Monday, July 24, 2017

What is appropriate dressage judging?



Dear Judge, Do you like me?
I am sure all of us who show horses in a judged sport (hunters, dressage, dressage portion of eventing, etc) have complained about a judge a time or two. Two people will never agree completely, so it's normal to have moments where you disagree with how a judge scores something. The seeming subjective judgment of a stranger can quickly seem like an attack. Rising to the bait of such an implied attack is much too easy.

Thankfully, USDF dressage judging is held to a fairly objective standard. Once you know the standard against which you are being held, judges marks should make more sense. Comments are used to show where in you are lacking when compared against the objective standard and process of judging. Typically the comments focus on what the judge perceives as the biggest thing holding you back, and are fairly subjective in that way.

This brings us to the judging done at Loch Moy II in June. As I remarked in my post recapping my 4-1 ride, the scoring was inconsistent at best. The comments were often completely off base. Not only that, some comments were downright rude and inappropriate.
Entering the gauntlet can be mess with your mind, but if you know what you're up against it's easier to keep your cool.
Word about poor (or tough, which is very different!) judging spreads around a dressage show like wildfire. The scores were strange, some very low and inconsistent. By mid-morning of the show, there was a loud murmuring of dissent throughout the grounds and the show office was starting to run low on judge review forms. At this time, the judge was running a Materiale class. 

Materiale is a section of classes where young horses are judged on their potential to move up the levels and be competitive dressage horses. Similar to the YEH classes, they are really aimed at horses with upper level potential. The classes are run more like a hunter style flat class, with competitors riding as a group and instructions called out to the riders during the class. This particular Materiale class had only one competitor. It was a 5 year old horse, which meant the judge would need to see the walk, trot and canter in both directions. In addition she could ask for a trot and canter lengthening to be shown.

The class dragged on for what seemed like an incredible amount of time. Jan was in the warmup ring during this test, so I know the judge put the horse through it's paces for at least 10 minutes. When you consider my 4-1 test clocks in at around 6 minutes in the ring, a 10 minute evaluation of a 5 year old horse is serious overkill. Especially in the heat of the day.

At the end of the ride, the judge took the microphone to give the results and explain her commentary. She praised the quality of the young horse. Then she said something uncalled for, "The riding on this horse is so poor it detracts majorly from the quality of the horse."
"Hahaha. This judge is a bitch." -- Lyra, probably
I'm sure you could argue that this comment is in line with Materiale scoring, but no one on the grounds thought so. (According to the score sheet, "acceptance of the aids" is only a part of the 10% of the score anyway) Everyone stood around mouth agape at her audacity. At another point during the day, she rang an error for a rider doing an extended trot, telling her she hadn't done the movement and "would you like to repeat"?

This sort of commentary is unacceptable from a dressage judge. It is expected that your faults, shortcomings, and mistakes as a rider will be penalized appropriately in the scoring and comments, but not be called out in any other public manner. Riding a test is hard enough knowing you will be judged, but a rider should never have to worry the judge may drag their riding through the mud in front of everyone watching.

When it came to analyzing my own scoring, I began to doubt the judge knew how to evaluate a test properly. You can look over my write up yesterday to see where I had problems with her individual scores. Still, the scoring didn't really cross a line I felt was inappropriate until the judge got to the collectives at the end of the test.
Judge's name maybe not redacted on purpose. #warning
Under the comments for Submission (score: 4.0) she wrote, "Lacks collection altogether."

Wait. What?
Definitely not collected. Nope. Not in the slightest.... *eyeroll*
I won't argue that our collection game wasn't at its finest in this test. I've remarked already how Pig lacked a good half halt for most of the test. He was behind the hand and occasionally a bit behind the leg. None of those things make for stellar collection. However, he was not completely lacking!
Definitely not showing some collection. Nope. Nuh uh. No way.
The point of this post is not to try to justify or complain about my low score. I don't think I deserved much more than what I got on this test. Instead, I want to point out that dressage judging should be held to a the objective standard laid out, to maintain the integrity of the sport and confidence of the riders. I will take a 4 all day long for insufficient collection (which this was), but I do not think it's appropriate to indicate that nothing at all was shown as that is not accurate.

I'm not the only one to get such a comment, either.
"Show some ability to engage for collection"
Jan's second level test had a similar remark. Her test was the highest scoring second level test of the day, and yet the judge seemed to think she also lacked collection. I am sure our two tests were not the only ones with remarks like this.

Judging is a tough job. Training the human eye to see gaits quality with consistency across a multitude of horse shapes and sizes is nearly impossible. Still, most USEF judges nail it pretty accurately. One may be better at one aspect of judging than another, but typically they are fairly consistent when it comes to evaluating the overall picture.
Not an easy pair to judge.
Not only was this judge completely off base with other judges when it came to evaluating overall pictures of most pairs, she was quite inappropriate and unprofessional in her commentary. The comments on my collectives and overall scores on my test lead me to doubt her ability to evaluate for the levels. Additionally, her calling out of riders mistakes in a public fashion is unforgivable, in my opinion.

I'll be on the lookout for this judge at other shows. I rarely actively refuse to show in front of certain judges, but I think I'll be making an exception here. With all the complaint forms submitted to USDF from this show, I'm interested in seeing if her scoring and commenting changes at all. Hopefully it does, for the better.

Have you ever had a judge make inappropriate comments on your test? Do you find that having objective guidelines helps you have confidence when entering the ring? Discuss! 

44 comments:

  1. Hahaha

    So I was attending a local show. A friend did a new-to-her test and wanted to see how a certain portion of it had gone. On reviewing the video, she realized she had completely omitted the movement, but not been rung off course. She got her test back and had A SCORE AND A COMMENT on the move. She approached the organizer, and together they went to ask the judge about it. The judge said that she just knew how the movement would have gone had it been performed.

    That must be a cool trick at parties?

    Iunno. I refused to show under her with my last horse because in her world. all OTTBs got a 45 (Eventing) regardless of how they performed.

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    1. ^ I had this happen to me by a judge too. I was like ...wtf?

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    2. hahaha wait, what

      was she actively asleep?

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    3. I still don't like her. Or her face or her hair. She's full of dumb.

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    4. Wow. In the judge's defense, it's super easy to have a pair go off course and not catch it immediately. To score it though? WOW.

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  2. Calling someone out like that over a loudspeaker is unacceptable. I've only ever had one judge chew me out for something and she did it privately. I completely agreed with her, tbh, but I was doing what I could to survive on my horse so I took it a tiny bit personally. Then I thought about it and realized that she has no idea what I'm going through and that her bluntness is just a way of trying to help me. I've been lucky to not get any horrible judges (though I also had another one ream me for a black shirt under a jacket at a schooling show when I originally had no intention to wear a jacket but heard she was bitching people out for not wearing one so I had to borrow someone's real quick).

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    1. That's a really great way to look at it. I try to be really open to judging and comments. I know they really are very supportive people trying to help!

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  3. I think judging is one of the hardest things to do. That being said the comments should be directly related to what is seen in the test and not overall judgments.

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    1. I agree! That's what makes things so hard, I think. They can only judge what's in front of them on the day.

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  4. Just...wow. Publicly calling someone out is absolutely unforgivable. I don't blame you for making an exception at all to not show under her again!

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  5. My mouth fell open in shock reading about that judge calling out that poor rider publicly. That is just cruel.

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  6. There are definitely more generous judges and less generous. It's nice to ride for a more generous judge but I do think it can give a false sense of achievement. I've only ridden for one judge that I would actively avoid, because we had a judge at C and one at E and she was 5% lower for me than the other judge (meanwhile everyone else's scores were almost identical). I guess sometimes a judge just doesn't like your horse, and that's fine. But comments like that? That's just flat-out uncalled for and unprofessional. I don't think this judge travels to my area but if she does, rest assured I won't be riding for her.

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    1. I don't know about a false sense of achievement. For the most part, I think most judges are pretty well calibrated (at least so that placings are similar at most shows). Some value different aspects higher than others, which can change scores a bit up or down. There's nothing wrong with that. Calling out a rider is very different, though.

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  7. idk. sometimes i really wonder what judges think they ought to be seeing for the level. even tho, as you say, it's explicitly defined in usdf tests. i've had more than a few judges that i felt were maybe expecting to see more than what was required for the level, like the one who told me to 'go back to the basics' after watching me perform one of the most basic wtc tests in existence lol.

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    1. Haha. That was ... an interesting comment.

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  8. Yeah, there is a level of appropriateness/decorum we expect judges to display - whether at a schooling/club level show or something more advanced. It very unprofessional to criticize out loud or write comments like that on a test. I've seen judges yell out at people at schooling shows which is not right. At AQHA level shows, they just gossip to the ring stewards and show managers afterwards...seen that as well.

    I've also seen a judge quote the AQHA rule book at a fair with little kids on ponies looking baffled. She lined them up and DQ'd them one by one for violations that you might overlook at a schooling show or fair. Yikes. Needless to say she didn't get hired much anymore...

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    1. Um - I realize my comment isn't about dressage judging, but the same basics certainly apply!

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    2. Oh man! The same basics do apply, even if AQHA is a totally different ballgame!

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  9. Scribing has given me a much greater appreciation for the judging levels. I can see the higher quality and consistency of judging given by Senior and FEI judges, I specifically find it interesting at how hard many judges work to make sure their scoring is on par with other judges at a multi-judge show. That's not to say that there aren't some bad eggs with higher qualifications, or good lower ranking judges, but in general, the judging program means something. My worst judge experiences have come from judges with lower (or non-existent) qualifications. I once scribed for a judge where the majority of riders scored in the 40s and 50s. While unlikely, it could have been that every rider was just legitimately terrible that day, but she actually said to me at one point "I've never been given an 8 in my own riding so why would I give an 8 to anyone else"! That comment dumbfounded me, to actively pre-determine that you will never assign a certain mark to anyone ever is the total opposite of what judging should be. I wouldn't ride in front of her again, and I always shake my head when I see her advertise herself to teach $$$ clinics.

    Clearly there are some judges who are off-base, but I do believe the majority are good. It annoys me when I hear people say for every show about how the judge was "tough" or "generous", because a lot of times I think that it's just a clue that the rider should use their marks to re-evaluate what a good or bad movement/test looks/feels like.

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    1. I'm in total agreement with you. (And I am floored that judge really said that to you! Omg!) Scribing opened up my eyes to how judges really think. Almost all of them are really rooting for every rider they see, and they genuinely feel for a rider having a tough day. It's a huge boost of confidence knowing that fact.

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  10. There is one judge who if she is judging I will not attend the event. She has a power trip over eliminating people in dressage if their horse is not in on the bit or does some jiggy jogging. She has ruined many a friends day and it's completely unnecessary.

    I think some judges are stuck in the past too. They got their judging cards back in the day and haven't changed their eye to go with how much more refined things are now. They are like horse in a frame - 7 regardless if its a true frame. Horse not in frame - 5. I talk about it a lot with my mom as she judges a lot of schooling dressage shows, sometimes you just don't know WTF the judge was seeing.

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    1. Elimination for that? How?!

      Eventing dressage feels like a totally different world to me. I can't figure out what judges are looking for to save my life, and can't find a list of objectives for each level. It's kinda insane.

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  11. As a show organizer, I can tell you nothing ruins a shower faster than an inconsistent judge, or a judge that is perceived as very tough. As you pointed out, word of such a judge spreads as soon as scores start coming in and as a show organizer, you're stuck listening to competitors complain about the quality of the judging all day long. People are more likely to scratch tests, not participate in competitors' parties, and go home instead of sticking around to volunteer after their ride. A poorly received judge casts a pall over the entire show.

    Like Emma, I get very annoyed at judges who seem to have a completely unrealistic idea of what's appropriate at the lower levels.

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    1. The show organizers were definitely aware of the situation, and I was feeling for them. I hope no one took out frustration on them!

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  12. i have been lucky that the judges i have ridden under while they may not like my horse (what a fat QH that doesnt always engage from behind or get on the bit,f or shame! HA) they are always (almost) nice in their comments if not the scores LOL. I think the scores i could get behind more than your judges comment. If she knew you or something it would be different (BUT still not appropriate to write LOOK MA NO HANDS) but she doesnt know you or Pig or your friend Jan or anyone. OBJECTIVE yes, offensive NO! But saying that Emma and I have both been dinged in INTRO and ELEM for things our young/green/silly horses can't do steadily yet. I have only had one or two judges be a bit mean on the scores and comments but then they are always professional. This judge seems to have just been mean (I wonder if something else was going on in her life you know not an excuse but we all know things bleed over into our every day lives....). SIGH I still think Pig and you are AMAZING doing what you are doing and I can remember a lot more of the bad things in earlier tests. Now he looks like the star he is (Albeit a naughty star once in a while). He and you are 10's in my book anyday!! I am glad you wrote this so you can see others have had similar experiences, it helps to vent!) But don't let a bad seed (Judge) bother you in going right back in and doing it again!! I love following along. I could never even aspire to Fourth. YOU GO GIRL (And PIG) :)

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    1. sorry got a bit long winded there. LOL I am getting off the soap box now (giggle) :)

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    2. So funny how some think a horse should be a lot more advanced than it really is sometimes. That's a big reason I stopped showing at schooling shows after 2nd level. The lower level judges just didn't have the experience to know what a horse was supposed to look like at those levels.

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  13. will you pm me the name of this judge? Going on my black list lol

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  14. I'll probably actively avoid this judge even though we did OK for her- an off day would be extra bad for us under her eye. There is one L grad that I avoid like the plague (I can only kind of remember her name, ugh). It was the very first second level test I ever rode... I hadn't gotten to review the test with my trainer, I misinterpreted a simple change (I did them through trot), and she asked me at the end of the test, in a super "wtf were you thinking" voice: "Do you know what a simple change is?" and I don't remember what my answer was but she then told me to " Go read the rule book." Never asked me what caused me to ride that test in an XC saddle either (Mikey had decided he hated my dressage saddle). A friend had her baby horse stop and rear at X on a trot diagonal, no comment whatsoever on "good job riding through it". She told me flat out on my test we're not ready for this level and go back to the basics. Event Trainer said that she got kinder remarks from her 3* tests when she blew movements. I get that we sucked, and we totally earned the 48% we got. But some of them forget the "constructive" part of criticism.

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    1. Great point. Criticism should be constructive, otherwise it hinders improvement.

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  15. Materiale usually runs long. We've been in the arena 5-6 minutes because sometimes they just need time.

    With young horse classes, the emphasis is always on development, and if there's serious disagreement about rider ability or lack thereof it's not commented on, especially on a live mic.

    The comments are inappropriate. I would like to know who this is so I don't send something in.

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    1. But it's excessive to have the horse do pattern after pattern when it's just a single horse, and for 10 minutes of continuous work? She ended up giving them a 92% or something (before it's converted to that materiale score).

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    2. Interesting! I had no idea they typically ran longer. I'd love to see a Materiale with more than one horse in the ring. They are such informative things to watch!

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  16. Well that judge is quite the ho bag. How rude and innapropriate. We just had a judge at Rebecca that was causing a little bit of trouble for some riders. He gave my friend an error after she completed her 15m circle and rung her in to do it again. All he said was "do it again" and she was so confused, but rode the 15m circle again. He gave her the error, even though she did the correct movement, but her circle was a little too large. When she asked about it, he stated that he was trying to help her not make the same mistake again for the other side. If you don't like the movement or think it is not adequate, then give them a 4 or something, don't give them a damn error. That was a little frustrating.

    While showing in a breed show, the judge made fun of my maiden name on speaker, so the whole crowd laughed at me. It did not make me feel good at all and I held back tears while I tried to finish my riding.

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    1. Made fun of your name? Wow, now that is seriously unprofessional. I am so sorry!

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  17. Those comments are really unacceptable. I'm fine with being dinged with scores all day long, but comments are where I draw the line. A score in the 2-4 range hurts but a mean comment can really discourage a person. I don't think shows, especially sub-FEI levels, should discourage people. Spank 'em, sure, but not make them feel like they don't want to come back.

    I haven't had any really terrible score/comment combos in a while. I do know the judges in the area quite well- I creep on their own riding and their judging- so I'm usually prepared when I get in the ring. I know that certain judges don't mind a retracted neck or don't seem to notice when a horse isn't collected enough, and I know that others will care way way more than I do about other things. I'm lucky to be able to be picky about judges, only a few are on my list to avoid/only do when I'm confirmed at the level. I also tend to look at how they ride and how they score themselves, I avoid this one judge in the area because I think she's a terrible trainer and if she thinks my horse is going well, I have some work to do... lol

    Did you contact show management about the calling out in the young horse class? I'd make it clear that they will lose entries if this judge is ever hired again!

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    1. Show management knows about all of these inappropriate comments - it was already a small show, so they're worried they won't have enough entries for next year.

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    2. I'm with you. I know my riding isn't perfect (especially not in this test, haha!), so I'm more than willing to take the dings on my score. Just don't make me feel like crap on top of the mistakes, you know?

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  18. There's a big difference between constructive criticism in a professional fashion, and this judge. Yikes. She sounds like an awful person to ride under and definitely would be one that would make me steer clear of any shows she judges in the future.

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  20. I think it goes back to what SarahO said about the judge who wouldn't give an 8 because she didn't get 8s herself. Your judge's average at 4th level was 52.9.
    http://www.dressagedetective.com/judge/elizabeth_madlener
    I think she's paying it back. Shame on her.

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    1. Good find! Those are actually the average scores she has given out. Her own record has some really good moments (if a bit old for Centerline Scores).

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    2. Well that's just worse! Everybody sucks at 1st, 3rd and 4th? But not Training, 2nd and Grand Prix? I don't get it at all. Really uneven judging.

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