Isabell Werth Speaks Out Against Controversial “HiLo” Dressage Scoring Proposed by FEI

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Isabell Werth on Weihegold OLD at Rio de Janeiro celebrating another Olympic medal. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Oct. 20, 2017

Isabell Werth, the most decorated equestrian in history and beginning defense of her World Cup title this weekend, has dismissed as “completely unnecessary” a proposal by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) to drop the highest and lowest judges’ scores in dressage competitions.

Isabell pointed out that similar moves with so-called HiLo in the past had “brought nothing” and said in an interview with Dressursport Deutschland she has “very much hope” the FEI will stick with the current system she described as “proven.”

Isabell is in Herning, Denmark to compete Don Johnson FRH in the first World Cup Western European League qualifier for the final in Paris next April. The three-time champion of the World Cup, the annual championship based on the musical freestyle, outlined her plans for the winter-long indoor series. As title defender, Isabell needs to compete twice on the horse she takes to the final.

She plans to compete in two different competitions each with her three top horses–Weihegold OLD on which she is ranked No. 1 in the world and captured the 2017 World Cup Final at Omaha; Emilio on which she is ranked No. 4 and Don Johnson standing at No. 6.

Isabell, who has won six Olympic gold and four silver, more than any other equestrian in a century of horse sports at the Games, also spoke in support of riders being required at some events to submit in advance a floor plan of their freestyle showing movements with assigned degrees of difficulty to make more transparent judging of musical performances.

She said she hoped the system would be implemented at all championships as, she told Dressursport Deutschland, it “makes our sport a bit clearer again.”

The change in scoring is being proposed by the FEI to the governing body’s general assembly next month. The proposals were drawn up by a Dressage Judges Working Group.

After analyzing 1,320 Grand Prix level tests with five or more judges in 2017, the group found, the average score change per rider increased by only 0.09 per cent, with 224 scores dropping a little and 1,096 scores up a little.

“For the majority of cases, scores will change very little, although on average there will be a small increase in final scores,” according to the FEI summary of the proposal designed to drop the high and low scores for every movement.

“No single judge can ever determine the final ranking, the consensus result will be the determining factor.

“Nationalistic or other biases, deliberate or not, will always be removed from the final score; it is impossible for a single judge to push a rider up or down compared to their colleague’s appreciation.”

The proposed changes–that have been experimented in the past–essentially provide a self-correcting overview, similar to the Judges Supervisory Panel that is installed at some major championships and would make the six per cent rule redundant.

The 2013 European Championships team medal podium might have looked different except for the scores of one judge–Germany (gold, center), Netherlands (silver. left) and Great Britain (bronze, right). © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Judging differences of the type that occurred at the European Championships in Herning, Denmark in 2013 that, the FEI said, “very nearly changed a medal will no longer pose any issues in the final result.” That issue involved very low marks awarded by a single judge for one combination that may have relegated Great Britain to the bronze medal instead of silver and led to the six per cent rule.

The position of most national federations who get to vote on the proposal for the general assembly will not be known for several days if they make their views public beforehand.

However, opponents of the proposal, including most judges, argue that it would lead to mediocre judging, as judges would seek to have their marks count with the majority rather than make a decision based on what they see from their location with the judges’ boxes located to provide different views.

Further, some trainers and riders argue, explaining to non experts why the scores of some judges do not count for some movements is another complication for a sport that already has some difficulties developing interest.