Isabelle Judet: The 2013 European Dressage Championships Backstage

Sun, 09/01/2013 - 14:29
2013 European Dressage Championships

French I-judge Isabelle Judet was the head of the ground jury for the Grand Prix Special at the 2013 European Dressage Championships in Herning. As part of the panel of seven judges, Judet was in the line of fire determining gold, silver and bronze throughout the show weekend.

Read her impressions of Herning in the following edited guest column, which appeared first on her own website Pamfou Dressage.

The 2013 European Dressage Championships Backstage

The pressure has dropped down and now it's time to relax and think of what has happened. It seems that what remains after the memorable days we've spent in Herning - which have already been deeply analyzed - is the great feeling of having been part of a unique adventure.

Judges are only rarely thanked or congratulated for their work. However, they are commonly criticized or condemned for whatever weakness they might have had or, worse, for any step out of the way they might have taken in their judgement. No one ever attempts to describe or explain how we, judges, experience those long hours of competition. To shed some light on this aspect of dressage, I would like to invite  readers into my head when I judge a test, from start to finish at such a championship. I would like to share with you my impressions and state of mind as a judge.

First of all, I must admit I am part of those people who do not feel anxious before such an event, neither the days not the couple of hours before the show. Only concentration grows progressively. Of course, the fact of having as many years of experience as I have certainly explains my inside peace before I start to judge. Obviously, I did not feel quite as calm and relaxed when I judged my very first CDIs !

Another reason why I feel secure is the fact that I know I am part of a skillful group of judges. My colleagues, chosen to judge events such as the European Championships, are selected because they are very competent and experienced. This group solidarity implies that we judges can rely on one another; no fear of unexplainable distortions in our final result. Of course, we might all have, at some point, a short decline of attention that might cause some differences amongst our points, but there are very few chances for us to have radically opposed points of views on a technical matter.

The score of the first horse on the very first day is always expected with a tiny bit of anxiety. Like at each single show, judges must first of all get back into the atmosphere and then make sure the group spirit is consistent. This year, most of us had judged together in Rotterdam or Aachen. We had already created that special bond which is needed for a team to work well together.

In Herning, as soon as the first results came out we were glad to notice that a perfect homogeneity appeared in our scores on the large screen. Everything went alright, we could be confident ! There were 65 combinations at this European Championships; the first half on Wednesday and the second half on Tuesday. I had two English speaking Danish judges assisting me as paper and computer scribes. They were friendly, skillful and unobtrusive which really helped judging in the very best conditions.

I will now explain how I judge personally. I am totally focused, my eyes totally set on the combinations in the ring. My judging is completely automatic as my analysis and choice of marks are instinctive. I am not thinking, but I am 100% concentrated on the test going on. Marks just come out of my mouth without any calculation or hesitation. Rarely changed, they seem obvious. Collective marks do ask for a quick review of the test. At this stage I am more fully thinking of which mark I should give based on the general impression the horse gave or the mistakes he might have made. A short comment, an encouraging statement, some congratulations, a brief summary of what was lacking today, a signature and the bell rings already to announce the start of a new ride.

Once in a while, one of us steps slightly aside from the general point of view. When differences arise, the group of seven judges is usually divided into two. Each half has a different idea, some seeing the glass half full, the others seeing it half empty. The average of these two opinions is generally the correct answer, the fairest answer and the satisfying final percentage. Some horses create repeated differences in the results. Of course, we judges are fully conscious of this. Generally, they are atypical horses who might as well divide the public in "pros" and  "cons".

There is clearly no truth in judging but only points of view more or less homogenous. To those of you who would expect a unique opinion in judging, I am glad to say that evolution in scores is often due to a few judges daring to express a slightly different idea about a horse. If they were right, the tendency will become mainstream; if not, things will come back to normal.

Each one of us, if he expresses a different point of view in his judging, should be able to analyze how and why. Each one of us, in his analysis, should be able to say, in all honestly and humility, if he really meant to underline a particular aspect of the test or if he humanely made a mistake. If the difference is due to a mistake, and of course that can happen, the judge should not be afraid of admitting it, at least to himself. This should be respected and accepted ! The most important thing for a judge is to analyze his mistakes quickly and get back to work immediately by focusing on the next test in order not to add up new mistakes to the first one due to a lack of concentration. This is all very complex and only experience helps.

Another hard task is to stay coherent in your judging throughout the competition. This is extremely difficult especially when the Grand Prix takes place on two days. One could imagine being very satisfied with his scores and placings after the first day and messing it all up the second day. Once again, the more experienced you get the less chance you have for such situations to arise. As far as I am concerned, I like taking time to review my results on the evening of the first day, to remind myself of the different tests I have judged, to think of those tests which provoked differences. This helps me to start off the second day in the same state of mind as the first day and it also prevents riders from facing different judging criteria from one day to the next.

When analyzing my own scores and my colleagues' results, I always take into account the scores and placings as well as the differences between the highest and the lowest judge. All those aspects help me have a general impression of the situation.

In the Grand Prix in Herning, I often gave higher scores than my colleagues. This happened on several horses. Some journalists qualified my judging as "brave". This meant a lot to me because expressing a point of view in this world of experts is not that easy. It is in fact the privilege of those who are not afraid to discuss and defend their ideas with other professionals. That's how our sport  continuously evolves and improves. Being part of this evolution is a honour that can only be equalled by the humility that must necessarily accompany it.

- by Isabelle Judet

Photo © Astrid Appels

Related Links
Eurodressage Coverage of the 2013 European Dressage Championships
Wayne Channon: Judging Has to Move into the 21st Century