Sjef Janssen: “Judges Let Themselves Be Influenced By Social Media”

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German coach MonicaTheodorescu and trainer Sjef Janssen with Toilas and Matthias Alexander Rath. File photo  © Dirk Caremans/
German coach MonicaTheodorescu and trainer Sjef Janssen with Toilas and Matthias Alexander Rath. File photo © Dirk Caremans/

July 20, 2015

Editor’s Note: Sjef Janssen, the Netherlands’ team coach when Totilas was ridden by Edward Gal and most recently coach of Germany’s Matthias Alexander Rath competing the black stallion since 2011, spoke to Peter van Pinxteren, senior editor of the Dutch media outlet Hoefslag, three weeks before the European Championships in Aachen, Germany. received permission to reprint the interview.

After nearly a year’s absence, Matthias Alexsander Rath and Totilas made their comeback in the show ring. It resulted in two victories at Hagen (Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special) and earned them a ticket to the European Championships in Aachen.  We talked of the past the future with trainer Sjef Janssen, who voiced strong opinion on the issue of judging.

Hoefslag: To what extent are you satisfied to be present again after such a long time and with this result?< Sjef: We were satisfied. Not super satisfied, because there were still too many little mistakes and things that need to be cut and pasted together, to make improvement. This is understandable, because the show rhythm was lacking. They still lacked the routine of riding the Grand Prix, which is to be expected, as Matthias currently has no other horse in the Grand Prix besides Totilas.< Hoefslag: Yet Rath andTotilas have performed many Grand Prix in their lives. They can’t perform whenever, wherever?

Sjef: No, it absolutely does not work that way, not even for Anky van Grunsven. We always first went to national competitions or we trained at a show in Uden as to get back into the rhythm of showing. This is what we do with Matthias, also. Hulten was one of them and before the  European Championship we will go to one or two smaller shows, or we will simulate a show somewhere at the farm so as to get the show mileage before we arrive at Aachen. The same thing is done in the Netherlands and also in Warendorf during the German training camp.

Hoefslag: Rath and Totilas qualified for the European Championships during the last possible show. Is this not pushing it?

Sjef: No, not at all. We passed on Balve (the German Championship). If we would have had to do that one, it would have been too soon. Last year, in my opinion, he did too many shows leading up to the World Championship. Okay, that was done to get into the show rhythm, but you saw what happened because of that. This time we did not want to make that mistake again. The German team coach may not have been very happy that we waited this long, but we did not let that affect us. There was only one we were concerned with, and that was Totilas. We want a healthy horse for the European Championships. Totilas hasn’t  competed  at a big championship since the Europeans in Rotterdam 2011.

Hoefslag: You chose the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special in Hagen and not the Freeestyle. Why?

Sjef: The Freestyle has not yet been perfected at a show and this time out we did not want to experiment too much. We are going to have to simulate that one a few more times, too. The Freestyle itself has actually been ready for a year and it would be great if we could perform that one in Aachen. Personally I think it is a very nice freestyle, but it is different for everyone. When music and horse/rider combination come together as a whole, then I think that this particular Freestyle will move people.

Hoefslag: Previously, Rath has made  several comebacks under enormous media attention. How was it this time?

Sjef: It was unbelievable in terms of press. Lots of camera crews, journalists, photographers, radio and so on. ZDF, the second largest television station in Germany, was present for three consecutive days.

Matthias could have been under a lot of pressure, but he stayed very cool. He has handled already quite a lot since he started with Totilas. He has gotten more bad press than good press. Yet he knows how to ignore it so he can concentrate on his job. The social media can be very painful. There is more nonsense mouthed by young and old, connoisseurs and non-connoisseurs. He puts it aside, however, and just won’t read it.

Hoefslag: And how does it work for you? And how do you yourself deal with it?

Sjef: I myself certainly do not read it at all. We ourselves have had lots of bad press in the past. In certain social media, you are subjected to unfounded criticism without being able to defend yourself. I myself don’t care at all, it does not affect me whatsoever, but it is not that easy for everybody.

Hoefslag: What doe you mean by that?

Sjef: To my biggest surprise, and I have experienced this now for several years, there are judges, and even highly reputable judges, who are very much concerned with what social media and certain websites say. Even to the extent that it seems to influence their judging. I am however grateful that most judges are not bothered by it.

Hoefslag: Who are you pointing at and how do you notice this?

Sjef: I am not mentioning names, but I am and have been addressed by judges of very high international level who regularly complain to me about all that is written and are wondering if this should be allowed. On the one hand it (judges’ reaction) surprises me but on the other hand, it doesn’t. It doesn’t, because most people do like to hear when they have done something well, and it does, because of the fact that some international experienced judges are letting themselves be bothered by opinions that are totally off the wall and can be very frustrating to the affected parties. This can be an opinion about the riding itself or about the judging. And this opinion comes from people who are lacking any real knowledge and are giving reality a real spin. It is therefore ludicrous that certain judges let themselves be influenced by this.

This bothers me the most, not so much the fact that they complain to me about it. They have their code of conduc and they must do their job according to their knowledge and insight and should be able to stay clear from all these unfounded opinions. I  highly value their expertise that means something and they should not be able to be influenced by anything.

Hoefslag: After all these years, you are not concerned  about what’s on social media, but you clearly do care about the judging?

Sjef: I will continue to fight to prevent these things. I do this for everybody and especially when it affects my students and the impact on the result. For the purity of the sport, this just can’t happen. These judges have to look at a rider/horse combination without any bias and use their skills, for which they have trained for years.

The Hoefslag report in Dutch: