The Value of the New Grand Prix Freestyles - Degree of Difficulty (DoD)

Written by Betsy LaBelle - In Dressage - Sunday, January 22, 2017

Created by FEI 5* German dressage Judge Katrina Wüst and computer scientist Daniel Göhlen, the FEI’s new Degree of Difficulty (DoD) system for scoring Grand Prix Freestyles was launched in North America during week #1 in Wellington after proving its success in the Western European League for the World Cup qualifying competitions. Riders are now required to submit their freestyle “Kür” choreographies to the FEI database for the judges to score the floorplan during their Freestyle performance. The new Degree of Difficulty Freestyle Judging System has several benefits for riders, judges and the audience.

The DoD system helps riders gain more technical (and artistic) points in their freestyle where they wouldn’t have known otherwise. The Degree of Difficulty maneuvers have been made transparent for all riders to work towards with a set point system. The system allows the riders to better think through their freestyle patterns and it enables the judges to more accurately and proficiently score each technical movement throughout the freestyle test along with a clear DoD mark. Even though that DoD mark is only worth about 10% of the score, the entire system brings the main purpose of the Freestyle to a more accurate score overall.

“The goal is to make the freestyle scoring more transparent. Although the Degree of Difficulty mark is placed in the artistic marks area of the test, it is still very technical,” said Göhlen. “As such, she [5* FEI Judge Katrina Wüst] wanted to standardize a way to make this mark calculate better. She felt that the Degree of Difficulty mark is more a part of the technical execution than artistic. And that is why now the Degree of Difficulty mark is completely calculated through the technical execution. Without the correct execution of difficulties within the technical part of the test, that degree of difficulty mark will never be high.”

Having been successful in the Western European League and new to most others, the judges during week #1 of the Adequan Global Dressage Festival all said they like it but are still learning the new system. Even though they may need a bit more time to get used to this new practice, they think it makes the technical and the degree of difficulty section of the test more accurate.

In development for more than eight years, the DoD system was made public for the first time in 2009 at the World Dressage Forum and is now in full use for all CDI-Ws in the Western European League as well as Wellington in preparation of the 2017 World Cup in Omaha.

How do the Riders enter their Floorplan?

FEI riders enter their freestyle floorplan through a system accessible with username and password on the FEI website page. The athletes immediately know which degree of difficulty mark they could get if everything is executed well. Then, during a freestyle performance, the judge marks the movement by movement according to the individual floorplan of each rider. The computer will calculate the four components, (1) difficult movements, (2) combinations, (3) difficult transitions and (4) difficult repetitions for the DoD mark, making for more accurate scores for each judge.

How does it work?  “There are four components that make a freestyle more difficult,” explained Daniel Göhlen. “The first components are the difficult movements, the second are the combinations, the third are difficult transitions and the fourth are the repetitions.”

Each rider begins with a DoD mark of 6.5 (only worth 10% of the overall score). With each box that is checked, the score goes up according to the guidelines with a .02 - .5 mark for each of the four components (difficult movement, difficult combination, difficult transition or repetitions). However, a rider may stay within the 6.5 and still win the class without doing any of the DoD additions by executing the required movements well.  

“Riders get bonus points,” explained Göhlen, “for example in double pirouettes, difficult combinations and difficult transitions.”

Technical and Artistic Marks 

Before this new system, the judges only had a short time between riders to determine the five marks making up the artistic score, which include one box (rhythm, energy, elasticity), a second box (harmony between rider and horse), a third box (choreography, use of the arena, inventiveness) and a fourth box (degree of difficulty – now automatically calculated) and a fifth box (music and music interpretation).

The problem with the prior Degree of Difficulty system showed that judges were having difficulty remembering all the complex and intricate combinations of each ride with clear accuracy while also focusing well on the other artistic marks. FEI data confirmed that the DoD marks were often very inconsistent, proving the difficult time restraints for the judges on the DoD mark were not completely appropriate for riders.

“What happened before was that the judges’ DoD mark would never be fully accurate,” confirmed Göhlen. “It sometimes had a wide range between 6.5 and 8.”

He added, “Katrina felt that because the mark is more about execution than artistic, she wanted to standardize a way to better calculate that mark. That’s why the Degree of Difficulty score depends on the technical execution. Without proper execution within the technical part of the test, that degree of difficulty mark would never be high and a flawed execution can lead to a much lower difficulty mark. All the riders are treated the same.”

Modifiers and Repetitions

Each movement, receives a DoD modifier according to the “Code of points,” for instance a 360 degree piaffe pirouette, gets a .3 score bonus and a combination of the two movements like extended canter into a pirouette gets .2 bonus points. Difficult transition like a halt to passage gets a .05. If the boxes are checked, these small scores get added to the degree of difficulty score of the 6.5.

Difficult movements like the mentioned piaffe pirouette lead to the bonus points if executed for a 7 or better. If it is a 6, the rider does not get any bonus points and for a 5 or lower, these points will be deducted from the degree of difficulty mark. Meaning if a rider really cannot execute the difficult maneuvers well, they will not get the bonus points.

In regard to repetitions, if, for instance, a rider does three piaffes, there is an R in the box next to the modifiers for each repetition. The computer takes into account the R and gives bonus points for each score over the 6.5 for the DoD mark.

“One rider may like to do a lot of combinations while another rider may like to do difficult transitions. Some riders have as many as 7 difficult combinations and some just 3,” Göhlen explained.

It would be interesting to prepare for this degree of difficulty score in the future. For instance, if you know the four components, have a small tour horse and are preparing for the Grand Prix in a year or two’s time, you can train with the objective of getting an 8 or 9 for the DoD score.


A line indicates where the difficult combination begins. A scribe calls out to a judge “Combination starts” and then at “Combination ends” asks “Do you accept?”

If the judge says ‘yes’ then the box gets a check mark. But, when there is a difficult transition box, the scribe will call out, “Difficult transition. Do you accept?” and the judge will say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and the scribe will know whether or not to check the box.

(The boxes mean that the judges are willing to accept the degree of difficulty.)

In the Case of a Mistake, is a Redo Possible?

“We don’t want to take out the ‘Free’ from Freestyle,” Göhlen stated. “The rider has the option to add in up to three additional movements which the rider did not get entered into the floorplan. The rider can also leave out movements and difficulties if the rider feels this is necessary. The ‘Joker’ box is added in the test for this.”

How is this system Spectator Friendly?

“At some shows,” he explained, “we've now shown the running score as it goes along during the freestyle and the degree of difficulty score as it moves along throughout the test on the scoreboards. It gives the spectators another mark to follow as they watch.” He continued, “also, since after the final halt, all technical marks are already in the system, we are much faster with publishing the provisional results. This means that the audience can enjoy more riders’ freestyles on the freestyle evenings. The in-advance submitted floorplans also have proven useful for commentators to enhance the narration making watching the freestyles even more engaging.”

For a complete explanation of the new Degree of Difficulty (DoD) Freestyle Judging System, click here: