The Sherrard FFA horse judging team won the state competition Saturday, Sept. 17 at the Illinois State FFA Horse Evaluation CDE (Career Development Event) competition held at Black Hawk East, Kewanee.

The students competed against 57 other Illinois schools, in the Reasons Division.

This is the same group that won first in the state in 2021 in the ‘Non-Reasons’ division at the same competition last year, according to a Friday release. Winning the Reasons category this year means they will go on to compete in Nationals in October 2023, to be held in Indianapolis.

Team members are Lexi Wehrheim (2nd place individual), Andy Wehrheim (tied for 5th place individual), Lily Passno (9th place individual) and Anna Taylor (16th place individual).

Ag Instructor and horse judging coach Bill Hammes said that “proud” doesn’t even begin to describe how he feels following the win.

“They know more than I’ll probably ever know about the horses, all the little things… my job is just to help facilitate – and get them to where they want to be,” he said in Friday’s release.

“Most Illinois state level FFA Career Development Events are very competitive. The scores of most of the top teams are separated by fewer than 50 points,” Hammes said. “The Sherrard FFA Horse Judging team scored more than 100 points more than the 2nd place team.”

Hammes explained how horse judging competitions work.

“In a contest, they will have four animals in the class. The contestants will place them first through fourth place, depending on how they see it. Their placing is compared to the officials, and how the professionals place them, and the points are given on how close or far away they are to them. 50 points is a perfect score.”

He said in the 4 Performance (or riding) classes, students judged things like whether the horse and rider complete the pattern correctly, if the horse resisted any of the commands, the height the horse carries it’s head, head bobbing, does the horse fully extend its legs when at the walk, trot and canter, along with good attitude/character, etc.

Taylor explained what it means to compete in the “Reasons” division.

“What we do is we’re given horses and we have to judge on quality, balance, and conformation,” she said. “You have to write down in your notes why it’s first, second, and third, then you specifically have to go to a judge and explain why your reason matters – why did you choose it that way – and try to persuade them to think that way.”

They had to judge five performance classes, with patterns and riding, then three halter classes.

Passno said, “I know what to look for in halter classes because I’ve grown up with my mare – before we had her, her owner was a really big show person.” 

“My very first halter class I had no idea what I was doing – but she did. And I went with what she did, and I got first. She taught me more than I’ve taught her.” Her mare is registered under the name “Always and Forever,” and they call her “Lucy.”

Each team member comes from a long background of showing horses and riding which proved invaluable, the release said.