4* FEI Judge Christoph Hess Encourages Communication between Riders and Judges

Written by Betsy LaBelle - In Dressage - Saturday, December 15, 2018

FEI judges are increasingly encouraging riders to approach them and ask questions about their tests. Since FEI Dressage Rules neither discourage nor prohibit competitors from discussing their marks with the judges after CDI classes, Christoph Hess affirms that, globally, judges want competitors to speak with them after the classes. “We are being more open to talking with both rider and trainer,” he explains, "because at the end of the day we have the responsibility to make the sport better by helping riders to see something the way we saw it. If the rider or trainer is unaware of a mistake, then a judge can point that out so a rider understands our marks and make a change for the next day.”

At the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival, the judges are available after the CDI classes to communicate with riders. To improve competitor awareness, understanding and familiarity with the judges, riders are welcome to ask show management to assist in locating the judges in order to find a good time and place to converse. 

Now serving the German Equestrian Federation (FN) as an educational ambassador, Christoph has a notable equestrian history as an international 4* FEI Judge for Dressage and Eventing with added qualifications as a trainer and rider. For more than 30 years, Christoph worked in Warendorf as the Director of Training and Education for the German Equestrian Olympic Committee for Equestrian Sports (Deutsches Olym-piade-Komitee für Reiterei, or the acronym DOKR). “I was responsible for all the qualifications and to find a good system because we were always improving and developing the rider and trainer programs.”

Enhancing his judging successes, Christoph was also one of the leading judges at Germany’s Bundeschampionate (competitions of the country’s best three to six year olds competing in dressage, jumping, eventing, driving and jumping), at the annual Young Horse Breeding Championships, and also as one of the leading FEI judges to hold symposiums for riders, trainers and judges.

“I am a judge, as you know, but I’m also looking at the horse and rider from a trainer’s point of view, as well. For me, it’s important to not only look at them and count the number of strides between the flying changes. This, at the end of the day, a computer can do.” Elaborating, he explained, “I look at two points of view: Harmony between the horse and rider. I want to see happy horses. For me, this is more important than a happy rider, because a happy horse is a healthy horse. The rider can make the decision to ride into the arena, but the horse has no possibility to make that decision, therefore the horse must look prepared to perform in a happy way. And I have one eye to the trainer’s point of view to see if the rider has a nice feeling, to see if the rider is sitting in a nice way into the horse’s movements of using the reins to find the balance. The rider has a big responsibility for their own education and training and that’s what I look very carefully to see.”

Encouraging Riders to Speak with Judges

It has become especially important to Christoph that riders communicate with judges about their marks. “To be honest, I want our comments to help because it is the best way to explain how a ride might improve. For instance, a rider could ask, ‘Why did you give me a 7 here because it was my feeling that I should have gotten a 5 or a 9?’”

“I think that talking scores over would be a good idea, especially to explain the collective marks because we as judges do not have enough time to write lengthy comments for those marks. With me, I would like to comment from my two points of view; the judge’s point of view and the trainer’s point of view. I always want to explain a little bit more.”

“Riders should not fear judges, but instead feel comfortable to come and talk with us.”

Please note for USA National Classes: In the United States, USEF Rules (GR 702) requires a rider to find the TD or show management first in order to get permission to speak with the judge at the US national competitions (Non-CDI) classes.