Dressage judge Stephen Clarke, shares his opinion on the current hot topic of judging

I can imagine how hard it is for people who have never sat in a dressage judge’s box to understand how difficult the job is. I can also understand how easy it is for the “armchair critics” to point the finger and jump up and down the moment judges have the slightest differences within their scoring.

Our judges are a hardworking group of individuals with unquestionable integrity, who are doing their utmost to give correct and logical marks for every movement, but they are human beings, not robots.

When one is judging up to 50 horses a day, as was the case at the World Equestrian Games, each judge has to decide upon 1,850 marks per day. This amounts to 12,950 separate scores from seven judges — 25,900 separate scores for the two days of grand prix. It is inevitable that there will be the occasional variation of marks.

Our present system of judging has been expertly developed over many decades. Even when there are the inevitable differences over individual points, with seven judges strategically placed around the arena, and the judging supervisory panel (JSP) acting as a “safety net”, should any one judge miss a counting mistake in the changes for example, the team result from the average of the seven judges is correct for the vast majority of the scores throughout the competition.

Practical means for development

However, I do agree that we must remain open-minded and continue to search for practical ways to develop and improve our judging of the sport.

Even though huge strides have been made, particularly over the past 20 years or so, to develop the judging through training, examination and transparency, improvements can always be made.

I had the honour of being part of the International Dressage Officials Club (IDOC) group that produced the FEI handbook for judges several years ago. This provides some detailed descriptions of each score for every movement from 10 to zero (yes, we do train our officials to judge out of 10).

At the time this document was published we invited comments and suggestions for future revisions from all the clubs, but so far no suggestions have been put forward, even though this document has been in existence since 2007.

I now read with interest that the International Dressage Riders’ Club (IDRC) is coming up with a new code of points system for judging, and will look forward to studying this new format when it is finally published.

However, I would like to point out that however many times we reinvent the wheel, it will still be operated by the same willing group of volunteers that are officiating today, and will still be subject to the same inevitable differences of opinion. Try asking seven top artists to paint an apple — none of the apples will be identical.

It is also worth thinking about the practical implications of retraining all our FEI judges around the globe.

My biggest plea would be that any new systems put forward be thoroughly tried and tested through “pilot programme” situations, before being put into action.

One suggestion would be to invite three members of the IDRC who have developed this new system to “shadow judge” at some major shows, alongside FEI judges using the existing system, and have a transparent publication of their scores available to the public as we do now.

The results would be of great interest.

Ref: Horse & Hound; 30 July 2015