as the contestant’s timing, demeanor and feel can each be awarded up to three points, or deducted three points, causing the 70 score to increase or decrease.

“As a judge, your job is to make scores based on both fact and opinion,” Enk says. “Did he get on the horse—that’s a fact. Now, how well did he do it? Was it good, excellent or poor?”

Bill Enk serves as RTTH judges steward in 2019. Photo by Ross Hecox.

Enk added that Road to the Horse rules now clearly identify point deductions for penalties—such as abusive behavior or illegal equipment—and the ability to review video footage to confirm penalties. Also, in an effort to increase transparency, he said scores from each round will be posted.

“Any good judge wants to justify his score and stand behind it,” Enk says.

During his career, Enk has judged or served as the director of judges for some of the most prestigious events in the Western horse industry. He says that for him, Road to the Horse ranks near the top.

“I’m just in awe of it,” he says. “They’re giving $100,000 to the winner. That’s huge. And the people competing in it are very good.

“The challenge is that the contestants are given a limited amount of time to start these colts. As a judge, you can’t just award the one that gets the most done. You also have to look at who has the best horsemanship and leaves that desire in their horse, even if they don’t accomplish as much as the other competitor.

“The key to the whole event is its mission statement. That’s what you keep going back to. That’s why we’re here.”

Road to the Horse’s mission statement is as follows:

Road to the Horse was created to present the art of colt starting to the equine industry through an educational, entertaining and challenging event that displays each clinician’s individual style and philosophy. Road to the Horse was developed to enrich the knowledge of both the horseman and the spectator. Road to the Horse officials and management are committed to ensuring a fair and impartial competition for the horses and the horsemen. Road to the Horse is also committed to the education of the youth and the acknowledgement of modern horsemanship with respect to the horse and true horsemen.

The three-day competition kicks off in Lexington, Kentucky, on March 22. Visit roadtothehorse.com for more information.

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