This year at the Robert Dover Horsemastership week the last day with the judges was really cool for me. I didn’t get to do this last year because of the schedule (all the West Coast riders had to leave in the morning to make flights to get to school). However, this year because of my move, school is on hold so I got to go. I am so glad. I really have to say I was amazed. It never occurred to me how great trainers that judges can be. I guess we think of judges as judging, trainers as training, farriers as shoeing; that I never mixed them. But I learned so much from their unique views. They didn’t just judge or just train. They could actually tell you why you received a score, what the issue was, how to fix the issue (if at all) and how to maximize you’re the score in any movement. Wow! I was really floored. I can’t wait until I can afford to pay Janet to fly out to watch me ride (ok or watch my video) and tell me my issues. Hint mom, maybe I can have her as a birthday present. I think that sounds a little funny. I want Janet Foy for my birthday.
Anyway, Janet Foy gave a ‘what I will be looking for” style lecture before the actual tests began. I listened to Janet most of the morning because she is ‘that’ judge for me. She probably doesn’t remember this but she is the first person who started me dreaming of Olympic dressage. I was riding for her four years ago. I was 14 but looked about 10. I was barely 5 foot and weighed about 80 lbs. I was riding in Tyler, Texas in my first ever competition ride with Sjapoer. If you know Sjapoer he might look calm and submissive, but he isn’t. Our connection has grown over the years but in the beginning he was like riding a lit firecracker; always hot and ready. I was riding a third level test and the Texas wind was blowing, tent flaps were snapping, guys were throwing big bags of ice out of the back of a truck and Sjapoer was not happy! When I was circling the arena waiting for the bell, I know she could tell I was nervous. I thought everyone could tell. I was only thinking of calming him down and showing him everything so he wouldn’t decide to go for a spine snapping run. To this day I know (ok it was probably only in my mind) but I like to think Janet fiddled at her desk, fixed her hat, and wrote comments or whatever to give me time! I just felt she understood, that she really cared about Sjapoer and I. Anyway, after my test she called me over and asked me about Sjapoer. She had seen me ride my other horse Federalea and my pony Borzoo over the years. She asked about Sjapoer and then looked right at me and said, “Someday I’ll expect to be seeing you ride in the Olympics.” I left that arena 7 feet tall and leaping buildings in a single bound. I have always felt that Janet was my Paula Abdul; you know the judge that tried to give you positive comments and be helpful, she absolutely loves the industry and will also tell you the hard truths.
So Janet at the RDHMW, spoke about scoring. My mom video tapped some of her lectures so I can share that information with you here. She explained that you have to look at the big picture as well as the details. First, she looks at the quality of the gaits. Then the basic requirements for the skill level of the test. Did the riding pair meet the requirements, yes or no? Next, was the essence of the movement met? By essence she explained she meant was the most important aspect of the movement met. Finally, the smallest or most detailed part of the equation for judging; were modifiers. This she said were things like accuracy. She explained that new judges loved the modifiers because they showed that the judges saw all the little details. To her the modifiers were much less important. She explained with this analogy. When you go to the grocery store they have those machines where you dump in all your change and you put in a big bag of quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies and fifty cent pieces and it ding, ding, ding adds up and you get an amount. The quality of gaits are the fifty cent pieces and the modifiers are the pennies! I love that analogy; it really made sense to me.
Next she explained about comments. Several questions from us led her to explain that judges only have to comment or justify comments on a 6 or below. So if you are getting 7’s and 8’s and get frustrated because there are no comments, that is because they don’t need to give them. I didn’t know that. She also said that she doesn’t like the comments ‘nice’ or ‘needs more’. It makes one ask ‘needs more what?’ Then she turned to us and said does it mean needs more money? Who needs more money? We all raised our hands, particularly the parents! The question is how you are going to get the money. So she tries to be more specific. For example, ‘needs more bend,’ etc. Here is another really interesting thing I learned. If she gives you a seven or an eight and a comment, it means you lost an eight or a nine. So you had an eight but because of the issue she noted she deducted points! If you get an 8 with no comment that is all she felt you could get.
She explained it like this. Courtney King-Dye once asked her how to get an 8 or above on a medium trot on her horse. Janet said her answer was, “honey, it ain’t never gonna happen, take your 7 and walk away.” She told us that we need to know our horse’s strengths and weakness. If we push to get a 7 or an 8 where we can only get a 6, we may make an error or actually lose points in that and perhaps the next movement. So take your 6 and then know where he could get an 8 and show her. She noted that no horse can get a 10 on every movement. It isn’t possible. So be honest with yourself and work within that structure.
Then she said that she loved the new .5 scoring because it allowed you to be more accurate and less harsh or rewarding. I think by that she meant if you did it half right you could get partial credit or if you were half wrong partial deduction. That was my view of what she said. She did say that for 3’s and below she didn’t use .5 as there is no reason.
In answering a question about gaits and scoring tests against each other she responded. “Let’s say I have two different riders and they both do the same test with no mistakes. One is Doc and the other Valegro, who wins?” We all answered Valegro. She agreed because of the quality of gaits. “Now what if Valegro came in and was late on changes and wasn’t bending right and Doc did everything right? Doc would win.” This she explained because his training was better, the focus was better. Our job she said was to do the best job we can with our training.
Finally, she admonished us all to “use your corners!” “Think about transitions.” “We just don’t see many good transitions.”
All of that was from the intro lecture! I then went to watch Linda Zang until the last ride of the day and then I came back to Janet. She was giving one of my old teammates Kalie Beckers a lesson. I was amazed. She spotted right away that Kalie was left handed and how that fact affected her riding. I would have really like to know if any trainer before ever told Kalie about spotting that in her seat. This was another really eye opening moment for me. In fact, when she told us she reviewed Devon Wycoff’s tapes with her it made me think of an idea for next year’s RDHMW. I suggested to Lendon that the auditors next year bring tapes of their rides (or the people that don’t ride their own horses). That way the judges can give them this invaluable information as well.
In conclusion, Janet said something I have mentioned before. Be appreciative of our judges. They volunteer their time because they love dressage. They are not getting rich off this work. When she asked Linda Zang how much she got paid to judge the Olympics and the WEG I was shocked. The whole daily pay was less than most trainers make in an hour lesson at a clinic. She said they are not spiders in the web waiting to ‘get us’. They want to help us learn, they want to see the beauty and harmony that is dressage. Let’s remember this, show them appreciation and treat them with the respect they deserve for their work, dedication, experience and unbelievable value to our industry.