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June 10, 2013

Dressage Scribing Goes Digital

Patti Schofler had more than a few concerns about being the guinea pig for a new electronic scribing system at the The Dressage Affaire. Photo by Terri Miller.

If you’ve ever received a dressage test and spent the next hour going line by line, trying to decipher the scribbled notations and finally throwing up your hands in despair as to whether it was your horse or your circles that “cld be roundr” or “nds electy,” then you are in good company.

But you are also in luck. Now a scribe can input a judge’s scores, movement comments and further remarks into a laptop computer that scores the test with each input and sends the final result to a printer that produces an ever so neat and clean test, complete with the judge’s digital signature.

The Dressage Affaire, which took place in Del Mar, Calif., became the first CDI to give the system a shot, and I became a pioneer, or so said show manager Kim Keenan Stordahl to entice me into my scribe seat, now before a laptop.

I’ve scribed for a lot of dressage shows and often for CDIs. I’ve been lucky to sit with some of the world’s best judges. I love it.  That said, you might consider me an old dog that was about to learn new tricks.

Saintly Patience

On training afternoon, I searched for signs of annoyance or frustration on the face of the system creator Kevin Bradbury of www.horseshowoffice.com. I asked him the same questions again and again. I blanked when taking over from him at the keyboard. I begged for assurance that this was going to be a happy experience. Since I never spotted even a smattering of impatience on his face, I saw no way to seek a reversal from this paperless event to the good old days of colored paper

Out of the box I asked Kevin how judges feel about the system that he uses at the shows he manages in Michigan. They are fine, he said, adding the qualifier “as long as the scribe is good.” I know that is always the case. When I scribe I like that I can help judges feel that they can do the job to the best of their ability because they don’t have to worry about me.

Let’s just say all the confidence I’d gained from years of experience disappeared as quickly as free candy in the secretary’s office.

As Kevin was training us, another scribe warned him that if it wasn’t going well, she’d just go home. But Kevin stayed so cool, in part because he knew there was no way on earth that we could delete a test.

Unlike many of us with our own computers, he seems to have back-ups of the back-ups. I could spill coffee on my laptop or set it on fire, and the wizard behind the screen, armed with the power of the man from Oz, could retrieved all of my original scores as entered.

In fact, when I tried to delete the scores for a test, I clicked the “rescore” button, only to be greeted by “WARNING: You are about to delete the scores for this test. Are you sure?” I even had to enter an authorization password before the scores would be removed.

Performance Anxiety

Perched on the edge of my chair in the judge’s booth, fingers poised over the laptop keys, I felt as if I was about to perform a Carnegie Hall piano concert, complete with shaking knees and sweaty palms.

The morning began with very kind people hovering behind me, offering help should I need it. Perhaps they noticed my shoulders had risen to about ear level, and I had the same pursed lips I’ve seen in every photo of me riding in the competition arena.

With someone watching over my shoulder, I went blank. I couldn’t type the “further remarks” without massive typos—even though I, as a writer, type all the time. As Kevin predicted, I would want to go back and correct typos. But this morning I didn’t dare.

I had to get over this paralysis. And I did. By the afternoon I was fast enough to slip back and fix my booboos. Except when we were at C. We had to be on time and on top of it when my judge was the head honcho.

This tension was definitely self-imposed. I was assigned to Bo Jena from Sweden, and I was fortunate to have this calm, centered and kind man as my judge for three days. I’m sure horses respond well to his unflappable demeanor too.

Old Habits Die Hard

Scribing for those three days demonstrated how old habits die slowly. For example, I brought my favorite pen with me—really? I’m typing. Still I had to have it nearby, like a favorite childhood teddy bear for comfort. And I noticed throughout the first day that Bo picked up his pen each time a test ended despite the fact that under this system he used his keyboard to type in a password to add his digital signature to the test.

As a good scribe under the handwritten method, I keep my index finger next to the movement, so I will know our place in the test. Couldn’t do that now. I prayed I wouldn’t get lost.

With written tests, the instant I hear the score from the judge, I put it in the box, even if I’m still writing a comment. With the computer, the scribe needs the hand-eye coordination of a veteran video gamer in order to bounce back and forth around the screen.

It’s crossed my mind before that someday I may mess up on a test ridden by some Olympic star, and that’s under ordinary circumstances. I began having heart palpitations when I saw the Grand Prix would be kicked off by Steffen Peters and Legolas 92 followed by Guenter Seidel and Coral Reef Wylea. What if…? What if…? What if…? Scribing with a pen I can confidently go lickety-split through the passage-piaffe tour. Now, what if I can’t find my cursor?

But I did it. I even started breathing after a few rides—well, after Steffen and Guenter.

Don’t Get Too Confident

By Day 2 I started feeling good. I even started contemplating my next million-dollar invention: scribe gloves. It’s always cold in a covered arena. And scribe hands, whether writing or typing, must be nimble. For this digital technology, my design would be simple. The fingertips of the gloves would be latex. A little wool flap could cover the tips during breaks.

Oops, I put 6.5 in the comments box. Would I have time to scroll back?

Come to find out, I am being watched. Kevin could tell that on Sue Martin’s Grand Prix from the day before I typed “mr crosising” for the half-pass, then went back and corrected the typo to “mr crossing.”

On Day 3 my raised shoulders returned. Stressed out. Freestyle at the FEI level is stress city anyway. Judges are a bit anxious because they don’t know what’s ahead. With the artistic scores, they have more areas to consider for scores. And they want to stay in timely sync with the rest of the CDI panel.

With freestyles, the scribe is all over the test hunting down the movements that were just performed. Where is the canter pirouette? Slip back up to the trot extension at the upper part of the sheet. Put a number in the collected walk box.

Don’t get distracted by the beautiful Legolas 92.

No toe tapping to Jenny Baldwin’s music.

Done. We did it. Bo and I shook hands, acknowledging that we were brilliant.

I did get comfortable, loved it and will miss it at other shows.

Riders can read all these tests without being trained intelligence code crackers. No need for runners or a band of scorers, cutting back on the bazillion volunteers needed to run a dressage show. Scoring is lightning fast. Dressage Affaire show manager Kim Keenan Stordahl noted there was much less paperwork with the system and envisions the digitizing of the dressage as the future. I see a drop in purchases of Epsom salts as scribes no longer need to soak their hands after three days of writing for a chatty judge.

But will scribes be eliminated all together one day? No, no, it’s too cool a job!

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