Things in a judge’s head

(“How much . .  .to penalize”)As you may know, every licensed dressage judge is required to take part in regular training/re-training periodically to maintain their standing. This includes written tests on the rules and at least every three years participation in a judges forum which usually involves moderated oral judging of tests in front of their peers and a distinguished moderator. These are usually two or three days in duration.

I recently attended one such forum in Atlanta under the direction of (retired) FEI 5* O. judge Gary Rockwell. One purpose of the gathering is to reaffirm what we should be looking for and rewarding (or discouraging) as we judge. But I for one have been judging for nearly 40 years and I, like most judges, have a pretty good idea of what I want to see in the ring.

For our sport to have meaning to all involved—the riders, the coaches, the trainers, and those of us sitting at C—there must be reasonable unanimity among what we value and prioritize when we observe the horses. If you work on your own too long without feedback, it’s possible for your standards deviate too high or too low from the norm until riders hunt through their omnibus for lenient judges and to avoid the low scoring ones.

Usually at issue is not whether what you see is right or wrong, but if it’s not what you want, how much is it appropriate to penalize. Does a momentary bobble blow up the score for the whole movement? How significant is not enough energy or too flat a top line? What degree are the Purpose and Directive Ideas being fulfilled by the horse in the ring?

This periodic recalibrating or at times reaffirming the numbers we give is an essential duty we perform to keep our advice correct and beneficial to the riders.