Hans-Christian Matthiesen: "The Perception of Dressage Judging - No To Drexit"

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 09:37
Dressage letter at the 2010 European Junior/Young Riders Championship show ring in Kronberg
Photo © Astrid Appels

Returning guest columnist of the week is Hans-Christian Matthiesen, the president of the International Dressage Officials Club (IDOC) and former FEI Dressage Committee Member. The Danish born veterinarian sheds light on the FEI Sports Forum that took place in Lausanne at the beginning of April and shares his opinion with his colleagues.

"The Perception of Dressage Judging"

So between the Sports Forum meeting in Lausanne, work near Copenhagen and a CDI in Austria near Vienna and the annual trainers meeting, IDTC in Billund back in Denmark – its time to reflect, look back and try to look into the future !

The Sports Forum meeting in Lausanne went well – in the way, that the Judges Working group decided not to present a new Judging system (like proposed at the stakeholder meeting in Amsterdam). They did however state that the future of dressage will bring ”change” and lets hope that it will be based on consensus and compliance. Before the meeting there had been a lot of speculation and lobbying, but only because we didn't have the feeling that our (IDOC’s) opinion were taken serious in Amsterdam.

I felt it was important to state that dressage officials/judges are ”open and positive” to change if it is based on evidence and will benefit the sport. The last years, all the judges have been open to changes in the judging system. Over the years, we have gained a lot of experience and good results with the current system. Never the less, we have been open to changes like: Freestyle, the new DoD system, 7 judges in championships, JSP, 5% rules and others because they were based on trials’s and statistic evidence. We have tried out many other judging systems, but even though some of them were interesting, we decided to keep the current system, because that made more sense. The judging is more transparent than ever – all marks and results are published on the internet, live and after. Everybody can analyze, comment and criticize – and the judges are used to that. We of all know the frustration behind differences in judging. No one like the judges, try so hard to get around this – and we have meetings and discussions to become better and more clear in our judging.

Was does it mean ?

The figure (David Stickland, Global Dressage Analytics) shows me/us that we are very good, when we are giving marks around 5 to 8, below 5 the standard deviation for each mark gets bigger, the same for marks higher than 8. Most of the time, our marks ranges from 5-8 – and in that area, we are more or less comfortable. Most of the marks, on most levels are in that range – that means that we deviate less here.

But we have to improve and be more on the same page, when it comes to marks lower than 5 and higher than 8. We all know the situation, when we have differences, when something unexpected happens. Mistakes or disobediences. After the class/ride we discuss: ”What did you give for the ”none existing change” in the corner after the collection ? Sometimes we don't see it, we can miss it – but if we all see it, we must come to an agreement. We still have too many situations, where we differ from 4 (”I saw it, but didn't want to punish it so hard, because the horse was tense throughout the test”) to 1 or even 0 (”I didn't see any change at all”). We need to be more consistent in our judging and stick to guidelines. We all know of these situations. The same goes for the higher marks – higher than 8. Sometimes its a question about experience, because lets face it – we don't have that many rides beyond 80%. I personally thought it was difficult in the beginning – and I didn't feel so comfortable giving all the high marks – I lost track. I did spend a lot of time on ClipMyHorse – judging all the good ones, over and over again (And I was aware of the risk of being prejudice, but I needed the experience and to expand my comfort zone)

Here the guidelines (or some Code of points) are very important – they will help us, being more accurate and consistent when mistakes happen.

  • Interestingly as mentioned, we seem to differ more for movements in the low range of marks and for movements in the high range of marks.
  • 2/3 of the times, our marks for the entire test are within +/- 1.6% of the average of our colleagues and in only 5% of the cases, do we differ by more than 3.2 %
  • When you look at individual movements, we differ by 1 point or less in more than 80% of the cases and by 2 points or less in more than 95% of the cases.
  • More embarrassingly, we seem to differ the most in movements that carry more weight in the total result (e.g. pirouettes in PSG) 

So we have to discuss when we have differences. We have to:

  • Improve agreement on low scores (I think the guidelines will go a long way in that direction)
  • Improve agreement on high scores (I am sure the second part of the guidelines/Code of points and/or video Handbook will address this)
  •  Focus judges training on the movements that carry most weight in the test(s). That makes complete sense and reinforces our point that education is key.

I know that EDUCATION is not ”sexy” – but never the less – that is the most important factor here. Dressage judges are also humans – believe me – and we can make mistakes, but no matter what system we have and agree on, there will be a ”human error factor”.

Globalization of the sport – has given the possibility to people all over the world to participate – also judges. We all join the force with different background and experience. That's why education and being inline are so important. We have already worked on Guidelines and Code of points that will give us clear advice when it comes to the more difficult parts in judging. In January the group of 5* judges have agreed on a set of guidelines that will work as a start. We know, that we will have to revise our handbook, there is already a group of people ready to start that – ideally together with a video handbook.

We have to work together with the other Clubs – but we will not be ”run over” by something that will just cause confusion and leave us in an even more difficult and frustrating situation.


--by Hans-Christian Matthiesen

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