Judging in dressage needs a shake up, say riders and judges, following the discrepancy in scores at the European Championships that cost Britain the gold medal.

Swedish judge Gustav Svalling marked Michael Eilberg and Half Moon Delphi 0.7 points lower than the average of the other judges’ 95% of the time.

This meant Britain finished in the bronze medal position, rather than gold.

Britain’s Wayne Channon of the International Dressage Riders Club told H&H the current system is putting judges under “intolerable pressure”.

“We need to design a system that can reliably be done by a human — that is, it can be done with consistency and accuracy,” he said.

“The current one requires judges to be practically psychic. There are so many variables — it needs to evolve.”

Another point Wayne brought up was national bias.

“National bias has been an issue forever,” said Wayne. “It’s not a vindictive decision; it’s just what you’re used to seeing. But there needs to be a way to move forward.”

Wayne added that riders are becoming “increasingly upset” by the “injustices” in judging.

“We should bring trainers, judges, sports psychologists and statisticians together to design a new system,” he suggested

Judge Kim Ratcliffe believes national bias was “inevitable”, but thinks judging should be anonymous.

“If names weren’t published, it would take away some pressure,” she said.

“It worries me that if a judge comes under scrutiny, the next time they might mark what they think they should, rather than what they believe.”

She added that the FEI should standardise judge training to make sure all countries have a robust system.

The FEI told H&H a review of the system was undertaken in 2009, and a review of the European Championships is also planned.

A dressage freestyle test event was held by the FEI on Tuesday (24 September) in Germany, with a debrief to take place in the near future.

“The freestyle is characterised by the most subjective judging elements of all FEI Dressage tests and continual efforts should be made to increase its objectivity further,” said FEI dressage committee chairman Frank Kemperman.

“Various new ideas will be explored during five rounds of testing. We are anticipating that the event will be an important step forward towards greater transparency in freestyle judging.”

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (26 September 2013).