Spectator Judging Growing Fast, Online League in Works

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Spectator judging compared with official results at the 2016 World Young Horse Championships in Ermelo, Netherlands.
Spectator judging compared with official results at the 2016 World Young Horse Championships in Ermelo, Netherlands.

Sept. 14, 2016


The rapid growth of spectator judging aimed at engaging the public will take a big step forward in 2017 in efforts to attract bigger audiences especially tech-savvy youth with creation of an online league pitting participants against each other.

Several top European events including world and continental championships have adopted spectator judging using smartphone apps with such success that show organizers see it as vital to to helping understand dressage as well as drawing in spectators at competitions or viewing on television or other devices.

The Stuttgart German Masters, London Olympic Christmas show, Hamburg Derby, Sweden’s Falsterbo Horse Show, the 2016 World Young Horse Championships in Ermelo, Netherlands and the German championships in Warendorf have implemented spectator judging after it was first introduced at the World Equestrian Festival at Aachen, Germany three years ago.  The only use across the Atlantic so far has been for equitation with judging similar to dressage at Washington International Horse Show in 2o15.

Much of the success of spectator judging using smartphone apps has been driven by Daniel Göhlen and his Black Horse software team in Munich, Germany.

He worked with German 5* judge Katrina Wüst to create the computerized freestyle program that has been a breakthrough in transparency by standardizing marks for degrees of difficulty of movements. Its official introduction was the World Cup test event in Omaha last May after testing in Europe. Since then it has been applied extensively and the Adequan Global Dressage Festival World Cup qualifiers in Wellington, Florida next winter are on the schedule.

It also will be used for the nine World Cup qualifiers in the Western European League this winter, and spectator judging will be offered free of charge as an addition if requested by show organizers.

Daniel Göhlen, a software developer from Munich, Germany, overseeing data gathering. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Daniel Göhlen, a software developer from Munich, Germany, overseeing data gathering. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

While the freestyle program has won plaudits with refinements and changes to be made with experience, judging by spectators has captured the imagination of dressage followers.

Carl Hester, Great Britain’s multi Olympian as well as the trainer of all his team mates at this year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, was among the first among elite riders to welcome spectator involvement as a potential game changer for the often criticized judging with panels of five judges at regular CDIs and seven for Olympics, world and European championships.

Spectator judging was first introduced at Aachen, considered the premier horse show in the world, three years ago using a program developed by the German software giant SAP. It was apt in that it succeeded a “dressage radio” program as part of the more than century-old event with experts explaining dressage to spectators.

“This was very well received and we think it is our task to activate the public to be more involved in dressage,” said Frank Kemperman, chairman of the Aachen organization who is also chairman of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) Dressage Committee and heads up a working group charged with improving judging.

After three years of public involvement, he said, “The spectators love it and more and more are participating. First of all, the spectators understand the tests better and they see how difficult it is to judge. We love to show the results of the public judging immediately after the official result is announced.

“This an extra instrument to involve more young people in the sport, because today almost the best way of communication is the mobile phone.”

Evaluation of participants and those “not yet” users “are important for us to modernize and update our service.”


A spokesperson at Ermelo that hosted the World Young Horse Championships (see results above) this year for the first time said: “We thinks it adds value to a dressage event, the audience has more interaction with the sport. There was a lot of applause when the competitors received the public results.”

The response of users was positive, the spokesperson said, and promised it for next year’s championships.

Users of the apps available for both Apple and Google can choose to mark each movement of a test or one total score.

Results of public judging are close to those of the official panel at regular CDI Grand Prix but there is a higher deviation for freestyles.

“Young horses seem to be the hardest to judge for the audience,” Daniel said. “We noted unusually significant differences in Ermelo. Interestingly enough, this was true to a lesser extent at the Bundeshcampionate in Warendorf.

“Overall people seem to have the tendency to spread less than judges. They are mostly more cautious with really high and really low marks.”

Daniel said of his program: “While I fully support the drive for more objectivity, especially through the freestyle system, I would not want to make the judges less important or replace them partly through technology.

“While riders come and go, judges usually remain and their personality and competence could be exploited more in a positive way. I see the benefit of this idea for educational purposes and more streamlined results but not quite for the entertainment value.”


However, in the works is the Spectator Judging League in which participants will be able to earn points from a series of shows.

At the end of the year, the best two spectator judges will get to sit at F and K at a real competition. The results will determine the top spectator judge.

Additional features likely to be ready by year’s end include “Share your ranking on Facebook” and “Judge against a friend.”