Value your Judges

By Lyn Watts

  • Look after your judges, they can make or break your show!

It was 1997 when I judged my first dressage test; that was the old Prelim 2. I had been a writer for my list 4 friend, and various other judges for a couple of years and had been competing on and off for a considerable time on various standards of mount.

In those days show organisers would write to you requesting your skills in judging their show. Coffee or tea would be offered on arrival. Your times would be telephoned to you 2 evenings before the show. Competitors and their connections respected the judge (I remember being terrified of the judge in the early years!)  Frequent breaks would be given and judge’s lunches were a thing to be remembered – sitting at table in a marquee with at least 2 courses and wine!

Now I’m not saying that is either practical or expected these days, but, sadly, I have seen standards of hospitality and etiquette fall greatly over the last 20 years and some of my fellow judges will not return to some shows based on the lack of care and organisation.

Too often the judge’s comfort is sacrificed in order to squeeze in the last few competitors -to the detriment of all concerned. British Dressage suggest a 15 minute break every 10 competitors or so. I personally don’t need this, but, enough time to write comments between horses and a short 5 minute break to get my eyes off the horses every 10 competitors or so would be great. If it is run as a relentless conveyor belt, one tends to lose concentration!

These last few years I have often had to ring the organisers myself on the day before for my times or even look them up on line. I have been expected to judge a 4 ½ hour class with a 2 minute break being taken up by 2 extra competitors, added on the day, and only one drink in all that time (“in case you need the loo!” said with a grin!) Sometimes organisers allow 6 minutes between horses for a 5 minute test. This means that, by the time the next rider has gone round the arena, we are already running late. This eliminates completely the short break allowed for the judge. Oftentimes whatever break is left is spent queueing at one of the inadequate number of portable loos provided, and there is no time to queue for the coffee they very generously gave me a ticket for!

Some competitors and their friends and family have no idea of etiquette either. I have had people lean into the car to talk to me whilst I am judging a rider. People and horses walk in front of my car whilst a rider is in the arena doing a test and then throw me an evil look when my writer has shouted at them to move out of my vision! I have had people picnic (with screaming children running around) right next to the car. This ruins concentration and distracts from the rider in the arena!

Having said all of this, most of the shows I judge are beautifully organised and we judges/writers are looked after wonderfully. Some are very generous and allow plenty of time between competitors, but some do not!

Most of us who judge at unaffiliated level do so free of charge, just for travel expenses and (if we are lucky) the odd bottle of wine or a plant. We do it because we want to encourage others to this wonderful art form (or sport, depending on your views.) Many of us take time away from our own horses in order to help make other’s show a success. All we ask is to be treated with respect. Some of us are up early doing horses first, then traveling a distance to get to the shows, so coffee/tea on arrival is always most welcome.

The writer (also a volunteer) needs to be able to hear the judge without the judge shouting to be heard, thus putting off the competitor. If you are running a show then, please, no noise right next to the car – after all it is not a football match! Please get stewards to keep people from walking across the front of the judge’s car, and do not allow other cars to park next to the judge with their radio blaring out loudly through their open window – (this really happened!) Please allow sufficient time between tests. 6 minutes for a 5 minute test is doomed to failure. Under BD rule 150, the competitor has 45 seconds after the bell rings to enter if they so choose. Most judges also like to write constructive comments next to the collective marks so 15 seconds for that is not enough! 7 minutes is better or, better still, alternate 7 and 8 minutes between tests. Give a short break every 8 to 10 riders and keep the coffee/tea coming. It is thirsty work commenting to your writer all the time. If the classes run over lunchtime, a packed lunch is always greatly appreciated; but allow at least 15 minutes for us to eat and find the loo.

If you are a competitor then please smile and acknowledge the judge on entry whilst riding around before the start of the test. If you need to retire, raise a hand to tell us, we are not mind readers and will ring and mark a course error if we don’t know you are leaving the arena. Please look at us on the final salute, even if you are disappointed with your horse’s performance; we are still trying to find the positives and encourage you, so please don’t look away, scowling.

Finally if you are an organiser; the offer of fuel money and a bottle or chocolates etc is a decent gesture. If these basic manners are observed then judges will feel valued and more inclined to judge your shows time after time. I look forward to seeing some of you again soon and wish you every success for the rest of the season.


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