IDOC: "Have the Scores Gone Down? Maybe They Have"

Mon, 05/06/2024 - 11:51
French 5* judge Raphael Saleh judging at the 2024 CDIO Compiègne :: Photo © Astrid Appels

-- IDOC member message by Hans-Christian Matthiesen, president of the IDOC (International Dressage Officials Club).

Have the scores gone down? Maybe they have.

Meetings at Shows

The FEI invited all the stakeholder clubs to a meeting in Riyadh. It was a good meeting where we had the chance to discuss certain proposals for changes in dressage. An overall discussion of the direction of the sport and a good opportunity to sit together and balance expectations. Besides the FEI and the stakeholder club representatives (IDOC was represented by two judges and one steward) there was athletes representatives, board members, veterinary committee members, the President of the FEI and the FEI Dressage director.

In Hagen the IDRC called for a meeting with some riders and judges. Again a good opportunity to talk and discuss. The meeting was fruitful and we all agreed, that we would like to organize these meeting on a more regular basis. The idea is to come together as more united in the sport. Even if we sometimes have slightly different opinions, the discussions are important.

The format for the meetings might change, but the most important thing is to keep the momentum and the discussion going.

This weekend at the CDIO in Compiegne we also had a meeting with representatives from the FEI, Dressage committee, riders, trainers, chef d’equipes, organizers and judges (including the Ground Jury from Paris). Good and honest discussions about judging and other related points.

Difficult Times

I think, I can speak for many judges, when I say that the current time is a “bit difficult”. At the present time our sport is under much scrutiny, and sadly for some negative reasons, as it is in relation to welfare.

Welfare is at the heart of our sport and, as judges, because we have the “best seats in the house”, we have responsibilities that come with our job.

When we are confronted with issues that might be of concern, then we need to seen to react.

Embrace Changes

We need to be better and stand up for the horse. We need to look forward into the future and start to embrace changes. The perception that we ignore symptoms of stress and negative tension in dressage is prevalent, both within the sport and among others on the periphery. What should weigh the most? The technically correct or the expressive, perhaps impressive, risk-taking ride ?

All officials are responsible for the Horse welfare. Some would even say, that we – as officials – play an important role and have the “key” to change !

This should not be seen as an excuse, because there is only one way forward, but for many years in dressage there has been too much focus on consensus in dressage judging, understood in the way that it has been considered a “wrong judgment” if there were too much difference or too much variation in the results.

Change Perception

Perhaps the time has come to change this perception. Perhaps we should call for more “straightforwardness” in the assessments, especially when it comes to the evaluation of stress symptoms and negative tension in dressage.

Remarks such as “short neck”, “tight in the back”, “tension”, “open mouth/visible tongue” are not uncommon in dressage. As an official, you of course have to assess whether it is momentary or whether it is a trend throughout the test. You have to look at the overall picture and if it is unsightly because of tension and resistance, then there must be a clear direction in your assessment. We can no longer use our “position” as an excuse, nor that the horse’s conformation is not optimal and perhaps makes it look partially “wrong” and therefore does not contribute to a better overall picture.

We must be better at assessing and prioritizing the Overall picture and Harmony. Signs of stress and discomfort (head and neck position: short, tight necks, open mouth, visible tongue (color), tight back, rhythm problems, uneven steps etc) must be given more weight in the grading. Whenever you see it as a judge, you must deduct and give a clear remark about it. So yes, maybe the scores are lower now. For a good reason. Keep the focus…and the good work. IDOC will keep you updated on the outcomings of the meetings. Good dialogue is the way forward.

Best regards,

Hans Christian Matthiesen
IDOC President