Open debate among riders, trainers and judges at the annual Global Dressage Forum is transforming the sport of dressage.

The most testing session of the 2003 forum, held at Joep Bartels’s training centre, Academy, in the Netherlands was an evaluation of the judging at Hickstead’s European Championships.

Using new technology, along with a DVD of the championship, participants could view a whole test, then five horses consecutively carrying out the same movement and, finally, two horses doing the same things on the screen together.

Ultimately, the debate resulted in a much better understanding of others’ views.

Overall in competition, the judges accepted that there had been times when they had marked too high and the trainers admitted that there were occasions when they could not agree among themselves.

So the trainers agreed that, while they could be at variance with a judge, there might also be different interpretations among the best trainers in the world.

But the trainers ultimately appreciated the difficult job of the judges in producing a mark that reflected the “whole picture” — they were not just judging the technical points but the overall picture, including the quality of the paces.

Similarly to last year, there was general agreement that the scale of marks could be used more, going higher for the really good movements and lower for the mistakes.

One issue that went unresolved was that combinations who did their one-time changes in a pace close to medium canter got high marks if the changes were performed accurately. But should riders be encouraged to go for a medium canter when FEI directives ask for a canter in which the degree of collection should be slightly less than that of a normal collected canter?

When a group of knowledgeable people cannot always agree, new systems or at least adjustments to the system are needed in order to make the sport more transparent.

Mariette Withages said that the FEI is preparing a handbook for judging, a draft of which will be presented to riders and trainers next year.

  • For a full report on the Global Dressage Forum, including the discussion of potential changes to the way dressage is judged in the future, see today’s issue of Horse & Hound (23 October).

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