Q. Betsy, Oviedo, Florida
Because climbing the dressage levels becomes so difficult at Third Level, where collection starts, do you think there is a way to bridge this gap of understanding? Do you think dressage shows could offer lectures given by the judges on what collection is and how we must intricately put together the tests that require collection? Or do you think that job needs to stay with the trainers and coaches?
A. Dear Betsy,
Collection actually begins at second level. If you read the purpose on the top of the tests, it states that an "uphill tendency" is required. Judges expect the collection to come and go a bit at second level. In the 2003 tests, our U.S. Equestrian Federation Test writing committee felt the need to introduce movements that would help riders with collection. Hence, the introduction of simple changes instead of the old changes of lead through the trot.
Since these tests were changed in 2003 and improved for 2007, the committee members agree that the level of collection has also been improved. We have also discussed adding another level to bridge the gap between second and third level, but with all of the awards this would be "mission impossible." A good rule to follow is if you can score consistently above 63 percent at the highest test of the level, then you are ready to move into the next level.
Regarding the second part of your question, I think that judges and coaches need to speak the same language. Steffen Peters and I have been doing judge/trainer seminars across the USA to help promote this topic. These have been well received from coast to coast.
Q. Karen, Fredericksburg, Md.
Many riders seem to have forgotten the ear-shoulder-hip-heel alignment and are leaning behind the vertical at every gait. This results in the seatbones being in a 'driving' position. You end up with a horse who is being told to go forward with the seat and being pulled in by the reins in the front --a very tense picture! Having scribed for several L and R judges, I often wonder why they never comment on rider position?
A. Dear Karen,
The test writing committee agrees that correct equitation and correct aids need to be addressed. This is why the rider score has been increased to a co-efficient of '3'. You describe a rider with 'conflicting' aids, and I agree this needs to be addressed with a lower score for the rider. A correct seat needs a three point contact--two seat bones and the crotch--plugged into the saddle like a three point plug into the wall. With the more modern, hotter (more Thoroughbred) type horses, a driving seat will make a horse crazy and tense. It is a very old style, old fashioned position.
I must say however, that some riders can have their legs a bit more forward and still have a wonderful soft seat. So it is the whole picture that tells the story. Our judges forums in 2007 are going to address the rider score. In the judges forum I taught in 2006, I told the judges I felt if the rider were the main problem, they should get the lowest score in the collective marks, not the horse for submission. I feel too many judges blame the horse, when the poor animal can't perform due to the rider's incorrect influence. I hope this will change.
Q. Carol O.
I was at a meeting yesterday and had the pleasure of hearing Lisa Wilcox speak. One of the things she discussed was rules placing barriers to riders being able to approach judges at shows. In Europe there are no rules barring competitors being able to approach judges, and Lisa felt this enhanced a rider's education. How do you feel about this, and is there a chance things may change here?
A. Dear Carol O.,
It is not only the riders in Europe who benefit. Let me tell you a story. The first time I judged in Europe, I had the honor of judging with Eric Lette. After the Grand Prix, he took me aside and told me we were joining his friends for drinks. He sat me down with Jo Hinneman, Conrad Schumacher and Harry Boldt. He asked them to give me comments on how I had judged their students!!!! Talk about nerve wracking!!! I wish things were different here in the United States too. However, it seems that lawyers and lawsuits make everyone in the United States wary. You may always talk to a judge if you ask the TD to approach the judge. We are all willing to talk to you! Please feel free to bring your test and discuss your concerns!
Q. Mary, St Johns, Fla.
Last year at a USEF recognized show in training level, test 4, as I crossed the diagonal in the long walk, the R-rated judge honked the horn of the vehicle he was in three times. I visually checked with my reader to verify I was on course. I finally stopped on the short side before my transition to trot. He scored my walk and transition as tense and did not acknowledge his mistake honking the horn.
The judge in question had been difficult with other riders the day before. One rider at third level had asked to be excused from the indoor ring for safety reasons. He said if she left the ring he would score the second half of her test with zeros. The judge also chastised a pony breeder for being too big to show her large pony stallion. The rider is about 5'3".
Since the judge sets the tone of the show, needless to say, this was not a fun one. Is there some action I could have taken? Is there a way to report the quality of the judging besides complaining in the barn? Can judges be reprimanded or have their certification removed?
A. Dear Mary,
If this was a USEF show you have a great solution. Get a judge evaluation form from the show office and send it in with you comments. If all three of the riders you discussed filled out a form, I am certain this judge would have received a letter from the USEF licensed officials department regarding his behaviour. Just talking around the scoreboard might make you feel better, but won't help our sport. Letters go into the official's file, and when he or she applies for promotion the letters are re-read by the committee. Competitors have a lot of power, they just don't use it!
Regarding your action on the 'off course'--if the judge rings the bell , do NOT talk or look at your reader, go immediately to the judge at "C" and ask them for directions.
Poor sportsmanship is not acceptable, by the competitor or the judge!
Q. Jamie, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
When (and if) you judge a schooling show, do you do anything differently than if it were a recognized dressage show?
A. Dear Jamie,
I think schooling shows should be used as a "dress rehearsal" for the horse and rider. Some schooling shows are run under USEF rules, some are not. I do not judge many schooling shows anymore, but my standard is my standard, whether judging in Germany, Costa Rica or Florida. I think judges should be encouraging at schooling shows but should not change the standard of their scores. This results in a big shock to riders when they attend a recognized show.
Q. Lottie, Memphis, Tenn.
I really struggle to make the transition from free walk to medium walk to trot. My horse inevitably throws his head up when I’m gathering up my reins, and then I feel like the next two or three movements are poor while we’re getting organized. I’ve compensated for this by just not going for a big, long free walk, so we don’t get so disorganized. Do you have any suggestions for improvement?
A. Dear Lottie,
You are not the lone ranger! This is why the test committee has added a score in first level for the transition. (Mean us, right!) I have my students school this transition on a circle. I have them pick up the inside rein first, using the bend to keep the horse supple, and then shorten the outside rein. Once this is going well on the circle (remember, nine times out of 10 and you are on the right track), I move it to the diagonal line. Each transition is in a corner, so you can use the same technique--pick up the inside rein first, supple, and then shorten the outside rein. Better to really show a GOOD free walk to the very end (this counts double), and then as the horse's nose touches the letter, shorten the reins. Many riders lose points by starting to shorten the reins on the quarter line. Also remember you must train the walk. The horse must free walk until they RELAX. This may take five minutes, but don't rush!!! Do this three or four times during your ride.
Q. John, Los Angeles, Calif.
When a rider comes into the ring who you’ve judged before, or one you know something about, does that affect your judging at all?
A. Dear John,
Believe it or not, I get really nervous before a big class, like the Festival at Gladstone (N.J.). We judges have a lot of stress. We want to do a good job. We don't judge the "halo," we judge what we see. We want to give good comments and be fair. We LOVE giving high scores, to Robert Dover or Anky van Grunsven or to Susie Nobody. We talk at dinner and the next morning about what we did the day before. We want to be "on the same track." Judges really work hard at being good, and nothing is more fun or stressful for an FEI judge than to judge a really BIG competition. So, riders take heart!!!! We are just as nervous as you are!
Q. Renata, Kansas City, Mo.
The warm-up is an area where many things occur that wouldn’t fly in the show ring. What is your position on having a judge in the warm-up? Also, at FEI shows there are stewards in the warm-up, but it seems like they have limited power. Isn’t what goes on in the warm-up important for the welfare of the horse?
A. Dear Renata,
Again, this is a great place for competitors to help police the sport. Judges only have "power" in their arena, not the warm-up. TDs can report problems, but the warm-up is officially the show management's venue. If the TD is busy elsewhere, go to the show office and get the manager out there. I agree there are a lot of things in the warm-up that should not be happening. All of us are supporters of the horse, and who else will take care of the animal? Let's work together. If you see excessive spurring, whipping, jerking etc. HELP!
Q. Jessica, Hamilton, Mass.
I’ve gotten comments on my test that I need to use my corners more effectively to set my horse up and rebalance him. Can you give me some tips on how to ride the corners more effectively? What would a “perfect” corner look like?
A. Dear Jessica,
The corners are your friends. One time I rode a test right after Hilda Gurney. She was the first in the ring after a drag. I tried to follow her path, but could not get my beast anywhere near her tracks in the corner. Hmmmm.
Kyra has a great exercise. Think of the corner as two straight lines connected by a turning aid. Do NOT leg yield into the corner, this will push the energy out, rather than keeping it on the inside, engaged hind leg. Your horse will no doubt turn without you, as you have not been giving the turning aid. So, quietly halt, with the horses head at the rail. Pat him, and then turn and go on to the next corner. Each time the horse turns without an aid, halt and remind him. The key is you must remember this aid!!! Even a 4-year-old can go into the corner with this exercise.
I like to go into the corner about two meters more than the smallest circle in the test. The corner is your opportunity to collect the horse (shorter, higher strides). Think of your horse as a car. For the hairpin turns you want a Porsche. Small, short, strides that are easy to turn. Then the long side is the Los Angeles freeway, time for a stretch limo. Go forward, lenthen a bit. Then, CORNER ALERT! Use this shorten and lengthen a lot. It will build strength and obedience to your seat and half halts.
Janet Brown Foy is a well-known dressage judge, trainer and competitor from Colorado. She's currently an FEI I-rated judge, a USEF S-rated dressage judge, an R-rated Sporthorse Breeding judge, and she also served on the USEF test-writing subcommittee.