Judging a Writing Competition

Children's Writing Competition Poster I just participated as a judge in the first annual Voice For The Horse Children’s Writing Competition, on the topic of “Wild Horses.”  The founder of Voice For The Horse, Yvonne Allen, created the competition to provide an educational opportunity and to allow children to share their love for horses through their written words.  I agreed to be a judge for several reasons, but primarily because I felt a need to “give back,” and to encourage our next generation of writers.  Each entry inspired me — each a unique voice.  The children demonstrated dedication, passion, and a willingness to take a chance.  I loved their spirit.

I hoped the competition would demonstrate to children that yes, they have a voice, and that people listen to what they have to say, especially when expending time and effort articulating their thoughts in a meaningful way.  This was the first competition I had seen in the equine field encouraging children to express their views in writing following an educational phase. The organization’s mandate includes educating people about horses and their needs, promoting North American horse heritage, and looking to the future through the voices of our children.

In order to help educate youth on many aspects of “Wild Horses,” entrants reviewed materials provided as part of the competition, including videos and documents.   The materials and rules differed slightly for the 12 and under age group, and for the 13 – 18 group, ensuring both were age appropriate.  Voice For The Horse also encouraged writers to conduct research on their own, and of course, express their own final views.

In trying to stay with the theme of my blog, I’d like to provide some personal “lessons learned” for others who may be judging writing competitions:

  1.  Judging is hard.  If you haven’t done it, try it.  It’s great experience.  Fortunately, this wasn’t my first.  But I still find it hard.
  2.  Ensure you judge each entry against the same criteria.  This is particularly important when judging very unlike stories.  Following is an example of some potential judging criteria for a competition including both an educational and writing phase:  Comprehension, Organization, Conclusions, Creativity, and Writing.
  3. Carefully consider the rules.  A brilliant story that didn’t follow guidelines may be brilliant, but shouldn’t stack up fairly against those that did.
  4.  Remember the writer is human.  Emphasize some positive points if providing a written critique.
  5. Don’t judge the story you wish was written; judge the story written.

I have the opportunity to talk to many young folks, and so many express an interest in writing.  I always encourage them to do so, and to start now.  This competition provided an excellent, and free, means for youth to become actively involved in the horse industry and practice their communication skills.  Fortunately, Voice For The Horse and its board of directors decided to continue the Children’s Writing Competition program as part of its baseline activities, with the next six writing competitions planned for the future.  Stay tuned!

If anyone has thoughts on judging, please share.  These seems to be a lot out there on entering contests and competitions, but not so much on first-hand experiences with the judging.  Did I mention that it’s hard?


  1. […] Sometimes we just have to have fun. Last week, all the way from Vancouver, Canada, Freedom the “Spokes-character” for Voice For The Horse Foundation Children’s International Writing Competition made his first U.S. stop in Bowie, Md. I’ve been fortunate to work as a volunteer helping coordinate the Voice For The Horse annual writing competition for the past three years and serving as a judge. […]