What Does the Judge Want'

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Our lives often seem governed in four-year cycles, such things as college, presidential terms and Olympiads. Another cycle is coming around in the U.S. dressage world as new tests become effective Dec. 1. A committee of the USEF has spent the last four years evaluating the previous set of tests, consulting riders, trainers and judges as to how they can be improved, and then writing and re-writing the versions that will play a central role in our competitive lives again for the next four years.

There are some interesting new ideas in the tests, but the change I especially appreciate will likely be the least noticed by riders. It’s a very thoughtful rewriting of the ”directive ideas” for each movement. I often hear riders say: ”I don’t understand what the judge wants.” Well, there it is on the tests, in black and white, right next to the boxes for the number score and for the scribe to write the judge’s comments.

For example, a test may specify for the first halt at X that it should be placed straight on the centerline, that it should be immobile, that the transitions should be balanced, and that the quality of the horse’s trot will also be a factor. What could be more clear'

The new Training Level tests will include 14 or 15 movements, to be ridden in about 5 minutes. The Fourth Level tests will contain 24 or 26 movements, to be ridden in 5?? to 6 minutes.

The description of the movements themselves and the roadmap that each test presents — for example the size of a circle and where it is placed — is only part of the equation, the part that riders focus on the most. But, it’s how the horse handles himself within each movement that is significant, not just whether a rider can draw a high-school geometry figure in the sand of a 20x60-meter ring surrounded by a foot-high white fence.

Are the horse’s gaits regular' Is he moving with freedom and energy' Is he relaxed' Is he straight' At Second Level and above, is he in collection' Those concepts are included in the Training Pyramid that colors every moment of work we do with our dressage horses, and they are reiterated at the top of the tests under the heading of ”Purpose.” If the judge can answer yes to each of those questions, the score will be high. If one or more answer is no, the score goes down.

I often wonder how often riders ask those questions of themselves, whether they’ve acquired the insight to know when a horse has achieved these qualities within the demands of a specific test level. If so, the horse will appreciate that he’s being asked to perform at a realistic level of expectations.

The judge will appreciate the harmony of the horse and rider performing well together and reward it accordingly.