2016 Global Dressage Forum - Day Two: Judges Hold the Olympic Future of Dressage

Wed, 10/26/2016 - 11:21
2016 Global Dressage Forum

The second day of the 2016 Global Dressage Forum at Hof Kasselmann in Hagen on 11 October 2016 brought an action packed programme with the highlight being the discussion on the role of the Judging Supervisory Panel and the Olympic future of dressage. In the afternoon an interesting session on the education of German Professional Riders enlightened the audience while the two-day event concluded with a very powerful demonstration of the warm up by three of Germany's Olympic team riders on their current and future stars.

Be as fit as you expect your horse to be!

The second day of the Forum literally began with some morning gymnastisc. German A-squad rider Jessica von Bredow-Werndl brought along her personal fitness trainer Jan Peer Hagenauer for a talk on the importance of of a good personal body condition to improve one's riding. "I can't ask my horse to move like a dancer if I can't move along with it," Jessica stated.

All too often we see overweight or stiff riders interrupting the flow of the horse's movement and actually preventing the horse's athleticism by their own bodily impairment. While riders expect their horses to perform at the highest level, they often ignore their own body and the importance of core stability and flexibility, especially in the hips, for a good independent seat. They spur their horses to perform at top level but are totally lackadaisical about working on themselves. "I only rode six horses today so I worked out enough," is the most used excuse for not improving personal fitness.

Von Bredow-Werndl and Hagenauer made it very clear that we have to stop making excuses in order not to go to the gym. Fitness can be done without any machine or halter, just use one's own bodyweight. "Try to create a habit, do it every day like brushing your teeth. Do something: yoga, stretching, it's worth it because you did something for yourself," said Jessica. "During the week I do jogging, strength training three to five times, always about half an hour a day. I get up, and do the sports otherwise I have too many excuses. You don't need any equipment and you can take your jogging shoes all over the world."

The duo inivited the forum attendants into the indoor arena to do some morning gymnastic exercises with them. The majority was willing to participate but some famous riders and trainers still stayed stubbornly seated on their chair, afraid to break a sweat. They were asked to do some stability exercises that involved muscle stretching, such as lunges.  The session took 15 minutes and had the audience testing its muscles and almost out of breath, while Jessica was easily demonstrating the movements at the front of the arena. It was a fun session but one wonders if it had enough impact to make riders take the big step to a more active lifestyle.

Olympic Evaluation: the Olympic Future of Dressage Depends on Good Judging

The most interesting session of the day was without a doubt the Olympic evaluation. While rider Judy Reynolds, trainer Christoph Koschel and chef d'equipe Klaus Roeser cited a few anecdotes from their Olympic experience in Brazil, it was the small panel discussion with Judging Supervisory Panel members David Hunt and Uwe Mechlem that carried most weight and relevance.

Mechlem and Hunt briefly outlined how the the three-member JSP operates at Championships: one member watches the test live, one on a video screen, which s/he can replay, and one watches the marks given on a computer screen. A red mark indicates when a big score difference takes place. "We can only correct mistakes, and they are human mistakes," said Hunt. "We try to be as fair as possible to the competitor and to the judges."

When the JSP was initiated, there was quite some opposition from the judges themselves, but that was "an automatic defense mechanism when the JSP began," Hunt added. "We meet the judges after the test with a video with the mistakes and the discrepancies. Discrepancies can't be changed, but they are pointed out by the JSP."

Uwe Mechlem said he prefers the name of the Juding Supervisory Panel to be changed to the "Judges Support Panel." He said that in Rio, "we feel a member of the team." The problem at the Olympics was that the JSP actually sat too far away from the arena, all the way back in the stands.

Mechlem and Hunt revealed that the biggest issues the judges struggled to find harmony with was the scoring of the rein back in the Grand Prix and the extended canter with flying change and right pirouette in the Grand Prix Special. "Many riders ride that pirouette too late and then there is a problem either with the exit or the turn, or because of the lack of concentration at the end of the test," explained Mechlem why the judging differs so much on that particular movement.

The discussion became really interesting when Hunt touched upon the fact why the scoring of the piaffe ranges so much between judges. "The piaffe is a big discussion, especially horses traveling forward. They are only allowed half a foot per step maximum," said Hunt. The British trainer and IDTC chair then and there made a very bold yet absolutely correct public statement: "my opinion is they shouldn't accept it - the traveling - as then it becomes half steps. Judges have to be clearer. We are the Olympics. There should be no traveling."

Mechlem concurred, adding that "after each championship, the jsp had the discussion again about the piaffe. For example, what about a super piaffe but only eight steps are shown each time. We have discussions afterwards how to score it. The movement says it should be 12 to 16 steps."

Both judges rightfully agreed that the technical requirements need to be fulfilled first and only then looked at the quality of the movement. "As a rider or trainer you make the conscious choice to let the horse travel forward, or not to ride the required steps. You then need to accept the scoring," said Hunt.

Trainer Wilfried Bechtolsheimer touched upon a very sensitive point which is greatly affecting the image of dressage sport to the general public as well as its practioners, when he commented on the question whether the JSP should get more power when there is difference of opinion amongst the ground jury: "Yes, in Rio in the Special the better known rider got away with mistakes. One can say the judging was very good because they were in line, but that doesn't mean it was very good. They judge a high power name differently," said Bechtolsheimer.

However, extending more power to the JSP is only curing the symptoms and not solving the problem. Judges should be braver to give fair points to all riders and not upscore high power names who get their halo points based on reputation. They should continue their education on recognizing and scoring the classically correct execution of the movements in which the rider has his horse relaxed and harmonious and in a light, accepting contact with the bridle.

Discussions such as these are what the Global Dressage Forum is all about. It would be nice to see more time scheduled for discussions on judging, media, sponsorship and how to promote the sport at future editions.

Continue this article: 2016 Global Dressage Forum - Day Two: Strong Horse Talent Hold the Olympic Future of Dressage

Text by Astrid Appels - Photos © Astrid Appels

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