A dressage judge speaks up!

   Being a dressage judge isn't always glamorous as you might be led to believe

I became a dressage judge (or as we are well known a Stressage judge) for the food. Every time I’d head to the local Pony Club canteen for my ‘snag sanga’ I’d let my eyes linger longingly over the judge’s lunch table, watching every morsel as it disappeared into the glamorous laughing mouths of the learned judges, and I’d wish I was one of them. Little did I know that a) those judges were only to be found at pure dressage events, and b) ‘glamorous’ is all in the eye of the beholder.

Hamish, (I feel some of this article should be directed at Hamish as he isn't always one of our fans!) I want to tell you a bit about the life of the lowly eventing dressage judge. I felt, having read the last of your hilarious mudslinging that some explanation was required about how we judges do what we do, and dispel this idea that we are heinous beasts of hell breathing fives and fours from our comfy air-conditioned BMWs.

Eventing is a very friendly sport. We judges are well-looked after, let there be no doubt, and there are many dressage judges who happily return to the same events year after year. I am one of them! But here are a few tips that may help you help us.

  1. A full bladder is not helped by someone who decides to use their full minute (and then some) to circle endlessly outside A.
  2. If you think it’s hot riding in your jacket? Try sitting in a decidedly un-airconditioned car (can’t have the aircon on with the engine off!) for the whole day. Nothing sexier than that big wet patch on your back when you hop out of the car to stretch your legs and head for that portaloo.
  3. Rearing is not a halt, even if the hind legs aren’t moving. But it’s certainly very impressive so you’re sure to get a couple of marks for effort … if you stay on.
  4. Bling is for rappers. Enough said.
  5. We actually appreciate that you’ve been up since stupid o’clock plaiting and prettying so don’t freak out if you make a mistake. It’s only two marks and you won’t be the only one!
  6. Standing next to the judge’s car as we’re writing our comments on the test before you is one thing. Letting your horse stick it’s face in the window in search of carrots is quite another.

   The positioning of the judges car can sometimes in itself be quite a challenge

Sometimes, judging is quite an amusing exercise when eventing. No self-respecting eventer ever admits to enjoying dressage so our lowly status in the context of the event can manifest itself in many ways. The most recent example is my time judging at Berrima just-gone.

As you can see in the photo, there are cross country jumps next to my arena, and some on the other side too. There is a space between C and the fence behind us that would happily fit a Barina, but not my 4WD. Hmmmm what to do … some creative parking came in handy, and so did a lot of Zen-like patience for all the nuffties riders who simply walked into the arena without thinking as they walked their cross country course. It isn’t all champagne, pavilions and WEG gigs, that’s for sure.

So Hamish, while we may well give you a five for that extended trot even though it felt amazing (that’s usually because you gave us all you had in the medium and you had nothing left for the extended – just saying), we appreciate the work you’ve put in to your horse and yourself, and we have our fair share of challenges too. Those of us who are eventers ourselves might even be big fans. Feel free to say hi sometime … can always pick a dressage judge by the tan on their right forearm.


I did a lot of scribing before I came to France. Best story about eventing dressage judging I ever heard came from I judge I scribed for at our Nationals.
Judge (name withheld to protect identity) arrives at event and is introduced to scribe, a genteel “older lady.” They sit into judge’s 4WD and set up at their arena.
Scribe enquires “Do you mind if I use this to write with? I find it hard to grip a normal pen with my arthritis, you know,” fumbles in bottomless pit-type handbag and produces a giant fat pencil.
Stifling a giggle, judge says “Sure, no problem.”
All is going well, judge is giving remarks and marks and Giant Pencil is scribbling away happily.
After some time, Giant Pencil takes pain medication, knocking it back with a bottle of water, which she continues to swig from afterwards. Ok, nothing strange there.
Except the bottle has more than water in it…
Some time later, Giant Pencil starts to slide into the wheel-well in front of her seat, mumbling incoherently as her head sinks below the level of the dashboard. Judge has no option but to grab sheets and clipboard and continue to judge & scribe simultaneously.
Fourteen year old sheet-collector comes by on quad bike some time later. Judge points to comatose Giant Pencil and says “I’ve a problem here.” Fourteen year old says he will tell organisers.
Six manically judged & scribed tests later, fourteen year old sheet-collector comes by again. Judges says “What about this” with a distinct note of panic, pointing at happily snoring Giant Pencil. Fourteen year old shrugs eloquently and zips off on quad bike.
Judge ends up judging/scribing for approx. 20 tests, finally finishes class and returns to base. Walks into organisers’ tent where people are swanning around in the bubble of serenity normally seen in the organiser’s tent at an event. That is, there are two secretaries trying to look after entries, withdrawals, complaints, prizegiving and scoring while at the same time communicating with starters, finishers, stewards and safety officers via walkie-talkie. Announces “I have an inebriated scribe in my 4WD.” Harassed secretaries are sympathetic but can do nothing… can Judge look after the scribe?
Um ok says judge… judge grabs a sandwich and sits in car until Giant Pencil starts to wake up. The first thing she needs to do is pee... but is incapable of making her way to the portaloo on her own (probably because she's been lying in a crumpled heap on the floor of the 4WD for two and a half hours). Judge ends up practically carrying her to portaloo and helping her do what she has to…
Yup. It’s such a glamorous role, that of the eventing dressage judge.
That's why so many people want to do it, you know, it's not for the food.