Is New Transparency & Behind-the-Scenes Changes Improving Dressage Judging?

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Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro in front of Francis Verbeek-von Rooy, president of the ground jury at the World Cup Grand Prix. Francis spent much of the competition of 18 rides on her feet as a regular chair was not high enough to see properly, but a high chair was awkward to get on and off as she took the salute at the beginning and end of each ride. © 2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro in front of Francis Verbeek-von Rooy, president of the ground jury at the World Cup Grand Prix. Francis spent much of the competition of 18 rides on her feet as a regular chair was not high enough to see properly, but a high chair was awkward to get on and off as she took the salute at the beginning and end of each ride. © 2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

LAS VEGAS, April 22, 2015–Behind-the-scenes changes using instant replays and big differences in scores for individual movements highlighted immediately were used during the World Cup Final to help eliminate widely varying results that are a major complaint of the Olympic discipline.

The latest version of technology-driven movement-by-movement scoring was implemented at this year’s World Cup Final in Las Vegas to provide the three-member Judges Supervisory Panel that oversees aspects of the scoring by the seven judges.

America’s Linda Zang of Annapolis, Maryland, made her debut as a member of the JSP with retired judge Uwe Mechlem of Germany and Dutch master trainer Henk van Bergen.

Scores at this year’s World Cup Final competitions of the Grand Prix and the Freestyle showed some significant disparities–some more than six percentage points–but, according to an analysis by dressage-news.com, not enough to change the placings when the highest and lowest scores were dropped as is frequently cited as a solution to big differences.

Laura Graves and Verdades of the United States sustained the biggest disparity–a low score of 70.000 per cent and a high score of 77.500 per cent in the total of 74.314 per cent for the Grand Prix. Dropping the lowest and highest scores would have given them a score of 74.540 per cent that would not have changed their placing.

For specific movements, Laura received 6.5 from two judges and eight from another that amounted to a difference of three points for the half pass left in the Grand Prix and a difference of three points in marks for the two times changes.

Fellow American Steffen Peters on Legolas was the only other rider with a difference of three points between the highest and lowest scores, in his case for extended and collected trot.

Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro the eventual winner; Edward Gal on Glock’s Undercover, runnerup; Germany’s Jessica von Bredow-Werndl on Unee BB; Morgan Barbançon Mestre of Spain on Painted Black; Hans Peter Minderhoud of the Netherlands on Glock’s Flirt and Germany’s Isabell Werth on El Santo NRW all had one movement with a 2.5 point difference.

Edward Gal and Undercover also had more than six percentage points difference in the Grand Prix Freestyle overall result, a low of 82.625 and a high of 88.875, though both judges ranked the combination second.

The assignment of 10 judges–seven for the ground jury and three for the JSP–places a big financial burden on the organizers as all had to be flown from around the world, one from Australia, seven from Europe and two from the United States.

The three JSP members received instantaneous scores from the seven judges of each movement with a difference of two percentage points highlighted. Another member was able to replay video of the movement while the third member watched the ride “live.”

Linda Zang (left) with Stephen Clarke of Great Britain and Katrina Wüst of Germany. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Linda Zang (left) with Stephen Clarke of Great Britain and Katrina Wüst of Germany. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Linda Zang, the former U.S. Olympic team rider (the 1980 alternate Games) and one of four top ranked American FEI 5* judges was president of the ground jury at the Wellington, Florida Nations Cup a month ago when two German riders sought to discuss the judging that had come under fire from both competitors and spectators for big disparities for some combinations.

She took the unusual step of arranging a private meeting of the five judges with a rider to go over the score sheets and video. However, a torrential rain storm caused changes in the competition schedule that prevented the meeting being held.

“When I suggested having a review with the video, it was received with a positive response from all present,” she recalled to dressage-news.com. “And, during the press conference when I was asked by the press about the judges marks, I explained my decision to hold such a meeting with the rider and judges panel, it was well received again by the press, chefs d’equipe and coaches. It seemed to have calmed everyone down as they felt something positive was being done for them.”

Linda said she was disappointed the meeting never took place.

“However, I did have the opportunity to speak to Michael Klimke at the VIP tent and discussed the fact that it was a missed opportunity not to have the meeting,” Linda said. “And, this led to us talking frankly about his thoughts of what is happening due to these separations of scores. He stated to me that he is frustrated that he does not see anything being done to resolve why there is such differences in the scoring, and the situation of scoring must be discussed and find a solution that works for all.

“I agreed with him, and I went further to explain to him that a lot is being done that many people are not aware of such as:  there are many stages and levels of monitoring the judges in the FEI system that are in place.”

Judges, she said, advance through national federations; are tested and attend seminars to get into the FEI system; placed on probation if they do not judge a certain number competitions are reviewed in Foreign Judges and Rider reports that go to the FEI and the JSP.

“The idea of having a rider meet with the judges has been well received,” she said, “developing the possibility to actually allow one  rider per competition, if warranted.”

Judges at 5* level are required to attend an annual seminar to discuss judging and brain storm about improvements. and mentor other judges to make judging guidelines better understood.

Judges controlled the FEI Dressage Committee until 2008 when it was reorganized to include various stakeholder representatives.

Provisional scores for Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro in the World Cup Grand Prix Freestyle. © 2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Provisional scores for Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro in the World Cup Grand Prix Freestyle. © 2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

A Judge General was appointed to head the 5* judges and Great Britain’s Stephen Clarke was re-elected to the post at a meeting of the judges in Frankfurt, Germany last week.

The Judges Supervisory Panel was one of the steps implemented along with seven judges at Olympics and championships sich as the World Equestrian Games, the World Cup Finals and the European Championships and has been given sweeping powers to improve judging though its role is little understood or publicized.

The JSP has the authority to lower marks if a judge has missed a clear mistake and also to increase awards if the JSP is sure a rider was punished for a mistake which did not happen and if there is at least a minimum of two marks’ difference between the judges.

The JSP can only correct clear, definite technical mistakes and counting errors, such as a numerical mistake in flying changes, numerical mistake in canter zig-zag or mistake in the changes in canter zig-zag, changes late behind or in front whether in a series or single, clear change of leg in pirouette, clear break of gait, number of steps in piaffe and number of steps in rein-back.

JSP members have to complete and sign a protocol for the rider whose marks have been changed.

The panel provides input on each competition that can be analyzed at a judges’ seminar and sends a confidential evaluation report to the FEI. It also evaluates the quality of judges, identifies judges in need of remedial training, prevents nationalistic or other partisan judging, make proposals for the education/assessment of judges and their status, be aware of trends in judging to prevent ‘driving’ of standards or cases where clarification of rules is needed, provide a general overview of the judges’ world, receive Foreign Judges and Foreign Riders’ reports and seek to achieve uniform judgment.