Colorado woman, and Broncos’ mascot rider, recognized for contributions to Arabian horse industry | TheFencePost.com
Nikki Work
Work is a freelance writer from Lakewood, Colo. She can be reached at nwork17@gmail.com.

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Colorado woman, and Broncos’ mascot rider, recognized for contributions to Arabian horse industry

When Ann Judge talks about the highlight of her equestrian career, she doesn't mention stampeding into Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., for Super Bowl 50, on the back of Broncos mascot Thunder.

She's not sifting through the times she's led her horse to a victory in English or Western pleasure classes or still buzzing from her recognition as the Arabian Professional and Amateur Horseman's Association "Horsewoman of the Year" on Feb. 26.

Instead, she brings up the showmanship portion of an Arabian horse show she judged last year. The competitors were kids, and they had no idea what they were doing. She remembers the terrified looks on their little faces when she stopped them during the show, walked into the show ring and asked if she could teach them the pattern they should take around the ring with their animals.

One by one, the kids fell into line behind her like little ducklings. They scuttled on their two feet, like their horses would prance on four, did 360-degree turns when she asked and even broke into a run at the spot their horse would need to trot.

After their little exercise, the kids didn't look scared of the big, bad judge anymore — instead, they looked excited. The person they most wanted to impress had taken the time to notice them.

"It made my summer," she said.

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Judge knows how much it means to have those interactions. She remembers how nerve-wracking the arena could be when she was a little girl and how important the judges' feedback was. Those moments gave her the chance to learn. The fresh-faced junior equestrians teach her something new, too.

Even now, decades after her father bought her first pony — a mean little guy, she said — Judge thinks the best part of the equestrian world is learning.

NEW CHALLENGES

She rattles off the things she knows she does well — competing, training, judging and of course, riding Thunder — in the same breath that she talks about her new challenges. Recently, Judge took up Western Dressage, a discipline in which both horse and rider progressively move through different levels of training to perfect certain movements and traits. Instead of competing in the same ring at the same time as the other competitors, it's just you and your horse, and you're only looking to bring the best out of each other, Judge said.

"It's making me have to learn and think about the show ring in a different way," she said. "For me, it's really stimulating to be able to go from one discipline to another. It's really making me learn a lot."

Dressage is the perfect way for an established equestrian to keep things fresh — that's why she sees many of her colleagues turning to it after years in the business, too. It teaches them to pay attention again and it helps them reconnect with a horse that may have gotten too lackadaisical for other events after years of practice.

"I'm a lazy person by nature," she said with a laugh, before rattling off all the ways the sport keeps her on her toes. "(Dressage) makes me a more interesting person."

She also hopes to take new, off-the-wall adventures to keep her skills fresh, even though she's already proven a star in her field. This year, she wants to start focusing more on trail-riding, and hopes to ride a horse through some of the most beautiful country in Colorado. For her 60th birthday in 2018, Judge plans to ride a burro through the Grand Canyon.

AWARD WINNER

The variety in Judge's repertoire is part of what earned her the "Horsewoman of the Year" award from the APAHA. Recipients of the award are chosen because their background includes both competition and community service involving Arabians. The second piece of that is what really stands out to Judge — she's thankful she's had the chance to show her community how much of a difference Arabians can make.

Arabians are often considered emotional, or "hot," as many trainers put it, but Judge said it's that emotional streak that made her fall in love with the breed. Pointing to a picture of Thunder, her eyes tear up.

"Look at this horse's eyes. They are so expressive," she said. "I really want a relationship and a partnership with the horses that I ride, and I've just always felt that Arabians, with that emotional connection, just feed that."

Judge said without Thunder or his owner, Sharon Magness Blake, the APAHA award wouldn't have been possible. It's because of them that an Arabian horse is a face for philanthropy. She and Magness Blake take Thunder to visit schools, libraries, hospitals and more to bring a little — well, big — bit of sunshine into peoples' days.

"(Thunder) has walked through hotel kitchens to get to people. He's met President Bill Clinton, Garth Brooks and John Elway — and he's pooped in front of all of them," she said with a big laugh that makes the rhinestone fringe hanging from every edge of her blue and orange Western gear shake. Down to her boots, which are worn-in and carry a layer of dust from use, she's representing the team and horse she loves.

When the laugh fades to a smile, Judge glances down at the Super Bowl ring on her finger and launches into her next story, but it's not about her. It's about Peyton Manning and all the hard work he did to be successful in his career. He started working for Super Bowl 50 when he was 5 years old, she said, and now, she's wearing the same ring he is.

"An Arabian horse has afforded me the kind of opportunities that are afforded to so few people," she said. "It's so humbling." ❖

— Work is a freelance writer from Lakewood, Colo. She can be reached at nwork17@gmail.com.

2016 APAHA individual category winners

» Professional Halter — Ted Carson

» Amateur/Youth Halter — Angela Sellman

» Professional Hunter/Show Hack — Cheryl Fletcher

» Amateur Hunter/Show Hack — Sandra Feuling

» Youth Hunter/Show Hack — Madison Rose

» Professional English — Joel Gangi

» Amateur English — Katie Harvey

» Youth English — Madison Rose

» Professional Western — Joe Reser

» Amateur Western — Janice Lorick

» Youth Western — Sarah Porter

» Professional Working Western — Gordon Potts

» Amateur Working Western — Trevor Miller

» Youth Working Western — Madison Rose

» Horseman Of The Year — Ted Carson

» Horsewoman Of The Year — Ann Judge

» Breeder Of The Year — Palmetto Arabians

» Distinguished Service — Dave Daugherty

» Amateur Of The Year — Lori Conway

» Rising Star — Stephanie Sage