The NRCHA uses the NRHA penalty system with an exception for the “scotch” on the approach to the stop. The NRCHA has this penalty, but the NRHA doesn’t.

Horses are required to be on the correct lead throughout the circle maneuvers.

Circles are divided into 4 equal quadrants. For each quarter circle a horse is out of lead, it is a 1-point penalty.

The tricky part is that the “quadrant” starts where the horse is out of lead (either by missing a change or falling out of lead). So, it’s critical to know exactly where the horse was out of lead and whether it’s for 1 stride or 1 quarter circle, it’s a 1-point penalty.

If a horse goes further than ¼ circle, it’s another 1-point deduction for each quarter circle. In the small slow circles, the quarter circle is small and the number of strides will be less to get a 1 pt penalty.

If a horse missed a lead for ¾ of the circle, it would be recorded as a penalty “3”, versus one that fell in and out of lead 3 times which would be a penalty 1,1,1.

The hardest 1-point penalty is when a horse falls out of lead for only 1 stride. It happens so fast, that it is commonly missed.

Being a few strides early or late on a lead change is also a 1-point penalty. Leads must be changed cleanly in within a stride or 2 of the center for credit. If you’re not certain if they’re too early or a bit late, just come down on the maneuver score.

The scotch can be another tricky one. There is seldom a “yahtzee” on scotches. A “Yahtzee” is when everyone makes the same call. For the scotch penalty, the horse must assume the stopping position and has to be asked to continue forward to the stopping area. When a horse anticipates the stop, but doesn’t achieve the position, it bring the maneuver score down, but isn’t a penalty. The scotch should be obvious, otherwise average the poor approach with the actual stop for the maneuver score.

Over or under spinning 1/8-1/4 is a 1 point penalty also. It can depend on where the judge is sitting, whether it is called or not. Consistency is what’s important with the 1-point penalties and they are very meaningful in how the horses place.

The last one is slipping the rein. That means that 1 rein is being held shorter than the other. If the horse’s head is exaggeratedly tipped to the inside of the circle or spin, the judge should look for the telltale “bubble” in the reins. If you don’t see an obvious one, don’t take the penalty.

It’s important not to get negatively biased and hunting for penalties. If they jump out at you, record them, then decide how much it should affect (or not) the maneuver score.

Consistency and fairness are what makes a really good judge and that requires lots of focus!


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