Perspectives of Experienced FEI 5* Judge Lilo Fore

Written by Betsy LaBelle - In Dressage - Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Highly regarded by the international dressage community, Liselotte “Lilo” Fore a USEF Dressage ‘S’ (Senior) Judge and as an ‘R’ Sport Horse Judge who aged out as a FEI 5* judge but was given an incredible two years of annual extensions beyond the mandatory 70-year age limit due to her expertise and acumen. “People have asked me what I’m doing with my free time now, but I haven’t had any yet,” she chuckled.

Lilo remains quite busy. She continues to pass on her knowledge as a trainer, coach, rider and judge. For more than forty years, Lilo’s fervor for dressage has included many roles, “My passion really is riding, teaching and training and the last passion is the judging. And that has helped me to be who I am. I’ve been riding all my life and I’ve been teaching all my life and that is what makes me the judge I am today. I think it’s easier to see what’s right or wrong if you’ve done it. That does not mean that I am better than another judge who may not have ridden to the same level, though. There are many who do have a really good eye and they can see what’s wrong, but if you want to help someone to make it better, then you have to have done it.”

Encouraging the next Generation of Judges in the United States

“We don’t have enough judges coming up to the FEI’s levels in the U.S.,” Lilo pointed out. “It takes a long time and a tremendous expense for judges to climb the levels to FEI.”

She continued, “We need more judges to come up the levels. It starts with the L Graduate going on to the small ‘r’ program then the large ‘R’ program then the ‘S’ program and then the FEI. By the time they get there, it’s taken them a lifetime. And the expense of it is tremendous. We need to encourage them and give them more opportunities to gain more experience."

She explained, "It’s the number of hours necessary, expense and 'who you know' of it all that holds the up-and-coming judges back from being able to get the opportunities that are available. The small ‘r’s’ for instance have harder times getting judges assignments they need to fufill that level due to the fact that show managers want to bring in judges they can use for all the different classes and not just a judge for Training Level through Second Level. So, the small r’s are left behind. But, it’s also true that the small ‘r’s’ want the same amount of money as the large ‘R’, ‘S’ and FEI judges to judge." Lilo continued, "It’s really hard. They really just have to bite the bullet those first few years for them to be able to get their feet in the door. That is where the problems lay. There are really good judges out there. And the show managers have to know them. If they don’t know them, it’s a little bit tougher.”

Lilo also said, “We have to look at the judging programs a little bit too to see that when they do pass a level, there will be a program for the next level within the next two years so they don’t have to wait five years to be able to prepare for the next level. I think the levels before the 'S' level should be made easier because it’s taking too long. Once they get to 'S' they need to spend a lot more time there before the FEI level.”

What is Panel Judging?

The U.S. is the only country having just one judge for each national class; every other country has [panel judging] at least two or three judges for each national class. There are expenses associated with each judge include airfare and hotel, food and daily compensation. The only time there is national panel judging (not a CDI) in the United States is at yearly USDF Regional Championships and US National Championships.

A “panel” is usually comprised two-to-five judges positioned around arena, at C, M, H, B or E.

Lilo shared, “What I miss mostly that I’m not doing the FEI level, is the panel judging. We sit around the ring together all day and judge the rides and then we can really talk about it later. The other judges really keep you on your toes. They really keep you honest, straight forward and really sharpen your skills.  And that is really important.”

“We, as judges beat ourselves up regularly even if we feel there is even only a small difference. We feel terrible and the ride we judged plays over and over in our mind, (like a video replay) on why we came up with that score. With discussion though, we feel at the time we maybe had a good reason. Our marks must make sense to riders, trainers, coaches, spectators, media, but when one realizes how many times we judge an event during a year, discrepancies could occur for sure once in our judges life, (machines we are not).”

“What is really the issue is that in the National classes, we do not have enough panel judging. When the judges go through the levels, and they do sit at the different places, they still use the same methodology and terminology than when they are sitting at C. But, you can’t. You have to have methodology and terminology for each part of the arena. If you are sitting at B or E, it’s very hard to say, ‘The angle was good,’ or ‘The alignment was correct,’ or ‘the straightness was enough.’ These are the things that show you are still guessing a little bit. Because you cannot 100% say these comments from those parts of the arena. It takes time to really develop the correct terminology by sitting at each of the different places around the ring. Because what you do see is the engagement, the through-ness and adjustability within the gaits. It’s where you can really see the self-carriage and the impulsion levels. You can see if the poll is the highest point, if the nose is in front of the vertical. You can see the contact. You cannot really see if it’s not enough bend. You can see if it’s too much bend because the neck is turned over. If the horse is not doing too much in the frame it’s really difficult to see from the sides. The bend in the half-passes are hard to see from the sides, but you can see if the haunches are trailing or if the horse is not engaged enough. Or the horse is missing the support and on the forehand or the neck is too low or the horse’s frame is incorrect because the hindquarters are not engaged enough and the neck is short.  These are the things you can see from the sides.”

Utilizing the Mentorship

“We have some really good judges in this country who are great mentors, like Lois Yukins, Gary Rockwell, Jane Weatherwax, Jeanne McDonald,” Lilo pointed out. “They’re all for the up and coming judges. There are more good mentors I can also name, like Axel Steiner, Natalie Lamping, Marianne Ludwig, Linda Zang, Anne Gribbons and Janet Foy.  In fact, I don’t know an FEI judge who isn’t a good mentor!”

“I get many emails all the time from judges coming up the levels asking what they should have done. Or, ‘Was that the right thing for me to do?’ Or, ‘How would you have handled that situation?’ These are important questions and we have many judges who will answer these questions. The door is always open. We want them to ask because if they come across that problem again, then they’ll know the answer. I cannot think of any judge who would not be willing to help another up-and-coming judge going up the ladder.”

She explained the mentoring process, “Apprentice judges and scribes sit with the experienced judges. It’s not easy sometimes because we’ll judge all day long, 8 or sometimes 9 hours, and then go to dinner with the other judges. And, mentors don’t get paid. Mentoring up and coming judges is all volunteer work.”

This last winter season on the Sunday after the USDF Trainer’s Conference, Lilo spent a day with 102 judges at an all-day Judges Forum in Wellington, Florida. “I voluntarily made a PowerPoint presentation with 172 points on it. It took me three months to put together. Once again, it’s all of us wanting to make sure we have good, educated judges coming forward. That they have a way to know they can come to us when they have questions."

Lilo's Journey to becoming a Judge

“I was asked in 1973 if I would be interested in judging and I said ‘no’ because I didn’t think I was good enough. I had already ridden through FEI but, at that moment, to me a judge was a god. I wasn’t one to sit in a box and tell people how they should ride. But, then, my colleagues (other riders) pushed me and I did go through the judges program with the CDS (California Dressage Society). At that time, I was riding a lot. I would encourage others to start the process even if they don’t feel ready. It’s been a long journey to get to the 5* position, a very prestigious position I’m proud to have achieved. I hope I’ve been able to prove to my colleagues and to show managements that it was deserved.”

Lilo has always tried to keep her judging comments constructive and encouraging, “Everyone always tells me that my comments on the test papers are always positive. I think the reason why I’m so careful with my comments is that I want the riders to take the tests home and really read them. If I only write down negative things, they’re just going to rip that page up and throw it in the trash. I want them to know we care. And, even though we might say that’s not good enough, we’ll encourage them. If the rider thinks, ‘Man, if I get this one thing, I’m going to get it,’ that’s important to me. I want them to fight for it."

“Another reason, I think, is because I look at the horse as the overall unit and I look at the rider as a part of that and then I figure out what that unit did do well and what could they improve in order to go on to the next level. I somehow say it in a few sentences and it makes sense.”

Lilo has officiated at numerous international competitions such as the World Cup finals in Las Vegas and several Olympics, Pan American Games and World Equestrian Games that included the 2014 WEG in Normandy. And, as a founding member of the United States Dressage Foundation’s Instructor Certification Program, she is currently an Examiner and Chair of the Program.