The Virginia Tech Horse Judging Team completed the Spring 2003 competition season being named champion overall team twice and reserve champion once during competition in three national judging contests.

The team's performance during the spring followed an equally impressive Fall 2002 season. It was named champion overall team at the Morgan Grand Nationals in Oklahoma City in October. And it was the third overall team at the Arabian Nationals in Louisville, Ky., also in October.

Those are impressive wins, adding up to the equivalent of the bowl championship in the small but high competitive universe of collegiate horse judging, said Rebecca Splan, the team's coach. Being in the top three of every competition it entered is still more impressive in that it shows the team is able to adapt to the very different styles of judging represented by the various events.

"These are very high-energy students who are very committed," said Splan, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences. "They spend a tremendous amount of extra time preparing for competition, but they're also the type of students who don't let their grades slip."

The students are trained to evaluate classes of four horses, with their judgments compared to those of a panel of experienced judges. They evaluate the horses in such areas as confirmation, or judging the horse against an ideal horse of a particular breed; the horse under saddle; and how the horse performs.

"They are judging six to 10 classes of horses a day," Splan said. "They have to evaluate the horses on the various criteria, keep this information in their heads to compare horses mentally as the day progresses, and then they have to explain why the made the decisions they made. They learn so much more than how to judge horses; they learn decision-making skills and life skills."

The team earned the champion overall team title at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo in Denver on March 15. The team scored a first in the performance category, a second in halter, and a fourth in reason. Team member results were: Dana Noel, third overall, fifth in performance; Joey Amory, fifth overall, eighth in performance; and Deborah Clay, 10th in reasons.

On April 4, the team won the second place title, reserve champion, at the MTSU Horse Judging Contest in Murfreesboro, Tenn. The team took first place in halter, second in performance, and second in reasons. Team member results were: Micah Pugh, first overall, first halter, first reasons, and second in performance; and Lenore Oliphant, first in halter.

Also April 4 and also in Murfreesboro, the team earned the champion overall team title at the NACTA Horse Judging Contest. The team took first place in halter, first in reasons, and second in performance. Team member results were: Micah Pugh, first overall, first halter, second performance, and second reasons; Kim Smith, first performance, second reasons, fourth overall, and seventh halter; Joey Amory, third performance, fifth overall, fifth reasons, and eighth halter; Dana Noel, fifth halter, sixth overall, and seventh reasons; and Deborah Clay, sixth halter, eighth reasons, and eighth overall.

In the fall, in addition to being the champion overall team at the Morgan Grand Nationals, the team was first in halter and third in reasons. Kim Smith was the reserve champion overall; Joey Amory was third overall; Dana Noel was first in halter; and Deborah Clay was third in halter.

At the Arabian Nationals, the team was third overall team, second in halter, second in reasons, and third in performance. Joey Amory was named the champion overall individual, second in halter, third in performance, and third in reasons. Results of other team members were: Kim Smith, sixth overall and seventh in performance; Dana Noel, seventh in halter; and Deborah Clay, ninth in reasons.

The team members are: Joey Amory from Crozet, Va.; Deborah Clay from Abingdon, Va.; Dana Noel from Fishersville, Va.; Kim Smith from Lovettsville, Va.; Micah Pugh of Harrisonburg, Va.; Lenore Oliphant of Vienna, Va.; Carmen Franck of Montpelier, Va.; and Tracy McCoy of Indiana, Pa.