Anna Ross: Artistic licence is unfit for our sport *H&H VIP*

  • I recently went to Vale View High Profile show with a green but talented horse for some arena experience. We wobbled around the arena with alternate moments of brilliance and near disaster and certainly gave the judges the opportunity to use the full range of marks.

    Although the good and less good moments were easy to identify, the judges’ marks differed greatly, despite their comments being very similar. There is obviously still difference of opinion on how judges’ observations should be marked, and we need more standardisation.

    According to Wayne Channon, who has been instrumental in developing a judging system known as the code of points (COP), which uses a computer app to quantify results, the key is evolution not revolution.

    The FEI guidelines and the judges are already good. What isn’t working is the system in which points are awarded. The hard part is evaluating performance and we have excellent judges doing just that.

    A working party of renowned judges, trainers, riders and the statistician David Stickland are discussing implementing the COP alongside other concepts, some of which are already in use, such as half marks and seven judges at major championships.

    People discuss whether the “art” of dressage will be lost with this scientific approach. But references to art are not appropriate to the “sport” of dressage. Judging is a skill, but it shouldn’t be an “art”, which suggests a mysterious expression of an unquantifiable feeling.

    A system based on artistic concepts is incompatible with modern sport and leaves  judging open to interpretation at best and accusations of corruption at worst, as points are based on vague criteria, using generic words like “satisfactory”.

    Before Rio there were accusations of nationalistic judging that were upheld by the FEI and resulted in a whole class being disqualified from Lier CDI. The COP would help protect our judges from such accusations, as it would be easily referenced in cases of dispute. This would help avoid these rare but tricky situations.

    By adhering to the FEI principles, with judges using the code to find points, the correct result would be reached with a more logical framework. There will always be differing opinions, some of which could and should be based on a judge’s position around the arena. It’s why there is a panel. But some things, such as deductions for teeth-grinding or failure in a movement, can certainly be standardised and this would be progress.

    Quantifying choreography

    The freestyle is also under discussion. Should there be a mark for choreography? Or is that one “artistic” perception too far? How do you quantify it? If it can’t be quantified, should it be marked at all?

    Is it a better performance if the music fits according to the computer or how it looks to the naked eye? And how do judges know without specialist musical knowledge? We do need the freestyle, but it is even more subjective to judge than “straight” tests. Because of this unavoidable artistic element, freestyle tests should not be championship individual finals unless they are a separate competition with different criteria. Or we risk medals decided on how good someone’s freestyle producer is.

    Championship format is another hot topic. There is a suggestion that the World Equestrian Games (WEG) should follow the same format as the Olympics, which horrifies me. The Olympics is governed by the rules of the International Olympic Committee, which encompasses all sports and is therefore not always focused on equestrianism’s best interests. The WEG is an opportunity to showcase the sport without the confines of specific Olympic criteria. This would be a giant step back for all equestrian sports.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 10 November 2016