Isobel Wessels: Judging, riding and training, together *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    With things starting to hot up for the World Equestrian Games (WEG), it’s an exciting time to be a judge. The standard of the horses and the riding just gets better and better and I suspect the battle for the medals will be hard fought. I have been fortunate to judge twice at the Tryon venue and it’s a pretty amazing facility. This year I will be there as dressage coach for the New Zealand event team. They are amazing athletes and I feel honoured to have trained them for some years.

    We have some really exciting prospects for the British team this year, but also huge wealth of experience in our riders.

    Closer to home, Bishop Burton will be hosting the pony European Championships for a second time. I will be acting as president of the ground jury for the dressage alongside top colleagues from Germany, Portugal, Belgium and Russia. It will be top sport I’m sure. Team GB has a lot to be proud of in our youth coming through to represent our country.

    Team opportunities

    The challenges facing dressage judges are well documented. The level of concentration and responsibility seems to increase all the time. Judges need to be mentally and physically fit, confident, knowledgeable, open, humble and just a tad nervous! The latter makes us less arrogant and better team members. Ultimately, it’s always “the team” result that counts.

    I can’t help thinking it is a pity that our national judges have so few opportunities to judge on a panel. In Germany, for instance, all classes and levels have at least two judges, but here it’s only higher up or at regionals and championships that these opportunities occur. I have personally learned so much from being with colleagues who are open for discussion and so generous with their knowledge and experience.

    Seminars are a great learning platform. I recently gave one and was blown away by the standard of the guinea pigs giving their precious time to ride for us. Everybody could learn — judges, riders and trainers. It was a win-win situation. I found it stimulating and wish we had more such open discussion days for all.

    The FEI is committed to improving education for judges and we need to keep addressing this nationally. Judging, riding and training must develop positively and together. They belong together.

    I’m very lucky still being able to ride at grand prix myself as I find it brings me closer to what’s happening in the arena, but not every judge has this chance, so training opportunities are vital.

    Balancing expectations

    In my role as a trainer and rider I often see disappointment where good or improved work is not rewarded. I do sincerely believe that judges’ expectation of horses competing at novice is sometimes too high, but I also believe that judges always do their best. Many travel miles, give up spare time and incur many costs in the education and upgrading process. It’s never easy and often those with more practical experience have conflicts of interest with clients and horses.

    Personally, I would have to say that my passion lies with the riding and training, but I love the judging, too. I count myself incredibly lucky to be part of championship judging teams so often, and to work alongside so many top colleagues.

    It’s like having a second family and I love it.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 3 May 2018