Dressage Judges and Official’s Attention to the Growth of the Sport - The IDOC Meeting

Written by Betsy LaBelle - In Dressage - Sunday, February 14, 2016

Formed twenty-five years ago with 60 of the 105 worldwide members, the International Dressage Officials Club (IDOC) formerly known as the International Dressage Judges Club, met in February 2016 during the Wellington, Florida’s Adequan® Global Dressage Festival 5*CDI.

Many topics were addressed, such as the IDOC’s purpose, practices and procedures, goals, struggles, and how it can provide assistance to riders, as well as how it can ensure that dressage remain sustainable and popular at Olympic Games.

The members of the IDOC, much like those in the International Dressage Riders Club and International Dressage Trainers Club, aspire to have a voice in the growth of the sport. They also exchange emails sharing information obtained from dressage officials and organizations, and press articles. A “community” within the world-wide dressage community, they help each other during times of personal conflict.

IDOC educational sessions and seminars take place globally such as in Aachen, Stuttgart and other selected European competitions, as well as at various World Cup competitions. The IDOC members are also looking into organizing and holding a seminar next year in Perl, Germany where they learned a great deal observing the many Medium Tour horses in the Intermediare A and B level.

During the meeting, the Officials Club secretary Olivier Smeets named some of the updates and on-going discussions:
- The proposal to shorten the Olympic Grand Prix test has been tabled for now, as neither the athletes, trainers, nor the judges liked the proposal submitted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
- The issue of discussing a penalty for going off course with the elimination after the second error will be addressed at the upcoming meeting on Monday.
- Whether to give the option of using a double bridle or a snaffle bridle in the high performance CDI classes.
- The brand new 7-year-old Developing test will first be held at the 2016 World Young Horse Championships
- Whether there is a way to invite general assemblies and join forces with the Riders Club and the Trainers Club. Riders desire to change how the sport is judged and judges want to encourage good riding. The judges believe that if the sport is to progress and grow, judges, riders and trainers need to go in the same direction.
- In order for the general interest to grow in the sport, the FEI must listen and take into consideration each club’s voice.

The Future Olympics 

Carina Meyer, FEI Senior Manager and Interim Head of its FEI Dressage Department, spoke about several issues. As to the Olympic agenda for 2020. She displayed a PowerPoint presentation with an FEI update indicating that dressage competitions were downgraded after the 2012 London Olympics because television viewers of Olympic equestrian sports were not as high as in other sports. Consequently, the question proposed to Carina at Friday’s meeting was, “Are we safe for the 2020 Olympics?” To which, she replied, “Safe is a tough word. We may have to compromise an equestrian discipline in some way.”

Carina continued, “We have to make an effort to increase our audience. We as a sport are very specialized in our knowledge. The general public doesn’t fully understand what they’re watching. The Freestyle is the most popular to viewers and we’re looking into ways to open it up for the audience.”

A potential compromise discussed by the FEI and IOC that could stir general audience interest is perhaps going to 3 combinations per team with no drop score in the 2020 Olympics, but having a 4th reserve horse there to substitute in if the chef decides it would benefit the team, much like in soccer or football. Another proposal is to have the 60 horses divided into groups of ten, like heats, and have the top two from each group move on to the Medal competition. That way, the audience would not need to wait two days to find out who received a medal. Another proposal is that each nation prepare a Pas de Deux or Pas de Trois to make it more interesting for the public. Carina said, “If it can help the discipline to stay in the Olympics, we must consider it.”

Also considered was how crucial the Olympics commentator are in drawing a large tv viewing audience to the sport. Because broadcasting of the Olympics is controlled by the host country, tv rights are prohibitively expensive and also restrict control of who will be commentating. Not a simple task, the FEI will attempt an investigation as to how equestrian sports are broadcast. The FEI is in the process of devising a social media strategy to reach the general public better, especially in largely populated areas where equestrian sports are not largely known, such as cities in Russia, South America and Asia.

Other issues of interest that were covered:
- Protective headgear will be required by all young riders and Juniors at horse inspections.
- Penalties for error have changed with elimination after the second error.
- Building a better working relationship with Under 25 riders at the U25 European Championships.
- Protection flyhoods to be permitted at all events.
- Introduction of a Freestyle degree of difficulty judging system.
- Working on a final draft to update the Annex XIII for Stewarding Manual which will be reviewed in April 2016.

Potential 2017 concepts for the FEI were also mentioned:
- Hi/Lo Drop – for every movement
- Removal of coefficients for the collective marks
- A judges’ signaling system (i.e., “I see blood, do you?”)
- Judges “dashboard” – Physics analyst David Strickland to collect data on the capability of comparing a judge’s assessment with other judges’ assessments, and the benefit to them by including video sequencing
- Creating an FEI “campus” – for online course training
- Creating an FEI video handbook

Why the Hi/Lo Method is a Bad Idea 

Katrina Wuest, a 5* Judge came in for the last 20 minutes of the meeting to lead a more in-depth discussion about the Hi/Lo method. The Hi/Lo score drop is a proposal put forth by the Riders Club for consideration in 2017 to improve the fairness of the five FEI Judges seated around the arena in their scoring of a CDI class. This Hi/Lo method would take away the highest and the lowest score in each movement within the test; The International Trainers Club has stated that this would not change any of the placings so they were not in favor.

An ardent discussion followed about the Hi/Lo score drop method. Katrina stated that she tried the system and at the end there was a .02 percent difference. She also said, “If four judges give an 8 and one a 9, then the rider will lose.”

Nonetheless, all the judges were not in favor of such a system, indicating it would take away the strong knowledge and opinion of each judge and that the judges would lose their leadership and their voices, resulting in the practice becoming more like a computer system. It was argued that such an approach would penalize judges who are courageously outspoken and that a 1-point change might alter the entire result. Giving an example, rather than two teams tying for a bronze medal, one team would not receive the warranted medal with such a Hi/Lo system.

The subject of scoring then arose and Katrina tried to reassure the judges that they need to feel confident in the marks they give and that they also need to have enough time to give good comments on the tests. Currently using a paperless system in order for the scores to be presented as quickly as possible, the new electronic system being used shortens their time to give effective and beneficial comments in the collective marks. “There are only two minutes between horses,” commented Katrina. “It’s really difficult to give riders helpful comments to improve.”Judges discuss important details with each other Photo: Betsy LaBelle

Katrina then addressed the subject of judges being victims of the media, saying that there has been an increase in complaints and that the FEI must look into them for the betterment of the sport. A discussion then ensued on how to educate the media and an idea was proposed to make the media feel included, to make them understand how much the judges care about the riders and their horses.

It was clear at this meeting that the IDOC judges not only care about the sport, but also that they want to help riders to improve after a test. “Riders rely on the comments,” said Katrina. “We really want to give them long comments. We care about them.”