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We Are Flying Solo

June 9, 2011

Watch And Learn

I am a big believer in volunteering.  In all things, but today I'm talking about volunteering at horse trials.  So big a believer that I think it should be required of every competitor that they volunteer for eight hours every year.

EVERY competitor.  I don't care if you are Phillip Dutton or TeenyFishMe.  You have to give at least eight hours back to the eventing community every year. That's basically one work day a year. That's one day jump judging or stewarding or checking bits. It doesn't even have to be the day of competition; organizers always need help stuffing envelopes, organizing entries, setting up jumps beforehand -- you don't even have to sacrifice your weekend.

We are all busy. God knows these days, between vets and doctors and work, I don't even have time to buy groceries. But if you are going to play in this sport, you need to be giving back to this sport. When you are competing, people are out there giving of their time to make it happen and you need to do the same.

It pays off for you too. I have never volunteered and not learned something. The first event I ever worked was the ***World Cup at The Fork, here in NC. I watched some beautiful rides and some terrible rides. You see that everyone makes mistakes -- I saw Karen O'Connor go off course with Teddy after riding six other horses that day. You can compare how different approaches to your jump produce results, good or bad. You get free lunch!

This past weekend, I spent half a day scribing one of the dressage rings at a local unrecognized horse trial. I have to give a shout out to FenRidge Farm. Patricia Roberts runs a fantastic local show series every year -- dressage, CT's, hunter derbies and horse trials -- and she lets us come school her course year round. I have seen her out there digging ditches on the XC course in the rain. She spends countless hours making sure the footing is safe, the jumps are all in good repair, and everyone has a great time. Seeming to be in eight places at once all day during one of her shows, she takes care not only of the competitors, but the volunteers, judges, and spectators. I have been thrilled to see her events grow over the past couple of years and I hope it's a continuing trend.

I spent four hours sitting next to a dressage judge for Training, Novice, and Beginner Novice tests. This judge in particular used to work for Derek DiGrazia (now-designer of the Rolex CCI**** XC course as well as the currently running Bromont *** course) and used to event herself. She now rides Grand Prix dressage and is an instructor as well, so she knows what she's looking at. It was my first time scribing and I was intrigued to finally get an inside look at what a dressage judge wants. While I barely had time to see any horses as I scribbled madly to keep up, I noticed some very interesting patterns throughout the day.

-The judge does not care if your horse is a perfect frame on the vertical. What they DO want is an honest connection in the bridle. I can't even count how many times I wrote "cnxn." Go forward into that rein.

-Related: the judge knows a fake frame when they see one. His nose might be on the vertical, but if he is tense through his neck and his back or not following through behind, you'll still lose points.

-Geometry counts. You will get dinged if your circles are huge and lopsided. Don't give away easy points -- hit the marks for your shapes!

-Judges are not blinded by fancy. I wrote 8's and 4's on the same test more than once. A pretty horse who does a gorgeous centerline can still score a 5 two movements later if they are tense and crooked. Likewise, even if one movement is terrible, they really are judged separately, so one bad movement or two WON'T blow your test, redeem yourself on the next part.

-Everyone has bad tests. My heart melted for the poor girl who dissolved into tears after her final halt on her very naughty horse. The judge sympathizes -- we've all had days when Dobbin throws his nose in the air and takes advantage of you. No one thinks worse of you, WE'VE BEEN THERE. Shrug it off and go enjoy your jump courses.

-If you have extensions in your test, go for it but don't run the horse off his feet. Downhill and rushy scores worse than packaged but too conservative. But make the change in gait obvious and the transition marked.

-The judge WANTS to score you well.  We were both clucking under our breath for extensions and scolding naughty ponies for bit snatching.  They really REALLY do want to encourage you and see you succeed.

What scored well? Accurate lines, prompt transitions, solid rider positions, consistent bend, and steady rein connections.



  1. I couldn't agree with you more on this one. I also think it makes you have an entirely appreciation for the sport and those people sitting in those lawn chairs all day. I was just about to write a post about this very thing.

  2. Excellent reminder and great points... dressage scribing is the one thing I haven't done... maybe the next volunteer gig!

  3. Amy, it really does. After a few goes, you realize what an enormous effort putting a horse trial entails. It's so much more than "just a horse show."

    Suzanne, if you know your local judges, hunt down a good one. I totally lucked out and got a great one who was friendly and positive -- I'm really glad I got to do that!

  4. The one time I did volunteer at an eventing trial (not because I was in it at all, I there to watch a couple of friends and get out on the weekend and learn some dressage stuff!) it was at the lovely Pine Hill HT in Bellville, Texas scribing tests under Donna Meyer. And almost everything you said was true. One of the worst tests I saw there was a lady on a very nice Hanoverian with a sloppy position and her horse crammed in a double bridle, which screamed trying to impress the judge and probably covering a poor connection in a regular snaffle. The best test was a a little girl doing a Training test on the cutest pony ever (I still remember the name, it was The Promise Minnie Mouse, very odd). The girl had some position flaws, albeit very miniscule, but had a wonderful back-to-front connection and in all their gaits they looked like they were really going somewhere! It was just a pleasure to watch and definitely not what I was expecting. And you are right about it being rewarding, it is so rewarding!

  5. Dressage scribing is the best for learning what the judges really look for consistently. I absolutely love doing it!

  6. I looovveeeee scribing. I always, always, always volunteer to scribe at my farm's schooling shows. Why do I have a sneaking suspicion that you just so happened to have scribed for my totally awesome instructor at Fenridge?

  7. I really think you can learn so much by scribing. Never had a chance to try it myself, but everyone I know who has always says the same thing: so informative!

  8. Very informative post! I am happy with the things described that win the judges' approval. I think that I would like scribing, but I am not sure if I can write fast enough!

  9. I always volunteer at the local hunter shows, it's not an event, but I figure it's better than nothing!

    Great points to remember in dressage, another good one is rhytym. Even, consistent paces can score you 7s across the board

  10. Hhhhmmm, so do you need to take a crash course to be a scribe? I would be so nervous about screwing up or not writing fast enough or having no clue what's going on. Of course, I'm stuck down in The Swamp, where we have no dressage and not eventing. Total bummer.

    P.S. When did everyone decide that hypothetical horses would be named Dobbin? I see this aaaalll the time. Was there a conference that I missed???

  11. Dressager -- very close to what I observed. Restores one's faith a bit, doesn't it?

    YE, I am pretty sure that I did -- lots of folks really like her!

    Frizz -- nope, no course needed. I had never done it before and I am a slow writer. But there are lots of abbreviations.

    VL -- yes, rhythm is a great one! Also DON'T RIDE YOUR CORNERS ON A CIRCLE. Circles don't have corners.

  12. I love scribing! Unfortunately I had carpal tunnel release surgery this year and I'm not sure when I'll be able to do it again.

    The first time I ever scribed was actually for a recognized dressage show for the upper levels. That was hard and I did have a hard time keeping up but the judge was very nice and helped me through it. After that scribing for the horse trials was really pretty easy. I never fail to learn something new every time I scribe.

    Just this year I watched Philip Dutton ride right past the fence I was judging. It was the second fence on course and this was his second ride of the day. I was like whoa! if Philip Dutton can screw up like that then I won't feel so bad when I make mistakes!

    I totally agree that volunteering a certain amount of time a year should be required. It's not just good for the sport it's good for us.

  13. Great post. Both on volunteering and using that volunteer energy to it's max potential and learning.
    I'm signing up. I'm going to scribe at the next local dressage show! Thanks for the reminder/encouragement. I have major appreciate for the judges. They DO want you to do well. No judge wants to have to tell a rider who's been working for a year, that they didn't make their marks.

  14. Ooo, TLH can't wait to hear your report. I hope Hudson is coming along to hold your extra pencils.

  15. I totally agree with this - not just for eventing but all disciplines! Great way to get experience and give back.