AQHA 2019 Most Valuable Professional Marilyn Randall shares the wisdom she’s gleaned from an extensive career as a trainer, steward, and judge.
By Kaycie Timm, Reiner Associate Editor
Marilyn Randall of Bridger, Montana, has been horse-crazy her whole life. She took her passion to the show pen in the late 1970s and eventually transitioned to coaching youth and amateur riders, many of whom went on to earn numerous AQHA titles. Marilyn’s first venture in the reining world began when her son, Matt, became interested in the sport. She took the role of supportive mother seriously—even so far as to get her NRHA Judge’s Card so she’d be more knowledgeable of the rules.
Now, over 20 years later, she’s stewarded numerous NRHA Futurities and Derbies and has judged NRHA events around the globe. In addition to AQHA and NRHA, she’s a carded judge in APHA, NSBA, NRCHA, FEI, and USEF. Most recently, she was honored as the American Quarter Horse Association’s 2019 Most Valuable Professional—and we can see why.
“I don’t look at judges as police,” Marilyn reveals. “I look at us as ambassadors, working with the industry, not against it. We’re recording what we see, and we want to do it in a positive manner by looking for credit-earning situations, knowing that nothing is absolutely perfect.”
From an exhibitor’s perspective, both as a rider in the open and a non pro/youth coach, Marilyn sees value in knowing judges have a well-rounded understanding of the sport they’re judging—and she’s sought to maintain that standard for herself.
“It’s important that you be judged by someone who’s really interested in and knowledgeable about the event,” she shares. “People understand it better if their score comes from someone who’s in that specific business, rather than someone outside trying to tell you what you can or can’t do.”
Throughout her career, Marilyn has increased her understanding of all the equine sports she judges by competing, coaching, and adapting through every rule change and new procedure. Simultaneously, she’s remained focused on being a good steward of the equine athletes she works with, respecting their welfare and safety above all else.
“I enjoy horses, I enjoy the people, and I enjoy looking at good horses—it doesn’t matter what breed—doing what they can do well,” Marilyn reveals. “You can tell when the horse is enjoying it. When they’re doing well, they like what they’re doing, and they’re built to do it; it’s like watching good basketball or hockey players. It’s exciting. And we [judges] get a ringside seat!”
However, Marilyn is the first to admit that any professional role in the equine industry comes with a heavy burden of responsibility, too. Judges hold the authority of using an association’s standard to determine each maneuver’s worth, and ultimately, to present a calculation representing the score that horse and rider earned.
“You’ve got to be willing to accept the pressure and not be intimidated,” she advises. “You need to keep the mindset that you’re going to do the very best you can that day, because we’re all human. But you can’t use that as an excuse, because if you make a mistake, it does matter—it’s somebody’s paycheck.”
With a lifetime of invaluable experience behind her, Marilyn especially enjoys watching up-and-coming trainers and judges making their way in the industry. Her counsel? Maintain a policy of honesty.
“My advice is to be honest and sincere with your customers and your horses,” she explains. “Treat people—whether you’re judging or training horses—like you want to be treated. Be a cheerleader for everybody, and always look for the good in people and in horses.”
As she reflects on her success, Marilyn expresses her thanks to all those who’ve helped her over the years.
“This honor [2019 AQHA Most Valuable Professional] blew me away,” Marilyn admits. “I’ve been fortunate to be around good people who’ve been willing to help me throughout my life. I love the people; I love the industry; and there’s no place I’d rather be than doing this.”
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