Sports psychologist Inga Wolframm wrote an article for the FEI based on her scientific research about visual attention patterns in Grand Prix dressage judging. The study was conducted in 2011 by Dr Inga Wolframm and two of her students from the University of Applied Sciences Van Hall Larenstein in Wageningen (The Netherlands).
The purpose of the study, which was supported by the FEI, was to find out whether there are differences in observation patterns between judges with different levels of experience and how judges generally observe the horse’s body when they are judging.
"The dressage judging system has recently come under fire in view of inconsistent scoring and variations amongst judges," Wolframm wrote. "However, little consensus exists as to why these inconsistencies might occur. Research in cognitive psychology has shown that tracking eye movement can help determine visual attention. The current study aims to investigate visual attention patterns of dressage judges in order to provide some clarity as to the origins of judging inconsistencies."
Seventeen Grand Prix judges at 5*, 4* and national levels were recruited to take part in the study. They were asked to judge a horse-rider combination performing the 2009 Grand Prix test from a video, while their eye movements were recorded with a professional eye tracker system.
In order to identify patterns of visual attention, a checklist was devised listing all equine body parts a judge may focus on while judging:
- Front of the horse: head, mouth, poll, neck, shoulder, forearm, knee, front cannon bone, chest
- Back of the horse: croup, tail, thigh, flank, gaskin, hock, hind cannon bone
- Rider: rider head, rider torso, rider hand, rider thigh, rider knee, rider lower leg
Frequencies of judges’ visual fixations on the different equine body parts for each exercise within the Grand Prix were determined. Raw fixation frequency data for each movement was then transformed into percentage of total fixations in order to compensate for differences in sampling rate by the eye tracking hardware. Differences in fixations between judges of different levels of experiences were examined using multiple analysis of variance. Differences between frequencies of focal points between individual body parts, and front of the horse, back of the horse and riders were examined using repeated measures analysis of variance with Bonferroni post-hoc comparisons. Standard deviations of frequencies of visual fixations on each equine body part were also calculated to identify the amount of variation in visual fixations between judges.
No significant differences were found in total dressage scores between judges with different levels of experience. Results show that:
- for movements performed at the trot, judges pay significantly more attention to the front of the horse than to the back or the rider.
- for movements performed at the canter, judges also pay significantly more attention to the front of the horse than to the back or the rider.
It was also possible to determine the judges’ visual attention patterns for each movement. For example:
- in the piaffe, judges focused on average 25% of fixations on the hind cannon bone, 15% on the forearm, 9% on the front cannon bone, 9% on the rider’s lower leg, and 8% on the shoulder.
- in the passage, judges focused on average 19% of their fixations on the hind cannon bone, 13% on the forearm, 10% on the shoulder and the front cannon bone, and 9% on the rider’s lower leg.
- in the flying changes, judges fixated an average of 15% on the knee, 12% on the forearm, 11% on the front cannon bone, 9% on the hind cannon bone, and 6% on the hocks.
- in the pirouettes, judges concentrated on average 17% of visual fixations on the hind cannon bone, 11% on the hocks, 8% on the shoulder and the mouth, 7% on the forearm and the front cannon bone, and 6% on the rider’s lower leg.
However, although overall visual attention patterns emerged, large deviations in fixation frequencies were detected across all movements.
- in passage, the observation of the hind cannon bone varied between 7 and 43%
- in the piaffe, the observation of the hind cannon bone varied between 7 and 51%.
Current findings clearly suggest that judges base their assessment of the total performance on their observation of all body parts, but pay special attention to specific parts of the horse. While the front of the horse as a whole seems to provide information that is most useful in determining the quality of the overall performance, the hind cannon bone features very strongly in most exercises as a point of visual focus.
Next steps may include developing specific attention guidelines for each movement. Such guidelines should then also include a ranking of areas for attention focus according to importance as determined by current results.
Educational programmes for judges, that highlight important areas of visual attention on relevant equine body parts can go a long towards improving judging transparency and consistency.
For further information please click here.