BILL: The nice thing about this question is that there isn’t really a single correct answer. Some opinions may be worth more than others, and your own can be foremost if you so wish. When I first saw the video from the end of July of Edward Gal & Moorlands Totilas doing their 89+% ride at Hickstead, I very much admired the horse’s athleticism, and the piaffe/passage was truly spectacular. My overall impression, however, was less ecstatic than many others’. For me parts of the ride seemed almost inorganic — robot like. The topline reminded me a bit of a Saddlebred — nearly a headset, and I missed the elasticity and harmony I have seen in other horses. Looking at the linked video here from the European Championships, I take it all back. I admit that the music doesn’t appeal to me — on the apocalyptic scale it belongs somewhere to the west of the Road Warrior soundtrack. But, WOW, what a ride this one was! Goosebumps are more than appropriate. Tears, well, that’s up to you.
BILL: The answer to this, for better or worse, is a resounding NO! Some judges seem to have a sliding standard and want to be “kinder” or “encouraging” to less experienced competitors. I am totally in favor of encouraging them—particularly with my comments on the test sheet or, if time permits, in conversation after the ride. But to jimmy the scores higher—whether at a schooling show or at a competition in a more remote part of the country—just confuses riders and trainers. A single standard that remains the same morning to night, professional to amateur to kid on a fat pony, and—as much as is humanly possible—week to week and show to show is the only good way to indicate to riders where they really stand and what progress they are making.