Carl Hester Comment - August 2013 - Reproduced as a valuable industry comment,
from Horse and Hound UK
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HAVING been asked several times recently whether I'd like to be a judge, I started considering some of the facts and myths. It's a more natural progression for a rider to become a trainer at the end of one's competition career rather than a judge since most of us combine the two anyway.
But now there is the general feeling among competitors - and a requirement in some cases - that judges should have ridden at the level which they are judging, the biggest question is, where is the incentive?
Five Star (formerly O Level) judges are the highest FEI level who judge at the top shows and championships are generally well heeled. business people or professionals such as lawyers - and a certain surveyor springs to mind!
A show such as Aachen will entail being there from Tuesday to Sunday or even sometimes Monday, so add in a few other shows and that is a lot of holiday entitlement gone.
For the past few years, shows have had to pay judges €100 (£86) per day which if you are in Sweden, gets taxed as well. It's not a fee be a substance allowance, which sounds fine in theory but not always in practice.
IT used to be that the judges gathered in the VIP area for lunch, tea and dinner at big shows - very nice too. But now that catering and hospitality is often run by sub-contractors and tables sold for mega prices, there's not automatically a VIP pass for judges. Some do and some don't, but the different conditions are not good enough.
A small pool of judges on duty at Rotterdam CDIO (H&H Report 27 June) meant long hours, in some cases from 8.30 am to 10.30 pm, with only a short lunch break and barely a cup of tea. "Oh" I hear you sigh, somewhat tongue in cheek, "but what about the VIP lounge?" They were refused service.
The point is that dressage is so professional as a sport and the only aspect that isn't is the judges' conditions. In the USA judges are paid. It doesn't make them better, but they are more accountable.
And, not all Grand Prix riders will make great judges. It is all about character.
Stephen Clarke, an example everyone will recognise, incorporates generosity into every aspect of his judging and dealing with people. He is always positive, never negative and imparts that to all the judges he "brings up" and nurtures.
It's important for me as a rider to be able to talk to the judges and get their views- one thing the paid USA judges can't do is interact with the competitors. I still believe it's only the disgruntled who want to attack.
British Dressage's fast-track system does not yet have a parallel in the FEI, where you have to be a candidate judge before the age of 55, then it takes years to get to Five Star status. This is not an incentive for a rider/trainer.
Then there is pressure. There were always armchair experts, but competitions have become Big Brother-esque with the rise of social media. A critical mid-class tweet takes on a different dimension when re-tweeted by thousands who have not seen what happened and don't know the context.
All this makes me think our judges are being left behind as the sport progresses. Conditions could be a lot better and I think we owe it to the judges.
Narrow misses and hope
ON paper, our junior and young rider teams locked in the medals at their Europeans in Compiegne H&H Report 18th July). The team test didn't go according to plan. It was slightly reminiscent of seniors in years gone by - one front-runner and the rest struggling to keep up.
Although we had three riders in each team capable of high scores, disappointingly, they didn't all do it on the day. However, in the individuals - with Pippa Hutton narrowly missing out on a podium place in fourth, Olivia Oakeley making the top 12 in the young riders and Lottie Fry, fifth in the juniors - these narrow misses give great hope and they are all eligible to ride next year.
The really positive aspect is that the GBR riders were commended again for their style and softness. And I congratulate them all for that.
Carl Hester for Horse and Hound UK.
Two notable judges, Stephen Clarke from the (GBR) and Bernard Maurel (FRA) have commented and give rise to some attention to the crisis that faces the sport
Above - Bernard Maurel
Left - Stephen Clarke
Response by Bernard Maurel FEI O Level Judge - 2004 Olympic Games.
The article of Carl Hester “To judge or not to judge”
is a very well balanced advice about the judge’s condition. As one
of the leading professional riders and trainers at the world scale, his words should not only be taken in account but also be used to put forward some of the difficulties we are facing when “on duty” as an international dressage judge .
He explains precisely the way the riders think about “who are the judges” : people who are passionate with dressage, who have time to travel and either are retired or have a professional occupation that gives them the possibility to keep enough free days for dressage shows and to get enough revenue not to need anything back from their dressage judging time .
He mentions the 100 € fee per day actually used : it’s clear that it never can be considered as a salary or as anything like a professional activity . But today some country where the taxes system is more than efficient starts to ask the organizers about it !
If in Carl’s article he speaks about Sweden, it’s also because in this country, in the NATIONAL shows, judges are paid 300 € a day, and we agree that it could be, along with travel and housing expenses, considered as a salary and subject to taxes .
Then he pointed out very cleverly the fact that the judges are less and less considered as VIP, especially in the shows where economy is considered more important than the sport … Judges are not allowed to get a free sit for their partners if they accompany them, no pass for the VIP tent, and some organizers forget to invite them at the price giving … it seems to be a detail, but it’s a major thing, because judges are the only one who can confirms to the sponsors and the officials that the sport rules were respected, who can explain some part of the event and who can insist on the qualities of the best riders and horses. May be it’s logical to have the judges considered as technicians, who make the sport function, and not as VIP … But in this case, as the article says, the need is of “professional” people , with extensive knowledge in the dressage of the horse, and fairness to the competitors .
At the beginning of the article Carl Hester quotes the idea that the judges “should have ridden at the level they are judging “ and asks “where is the incentive? ” . One more time he is right, because to be a competitor is one thing, to be a judge another one . Of course, a dressage judge needs to be a specialist, and hopefully a “horse person”. Of course, he should be able to ride the movements he has to judge. It means that he don’t need to have schooled himself the horse, he don’t need to present it in public, he don’t need to follow up all movements like in a compulsory test (and we know how difficult these three conditions are). Could we explain that open eyes, open mind and good technical knowledge are enough to get an passionate amateur rider become a good judge ?
Would you mind if I let the conclusion of these remarks to Carl himself : “All this makes me think our judges are being left behind
as the sport progresses.”
Bernard Maurel 09/08/2013