April 16, 2011
Copyright © 2011 Robin Brueckmann
Judges have to attend continuing education seminars, just like doctors or other professionals. This spring, I attended both a Dressage Judges’ seminar and also an Eventing Judges’ seminar.
The Dressage seminar was held at the Kentucky Horse Park, March 22-23. It was a very large seminar this year, around 125 participants. Judges of all levels, “L”, “r”, “R”, and “S”, are eligible to attend; there are no auditors permitted. This year, this was the only dressage seminar offered; on alternate years, there are seminars offered in various parts of the country. This year’s seminar focused on the new tests and new rules in place for this season’s competitions.
My big goal for this seminar was to get vocabulary to use on the new Harmony part of the collective remarks, and I took avid notes each time I got new input on that subject. I was not due to take this seminar until next year, but I thought it was important enough to come this year because of the new tests and the new directives.
The biggest new rule is the Helmet Rule. It’s complicated for dressage. If you are competing at USEF levels on a horse, you must wear an ASTM approved helmet at all times while mounted. If you are competing a horse at only FEI levels, you are permitted to wear a top hat if you desire, although helmets are recommended for all riders. The complication arises when you are competing a horse at both USEF and FEI levels, such Fourth Level and Prix St. George or Fourth Level and Junior: then you must wear a helmet at all times on that horse, even in the Prix St. George. It makes it interesting for stewards to enforce! I noticed at shows that each horse’s number has a designation to indicate which type headgear that rider must wear. One show had an extra sticker on the number to indicate that the rider could wear a top hat. Another show used different color numbers to designate the difference.
We reviewed legal and illegal bits. We had actual bits laid out for us on a table. There are an astonishing number of new bits on the market, some being legal to use and some not. The bottom line for competitors is that if you have to ask, don’t use it! If you have a question, a judge might have a question, and it’s a dumb reason to get eliminated.
There are a few other new rules that affect us judges. The deduction for errors in Young Horse tests has changed to be a deduction of 0.5% for the first error and 1.0% for the second error. This can be a significant change in the placings for a class: at Dressage at Devon one year, I had an error in a Six Year Old test which dropped me from third to sixth in one class. Fortunately, I did not have an error in the class that was most important, the National Champion NA Six Year Old Class, in which my horse Richmond and I were Reserve Champions!
Another new rule is that a fall of horse or rider eliminates them from that class, rather than simply affecting the score for that movement. I was instrumental in getting this rule change proposed and worded, and I am very grateful that it got passed!
Jayne Ayers and Lois Yukins led discussions on the use of the scoring scale. The feeling is that a movement starts with a “7” and goes up or down from there. That’s different from what I was taught in the dark ages, when I went through my initial judge’s training, and it’s a refreshing change.
Starting December first of this year, we will be allowed to use half-points for all scores. There were a number of Canadian judges here at this forum; they use our tests for the national levels. In Canada, they have already begun to use half-points, and the Canadian judges reported that they were becoming more familiar with using them. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds next year.
We watched videos of horses performing individual movements, and scored these. The advantage of using video is that we can review each movement both in real time and in slow motion to make sure we are all catching the details of each movement.
We reviewed the new tests. I was pleased that Lois referenced my article on perfectworlddressage.com about the new tests as a useful guide, with many important points.
We had live horses to demonstrate the new tests. We were grouped into sets of five or six judges, and each group included judges at all levels. We judged one horse at Test 3 of each level, Training through Fourth, and we were assigned different tasks while we judged. With the five horses, each group got to do each of the tasks. These were: judge basics only, with scores and comments on each movement; judge collectives only, with comments and scores; judge all movements with the comments to address why the score was not higher; and judge only the criteria of the movements, with scores and comments. It was interesting to break down each subject separately. In real life, of course, we have to evaluate all these different elements at the same time, and come up with scores and comments which address the most germane part for each movement.
While we judged the rides, they were being videotaped from two perspectives: from C and from B. When all five rides were completed, we headed to a meeting room and reviewed the tests. Each group reported on their scores and comments from their assigned task for that ride. It was interesting and useful to hear the input from all the different groups on each subject.
It was a useful seminar, covering a very specific topic. The day after I returned, I headed off to compete myself at the March Magic show in Williamston, NC, where I showed my two horses at new levels for them. Radetzky debuted at the FEI levels, earning 65% marks at both Prix St. George and Intermediare I, and Lord Baltimore began his First Level career, with all his scores between 66% and 68%. I was able to put into use all the new information I had learned at the seminar!
Two weeks later, I went to Fairburn, Georgia, for a “R” eventing seminar. This was for Eventing judges, technical delegates, and course designers. This forum was held during the Chattahoochee Hills Horse Trials, so we got to evaluate courses that were all prepped for competition. This was a far smaller group of officials than the dressage seminar; here there were only about ten Eventing judges and a smaller number of technical delegates and course designers.
The day before the seminar started, I did my assigned homework: evaluate the Intermediate cross-country course for flow, appropriateness, and safety.
One jump on course was particularly interesting. It’s a table jump, constructed with new technology. The MIM system allows a jump to collapse if a horse hits it in a certain way. This technology is to minimize the occurrence of rotational falls. The jump is sturdy and solid unless a horse hits it with precisely the direction of force that might otherwise result in a rotational fall. During the seminar, the course builder demonstrated how the technology works. He activated the collapsing function by removing the MIM pin; the huge table fence simply folded down to the ground. Three men were able to put it back in place. A horse that hit it in such a way to activate the MIM pin would be able to walk away unscathed, and the jump judge just needed to replace the pin. The course designer said that this was the only such table jump in the US at this time, and it seemed likely that it will become more prevalent in the coming few years.
There were several jumps on course using frangible pin technology. This technology is now mandated on the back rail of all oxers. The frangible pin is made of an alloy that will fracture with a predetermined amount of pressure over a scored area. The back rail is secured over this scored area by roping that will allow the rail to drop 16” when the pin is broken. Again, this technology is to minimize the occurrence of rotational falls and prevent horse and rider injuries.
The first day of the three-day seminar focused on dressage. Linda Zang, one of our US FEI O judges, was our presenter. It was interesting to hear her input so soon after the dressage forum.
Linda gave a very useful way to use the score scale. A score of 5 means: must be better. A score of 6 means: Should be better. A score of 7 means: Could be better. I found that helpful as a way to assist riders in improving their scores.
We reviewed a DVD of horses performing whole tests. Interestingly, the DVD was of the five horses we had as demos for the new tests at the dressage forum. Since this was a “R” eventing forum, we used the Second, Third and Fourth level horses as equivalent to eventing’s Intermediate and Advanced tests.
We had the opportunity to watch quite a number of willing demo riders. Some of these did movement sequences and some did complete tests. It’s always useful to have live demo riders at seminars, because that’s more like real life. We split into two groups for the demo rides, so that one group sat at C and another at B. After each ride, we compared notes to make sure we were all looking for the same things.
The next two days we reviewed cross-country, stadium, and general rules. We went out as a group to walk the Intermediate course, and the course builder showed us more details on the frangible pin and collapsible fence technology.
We walked the Stadium course with the course designer. It’s important that the stadium course reflect the relative degree of difficulty of the cross-country. As this is an early-season event, the cross-country is relatively easy, so the stadium course was straightforward, with few technical questions.
We got to watch a few stadium rounds on Sunday morning, and then continued our discussions of general rules. As with dressage, there are some new rules this year. Roger Haller and Marilyn Payne gave us quizzes throughout all three days of the seminar, on rules and concepts. We had to do the quizzes without looking up the rules, and later we did rule questions that we had to quote both USEF and FEI rules. Mostly, the rules are the same, but there are a few areas where the USEF and FEI differ, and as “R” officials, we have to know both sets of rules.
It was another useful and informative seminar. I feel renewed in my understanding of both old and new rules for dressage and eventing, and it’s a great way to start the competition year.