Term(inology) Limits

(“If you say it enough ways, something is likely to click.”)

At a recent conclave of judges we were watching demo horses and evaluating their movement. Commenting on what was wrong with a particular horse’s canter, one judge volunteered, “He’s strung out.” Indeed, he was and discussion followed about his overly long, flat topline, high croup, weight on the forehand, and trailing haunches which lacked engagement. After all this our leader said, “So what comment would you give on the test sheet?”

“How about strung out?” came a voice from the back.
“People,” our leader said, “let’s use correct terminology,” implying that if the term isn’t in the Glossary, it somehow can’t apply or doesn’t exist.

This brings us to a philosophical question not so much about dressage judging but about communicating. I’m sure you have heard the tale of the tourist who goes up to a local in a foreign land (The story is usually set in Germany) and asks directions. The tourist obviously doesn’t understand the words, so the German repeats the same thing only much louder.

OK, I agree judges should know all the terms in the Glossary, and it would be nice if all the riders understood them too. But it’s not good enough to say, “If they don’t know them, they should look them up.” While to a judge a technical term like engagement can call up a whole bundle of intricate images, the reaction of a typical 15-year-old rider is apt to be, “Huh?”

As a teacher or a judge, I am in favor of using many different terms, images, and explanations. What works for one listener may not for another, but if you say it enough ways, something is likely to click.
One of my favorite judges when I was trying to learn the craft almost 40 years ago was Heather St. Clair Davis. She was a gifted artist and wordsmith, and I delighted at her ability to get her message across colorfully without the constant refrain “Needs more…“

So getting back to “strung out,” as the forum’s discussion ended (leaving some of the participants unsatisfied), I believe I heard Sidd Finch whisper sotto voce, “It’s OK. After tomorrow we can go back and do whatever we want for the next three years.“