Axel steps in this week to answer a question from Anne M., who writes:
After attending many shows this past season as an observer I have walked away feeling that judging has become very subjective. Even within the same test a rider may score 65% with one judge and a 58% from the other judge. I send this question out to you because I have a lot of respect for your methods. Why is this so?
“When judging, especially in the upper levels, are there reccuring themes or mistakes that you see that a rider could change to recieve a higher score? What are the most important components of putting together a solid test in your mind-20so that a rider can recieve more consistant scores within the same test? Thanks!”
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address your question, which is actually three questions: 1) Has judging gotten more subjective? 2) Are there recurring mistakes in tests? and 3) What are the most important components of a test?
1) You must realize that judging is subjective, has always been so, and will be so in the future. However, judging has improved tremendously in the last 20 years or so. There is nothing wrong with “educated subjectivity.” Better instruction for the judges, videos (replays), live clinics, and frank discussions all have helped to reduce subjectivity. But nothing is better than experience. When you have judged a certain movement a thousand times, you build up a standard and then can compare the movement you are viewing against your standard.
Even with a solid standard, judges can come up with slightly different scores for the same movement. The difference between a 6 and 7, or 7 and 8, is not very much and depends on many factors, subjectivity being one of them. Another factor is the location of the judge and what can and cannot be clearly seen from that position. This has been an ongoing issue and that is why there is currently some discussion about adding two more judges at K and F for major championships. For instance, the judge at “M” can see the straightness, or lack thereof, of an extended trot going away from him, while at the same time the judge at “E” or “B” can see the horse’s frame and ability to cover ground. The judge at “C” can best see how straight the entry and halt is; the judges on the sides can see more clearly whether that same halt is square.
2) & 3) The answers to these two questions are very much interrelated. The simple answer is “Attention to Basics.” Basics are important at every level. The Training Scale (rhythm, relaxation, connection, impulsion, straightness, collection) is a never ending process. Correctness of gaits is just as important at Grand Prix as at Training Level. Quality of riding is just as important too! Once a horse or rider is at Grand Prix, they have been through the Training Scale many, many times, each time with greater demands and requirements.
But talent is a prerequisite also. Like any sport, the parties have to have some basic talent. Some people dance with rhythm and grace, others can’t keep a beat. Let’s face it, some horses would much rather do something other than dressage, and some riders will always be awkward on a horse and have difficulty learn to sit properly. But even with talent, many riders don’t spend enough time developing a independent seat and quiet hands before they venture into a competition arena.
As far as the training of the horse goes, many riders ignore the principles of consistent training laid down in the Training Scale. Schooling at home at a level higher than you are showing would eliminate a lot of the recurring mistakes and bring scores up significantly.
I hope this answers some of your questions!