WEG Judging to be Reviewed by International Dressage Riders Club

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Anabel Balkenhol on Dablino in the WEG Grand Prix © 2010 Ken Braddick/ dressage-news.com
Anabel Balkenhol on Dablino in the WEG Grand Prix © 2010 Ken Braddick/ dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

LEXINGTON, Kentucky, Oct. 9–Judging of dressage at the World Equestrian Games will be reviewed this week by the International Dressage Riders Club that received numerous comments in a questionnaire circulated to riders. Much of the criticism of the judging came from the judges themselves.

There were no known incidents of the type at the 2008 Olympics where decisions about the competition were made at meetings of a select few national federations plus there were some obvious national bias that affected the medals.

Questions about judging at WEG cropped up on the first of four days of dressage competition–two days of the Grand Prix for both team and individual rankings, one day of the Special and the final day of the Freestyle.

Judges, riders, officials and knowledgeable observers agreed that variances in the judging did not appear to affect the medals positions. Holland won team gold, Britain silver and Germany bronze while individual medals for the Special and the Freestyle were the same order, Edward Gal and Moorlands Totilas gold, Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris silver and Steffen Peters and Ravel bronze.

The finishing order of the riders affects whether they qualify for the Special or the Freestyle and also their rankings which in turn could affect invitations to top horse shows and, possibly, sponsorship opportunities. More to the point, is the issue of credibility of the sport both within and without the knowledgeable fan base.

The single most obvious disparity in scoring was for the ride of Germany’s Anabel Balkenhol on Dablino the first day of the Grand Prix–Linda Zang of the U.S. at H scored the combination 62.979 while Evi Eisenhardt of Germany (B) awarded them 72.766. Ghislain Fouarge of the Netherlands (E) gave a score of 68.298, Stephen Clarke of Great Britain (C) 66.809 and Cara Whitham of Canada (M) 67.660. The pair received an average score of 67.702 to place 30th and became Germany’s drop score for the team competition.

Another disparity was that for Juan Manuel Muñoz Diaz of Spain on the gray PRE stallion Fuego XII whose flamboyant gaits made him a crowd favorite. Linda Zang at H scored the pair 69.787 for 19th place while Cara Whitham at M gave them 77.447 for 4th. They placed 5th on 73.957 with the other three scores within less than one percentage point of each other.

Stephen Clarke, who was president of the ground jury, addressed the issue head on.

The large differences, he said, are “not acceptable,” “not good enough.”

He called the judges together after the Grand Prix to discuss the scores and study videos of rides.

The Special on the day following the Grand Prix also had disparities.

The most glaring was the ride of Holland’s Hans Peter Minderhoud on Exquis Nadine who performed some theatrics on the final centerline. Maribel Alonso of Mexico at M gave the pair 65.833 while Linda Zang at B awarded them 75.625. The three other judges were less than 1 1/2 percentage points apart, two at 66.250 and the other at 67.708.

America’s Tina Konyot on Calecto V and Poland’s Katarzyna Milczarek on Ekwador both saw scores as much as seven percentage points apart–Cara Whitham awarding the American couple 63.333 while scores for the other four judges ranged from two at 69.375 and two at 70+, while scores for the Polish pair were more varied ranging from a low of 63.542 from Cara Whitham to a high of 70.833 from Linda Zang.

Mary Seefried of Australia who was chairman of the ground jury for the Special said that the judges’ meeting called by Stephen Clarke after the Grand Prix was “useful” but there still were differences to such a degree “that are not acceptable.”

International Equestrian Federation guidelines are for scores to have have a difference of no greater than five per cent, she said.

“We are very aware of the issue,” she said, “and we want to improve the situation.”

The judges for the Special discussed the rides and scoring during breaks in the competition.

Disparities in scoring in the Freestyle were less pronounced, but each ride is awarded two scores, one for technical and the other for artistic.

Perhaps the most discussed were the scores for Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris and Steffen Peters and Ravel that ended up with the Briton receiving the silver medal and the American the bronze with scores that were 0.450 apart. The discussions were much more about preferences than critical of the judging.

There was no British judge on the panel and total scores for Laura were 167.00 (2nd place) from Evi Eisenhardt, 168.50 (3rd) from Mary Seefried, 171.50 (3rd) from Linda Zang, 172.00 (2nd) from Ghislain Fouarge and 174.50 (2nd) from Maribel Alonso for a combined average score of 85.350.

For Steffen, the scores were 165.50 (3rd) from Evi Eisenhardt, 166.00 (3rd) from Maribel Alonso, 171.00 (3rd) from Ghislain Fouarge, 173.00 (2nd) from Linda Zang of the U.S. and 173.50 (2nd) from Mary Seefried for a final score of 84.90.

Another score of interest was that for Australian Brett Parbery on Victory Salute who received a high of 160.50 and 6th place from Aussie judge Mary Seefried while the other four scores ranged from a low of 148.00 to a high of 153.50. The pair finished with 76.350 for ninth place.