Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Becoming a dressage judge update

As I've mentioned before, in June I took the first theoretical part of a course to train to be a regional dressage judge. Phase 1 included two questionnaires of over 250 questions and a written exam which I passed (hurrah!). And so I had to start the practical training. I received a list of 14 practical tests that I have to complete but only five of them can be done before the second, and final, part of the theoretical course. (I do hope that I'm explaining myself properly and haven't lost you yet!).

The five practicals are as administrative secretary (4 times), where I have to sit with a judge at an official competition and write down the scores and comments on the score sheet, and as technical secretary, which involves helping the Organising Committee to put together the final score sheets and publish the list of participants with their final scores and placings.

In Tenerife, where I started the course, there aren't that many competitions which makes it difficult to do the practicals. But in Madrid there is a competition almost every weekend! There are regional level, national level and, as I posted on Monday, even the Spanish Championship! So, I've already completed all the practicals I need to do before Phase 2 on the theoretical side. The second part has been confirmed for November and I already received the study plan. We have 4 days of intense lessons and an exam every day! So I'll let you know how I get on - fingers crossed!

I'm trying to go to as many competitions as I can. I think that the best way to improve at something is to dedicate time to it and practice, practice, practice. I was lucky to be able to sit with the judges as admin secretary at the Championships and, although it was hard work and a lot of hours, I noticed that things were coming together for me.

At the Championship there was an invited International judge and on Saturday and Sunday I had the good fortune to sit with her. She was none other than Mariette Withages! Just to bring you up to speed, Ms Withages has been an International judge for over 30 years, she has been a judge 6 times at the Dressage World Cup Finals, the 1st woman President of the Ground Jury at the 1998 World Equestrian Games, dressage judge at 4 Olympic Games and the President of the FEI Dressage Committee from 2001 until 2008. What an honour to be able to sit with her!

I asked her what, in her opinion, made a good dressage judge. She told me that it is essential to know the theory; to understand the training scale; to base all judgements on my own criteria based on the previous two; to know, understand and have experience of the moves that I am judging (I'll have to get on with doing some decent flying changes and learn how to do pirouettes then!); have a good memory as it is important to remember the tests of each horse to be able to judge and score fairly; and to have a strong character as it is not unusual for others (riders, trainers, owners) to try and influence your opinion and therefore your judging.

It was an exceptional opportunity for me and so interesting to be listening to a judge with such experience. I also sat with other Spanish national level judges and was able to benefit from their experience also. I believe that the secret is to see as many different horses as possible at all levels. But it is also essential to train the eye and the brain to see what is in front of me and to be able to apply the theory and training scale in an instant.

Flying change
It is hard work, there is no easy way to do it and, to be honest, it's very necessary to love dressage! But I feel that even though I'm only just starting out on this, and I realise that I have a long way to go, I'm really learning new things every time I go to a competition and reinforcing things that I've already learned.

So the compulsory practical tests before Phase 2 are already completed but this weekend it's the Spanish Championships for Juniors, so I've offered my services to sit with the judges again. It's going to be interesting to see different levels as all the riders are under 21 and to see how the judges operate. It's also going to be a long weekend - over 140 participants! But I'm already looking forward to it! I'll let you know how it all went next week.

Hasta pronto!


  1. What an amazing experience to sit with Mariette Withages!! This all sounds like a wonderful opportunity for you, and although it will be hard work, if you love dressage then it will be a pleasure to do. The lovely photographs are a reminder of how much I miss competing on fabulous horses. Of course I love Spotty, but he is no good for dressage! Have a fantastic weekend. Abby

  2. You're so right Abby, it was a fantastic experience! And Spotty may not be the perfect dressage horse (let's face it, who can afford the perfect dressage horse??!?)but you enjoy your time with him and that's important!