by Bryan Smith, IHA Senior Master Judge
To say the least, my career as a hedgehog judge has been an eventful one. Being one of the creators of the Standard of Perfection and the show system, I had the unique privilege of judging the very first hedgehog show back in 1995 and aside from having judged
dozens of shows across the USA and Canada, I have also licensed close to
50 new judges over the same period.
I mention this simply as a statement of fact. Due to the enormous responsibility placed upon me by these circumstances, there is no room for pride. With every new show comes new challenges and new lessons to be learned. Every show teaches me something new about hedgehog physiology and colour and with every new classroom of future hedgehog judges that I teach, I try to pass those same lessons along.
As a judge, I see things from a different perspective than that of other show attendees. For some first time exhibitors, a hedgehog show can be bewildering. To others, the methodology behind the hedgehog show system is not fully understood. However, no matter what the case, an understanding of how a judge views matters will go a long way in helping you get the most out of your own hedgehog show experience.
Why Things Are the Way They Are
The main questions I'm asked by show-goers are in regards to why the hedgehog show system is set up the way it is. Why do we have a show table rather than judge the hedgehogs in their cages? Why don't we use score cards like rabbit shows do? Why does the judge explain his/her decisions? The answers to these and other questions underlie the fundamental elements of the hedgehog show system.
The most important facet of a hedgehog show is education. Judges want the audience and exhibitors alike to come away from the show with a better understanding of what constitutes a show winning hedgehog. As a result, we chose a system wherein the owner or exhibitor of the hedgehog brings their animal to the judge, rather than have the judge go from cage to cage, placing the animals by some hidden and secretive method.
By bringing their animals to a show table, in front of the judge and audience, everyone in attendance can see how and why the hedgehogs are judged and placed the way they are.
Score Cards - Why Not?
Unlike rabbit and cavy shows, we do not use score cards as part of the normal judging process. Score cards will become part of the standard judge's pack in 1999, but these are only used as reference guides and for the private classification of individual animals after the show is over.
Instead, the hedgehog judge uses a combination of the point system and comparison of one animal against another in order to make their final decision. In every case the hedgehogs are compared against the Standard and in turn against one another. Score cards are only used in situations where there is a great deal of similarity between two animals and the judge has a difficult time making a determination.
Explanations - Why?
After a judge has completed placing a class, he/she then turns to the audience and explains the reasons for why the hedgehogs are placed in the order they are. This is done so that everyone can hear the judges reasoning behind each placing. Nothing is hidden; there are no arbitrary decisions; and, the audience and exhibitors have the opportunity to learn more about what the judge is looking for.
Rather than belittle the animals at the bottom of the class, the judge begins his/her explanation by starting with the least hedgehog, pointing out its redeeming qualities, then proceeding to the next, explaining why he/she prefers it and so on until coming to the first place hedgehog. Exhibitors are always encouraged and no one is left feeling that their hedgehog is inferior.
Why Divide the Classes by Color?
The decision to divide the classes according to colour is based solely upon the fact that we do not yet have breed distinctions in the A.P. hedgehog. A means for class separation was necessary so a division by colour was adopted. As new colours become more commonplace and even newer colours appear, exhibitors may find their animals placed in different classes as the years go by, but the judging process is still the same - no matter which class your hedgehog is in, it is judged on it's own individual merits, colour included.
My Personal Pet Peeves
In the four years that I've spent as a hedgehog judge, I've had a lot of great experiences. Unfortunately I've also seen a lot of things that I feel hedgehog exhibitors need to improve upon. Here is a list of my personal peeves. Take heed! I may be judging the next show you attend! ;-)
Attire: I find few things more annoying than exhibitors who are under-dressed for a show. While tuxedos and evening gowns are overdoing it a bit, there is still no excuse for 'barn clothes', gaudy coloured outfits and spandex at a hedgehog show. The key to being well dressed is to draw as little attention to yourself as possible. Please, dress moderately in neutral coloured, clean outfits.
Show Cages: At many shows there is limited room for exhibitor's cages. As well, there usually are crowds of people milling about - many of them unfamiliar with hedgehogs altogether. Therefore, I make a simple yet earnest plea:
Please, do not bring giant cages and playpens to hedgehog shows. Bring your hedgehog in a small, comfortable cage that has a secure top that will keep curious hands out. The last thing anyone wants is for a stranger's first encounter with a hedgehog to be a popping ball of frightened quills. A secure cage will prevent this from happening.
Missing Exhibitors: Judges are usually under a strict time schedule, with a large number of hedgehogs to be accurately placed in a limited period of time. As such, it is very annoying when the judging of a class is delayed while show attendants try to locate an errant exhibitor. Know what class your hedgehog(s) are in and be ready when you are called to the table.
Arguing With The Judge: If you disagree with a judge's decision, never present your case at the show table. Wait until after all of the judging has been completed and talk to the judge then. In most cases you will find the judge most receptive and easy to talk to. By doing this, you are showing respect for the judge's position and for the IHA show system itself. If you are rude and argumentative at the show table you risk expulsion from the show.
Biting Hedgehogs: I don't know how to say this any nicer than than this - do not bring a hedgehog to a show if you know that hedgehog is a biter! It sounds simple enough considering the points deducted for biters, but you wouldn't believe the number of times I've been bit by a repeat offender. At one show, I was chomped on so hard by a hedgehog that I ended up with an infection. Please, be nice to the judge. Bring friendly hedgehogs to shows. I really don't like disqualifying hedgehogs, but I will if I have to.
I do hope this information is informative and helpful. More shows are popping up right across North America every year so hopefully, everyone interested in showing will have the chance to do so without being forced to travel great distances.
Oh yes, one final note for those of you who have had mediocre to bad experiences at other animal shows - I have yet to attend a hedgehog show where everyone didn't have a great time. As I always say, "If you didn't have fun, you weren't at a hedgehog show!"
If you have any questions not answered here, feel free to contact VerticalScope Inc.