Road to the Horse 2024 Judges

Road to the Horse strives to bring together the best of the best — colt starters, colts, entertainment and judges. Judging the world’s best colt starters at horsemanship’s most prestigious event, is the responsibility of five individuals who are often as unique as the event itself. Each judge on the panel is an expert in their discipline. This year’s judging lineup comes with a unique blend of talent that stretches from the show pen to the round pen and even to the rodeo arena. With an emphasis on building a solid foundation, each judge critiques every step — from beginning to end — as competitors work to build a trusting partnership with their colt. The five talented judges chosen to judge at the Road to the Horse 2024 are Eric Hoffman, Cody Lambert, David O’Connor, Jesse Westfall and Jeff Williams. The Road to the Horse 2024 judging panel will gather at the Kentucky Horse Park on March 21-24 to determine which competitor will walk away with the title.

David O’Connor

David O’Connor represented the United States in the sport of three-day eventing. He competed in two Olympic Games, winning a team silver at the 1996 Summer Olympics and an individual gold and team bronze at the 2000 Summer Olympics. At the 1999 Pan American Games, O’Connor took an individual silver and team gold and at the 2002 World Equestrian Games he assisted the US team to gold. After his retirement from competition in 2004, he became involved in the administrative side of international eventing. O’Connor has held top coaching roles for the US and Canadian national eventing teams and was president of the United States Equestrian Federation from 2004 to 2012. In 2009, he was inducted to the United States Eventing Association’s Hall of Fame, and two of his horses have been granted the same honor. In 2022, O’Connor was appointed USEF Chief of Sport. O’Connor is married to fellow international event rider Karen O’Connor, and the pair operate two equestrian training facilities in the eastern United States. (Photo Credit: USEF Archives/Pam Spaulding).

Eric Hoffmann

Eric Hoffmann is the Director of Horsemanship Education and head horsemanship instructor at the Montana Center for Horsemanship and the University of Montana Western. He has taught horsemanship classes at MCH and Montana Western since 2008.  Hoffmann holds an A.A.S. in Equine Management and Training from Laramie County Community College and has earned a B.S. and M.S. degrees in Agriculture Education from the University of Wyoming and Montana State University.  Eric previously served on the Ranching Heritage Committee for the AQHA. Eric coached the University of Western Montana Colt Starting Team to a championship at the Road to the Horse Days of ’47 Colt Starting Competition in Salt Lake City in 2021 and at the Road to the Horse Idaho Collegiate Colt Starting in 2023.

Cody Lambert

Cody Lambert was born in Artesia, New Mexico. A saddle bronc, bull riding, calf roping and team roping cowboy, he began in the American Junior Rodeo Association (AJRA), then attended Sul Ross State University where he won the Men’s All Around at the 1982 NIRA Finals. Lambert joined the PRCA in 1980 and the following year qualified for the NFR after only going to 29 rodeos. He went to the NFR in saddle bronc competition in 1981, 1990 and 1991 and in the bull riding in 1985, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992 and 1993. Lambert was a PBR co-founder and went to the PBR Finals in 1994, 1995 and 1996. A Texas Circuit Finals champion twice in bull riding, twice in saddle bronc and 3 years as the All-Around, Lambert designed the protective vest for rodeo in 1992. He retired from competition in 1996. Lambert received the PBR Ring of Honor and has been the Director of Livestock for PBR since 1997. He has mentored many young cowboys including Jess Lockwood, who became a PBR World Champion. Today Lambert ranches near Bowie, Texas.

Jesse Westfall

Jesse Westfall grew up watching western shows with his grandpa and knew early on that he wanted to ride horses. Through the years, Jesse has accumulated a record to be proud of including multiple NRHA and AQHA year-end awards, and as well as being a two-time Reserve Champion at the All American Quarter Horse Congress. Jesse served as an NRHA judge for 14 years and presided over shows in the United States, Canada and Australia. He has a strong interest in bloodlines and breeding, and is responsible for breeding horses that have won 11 All American Quarter Horse Congress Championships. He is in his seventh year as the trainer in residence at Asbury University where he teaches training classes. He is constantly refining his skills and striving to be the best possible horseman that he can be. Jesse’s passion for horses is definitely a result of his passion for life. He serves as a constant inspiration to his wife, Stacy, and is a dedicated father to their three sons.

Jeff Williams

For more than 40 years, Jeff Williams has been starting colts for numerous longtime clients that include the Haythorn Land & Livestock, King Ranch, Beggs Ranch, Matador Ranch, Espuela Ranch, and the Muleshoe Ranch. Many of the colts he starts bring top bids at prestigious ranch horse sales. Jeff is also a Ranch Horse Association of America event judge. Not only does Jeff have an in-depth and lifelong understanding of the elements that create a perfect foundation for a developing colt, he is a cowboy who lives every day in the saddle.