Kristin Whittington of Edinburgh reviews Lakyn Wilson and her charge during the Senior Showmanship at Halter class at the English Horse Show at the Jefferson County 4-H Fair on Sunday afternoon. Whittington, who also is a judge for the Pony of the Americas Club and has judged for other national organizations, has judged 4-H horse shows for 25 years. She said she enjoys judging 4-H because it gives her a chance to help the participants learn what they are doing right as well as what they can do to improve. (Staff photo by Phyllis McLaughlin/pmclaughlin@madisoncourier.com)
Kristin Whittington of Edinburgh reviews Lakyn Wilson and her charge during the Senior Showmanship at Halter class at the English Horse Show at the Jefferson County 4-H Fair on Sunday afternoon. Whittington, who also is a judge for the Pony of the Americas Club and has judged for other national organizations, has judged 4-H horse shows for 25 years. She said she enjoys judging 4-H because it gives her a chance to help the participants learn what they are doing right as well as what they can do to improve. (Staff photo by Phyllis McLaughlin/pmclaughlin@madisoncourier.com)
Her parents were not “horse people,” but at age 5, Kristin Whittington began her life-long love affair with the equestrian world.

Whittington, owner of Landmark Farms in Edinburgh and judge at Sunday’s 4-H and Open Horse Show at the Jefferson County Fair, is a judge for the Pony of the Americas Club. She also has judged for the American Morgan Horse Association and the U.S. Equestrian Federation, and competes nationally in competitive carriage driving.

She has been a 4-H and Open Horse Show judge for 25 years in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and New England.

While judging each class on Sunday, Whittington made sure to note for the young exhibitors not just what they were doing wrong or could do better, but what they were doing right.

“Forty years ago, that was me,” she said of the youngest riders who entered the ring Sunday. She had a little white pony that she worked with in her back yard.

In the county where she was in 4-H, “I was showing against kids who were competing in breed shows every weekend. So, I couldn’t win.”

Still, it was the judge in the ring that year – a woman named Jan Decker, who had judged horse shows around the world – who gave her the encouragement she needed to keep showing.

“I am judging today because a very noted judge judged our county fair and paid me a couple of compliments,” she recalled. “She encouraged me and told me the things I did right. And it was because of her that I try and do the same thing.”

Being a 4-H judge is also being part counselor, which stood out Sunday afternoon as Whittington talked to one very discouraged junior exhibitor in an English jumping class. Her pony had simply refused to jump the course for her during her run.

Whittington gave her encouragement and some tips, then let the rider try one more time to get her pony to jump. It was a rough jump, but the pony heeded the young rider’s command; Whittington gave the young girl a big smile and a high-five for her effort.

She didn’t win, but she did find success.

“She got over it,” Whittington said. “Everyone has a different definition of success, but she (the rider) needs to feel success. She needs to show she can control her pony.”

That’s why Whittington enjoys judging 4-H shows, which, she said, “lend themselves to helping kids.”

“I’ve judged the (Ponies of America) world championships. When you’ve got 50 horses in each class and 100 classes to judge in a day, you can’t help anybody. But, if they’ve made it to a world championship or show, they know what they are doing, right or wrong.

“At 4-H, these kids, this is their year-round project. They show here, maybe they show at the state fair. But that’s all they do,” she explained. “So, you have to give them some encouragement,” make them know why they are competing, that they can be successful and have fun doing it.

Whittington also pointed out the camaraderie among the Jefferson County 4-H horse club members, who applauded their peers when they did well and consoled them when they didn’t.

“You don’t see that anywhere else,” at other 4-H fairs, large or small, Whittington said. “What you have here is really something special.”