When you consider the concept of a championship, is it not a picture of ability, polish and style? Don’t you expect confidence, excellence and finesse in the performances, something beyond the everyday, a higher level of accomplishment?
That’s what the foreign judges who officiated at one of our U.S. Dressage Federation championships a few weeks ago expected. At lunch, after a fairly weak Prix St Georges, they expressed their disappointment in the quality of the rides. Their point was, how could a class of a dozen rides where all, save one, scored less than 60 percent, be called a “championship?”
Thinking I had the perfect explanation, I informed my colleagues that this was an “amateur” class and that the amateur riders have their own division and separate qualifying requirements. But my explanation had none of the effect I’d anticipated.
All three judges vigorously maintained that whatever the class description, the standard of those performances had nothing to do with the title “championships.”
The fact that the amateurs are allowed to qualify with a lower score than the riders in the open division was, in their mind, no excuse. Instead, they found this feature patronizing, as if we were telling our amateurs that they shouldn’t even bother to try to live up to the standards of the open division.
Admittedly, judging large amateur classes can be daunting, but it wasn’t boredom that caused these judges to speak up. It was the fact that they felt it hurts the sport in this country to put fancy labels on sub-standard performances.
I listened, and later I thought that perhaps there is some virtue in considering what we look like “from the outside.”
No doubt it’s good for the sport to offer a separate division for amateur riders. When you can’t spend every waking moment in the saddle because of real-life obligations, you shouldn’t always have to compete against riders who ride for a living.
The fact that amateurs have their own protected classes is also beneficial for the professionals, who can send their students out to show on a level playing field.
But to use the amateur division to enter students who aren’t up to the task and are often ignorant of this fact, sincethey blindly trust their instructor, isn’t fair play. It’s unfair to the student and alsoto the judges, who don’t like having to hurt anybody’s feelings or kill their enthusiasm by giving very low scores.
Neither the student, nor the judge, wants to be caught in this trap of mutual embarrassment, and it’s the responsibility of every teacher to prevent students from exhibiting above their capability.
Of course, occasionally riders deceive themselves or insist on performing in the “shadbelly division” against the advice of their instructor. Then everybody–rider, judge and instructor–is unhappy in the end.
When this scenario plays out at a championship, the spectators are bound to roll their eyes, shake their heads, and wonder if they misread the prize list or are at the wrong show.
Naturally, the foreign judges wondered why the qualifying scores couldn’t be the same for all divisions. I know how difficult it is to raise the bar for any of the USDF awards, having been part of the Awards Committee for a couple of years! Whenever we try to make any changes toward a more credible and prestigious awards structure, we meet solid resistance.
But when dressage experts from abroad are totally unimpressed, should we not care? Is it all about telling your friendsand the uninitiated that you “qualified for the championships,” never letting them know how that actually happened? Or should wetry to make the USDF championships mean something, something you can be truly proud of?
Creating huge championship classes filled with mediocre or even bad rides certainly doesn’t help our national or our international image.
One person suggested to me that foreign judges shouldn’t be allowed to officiate in our amateur classes. Again, I don’t think that kind of thinking will help in the long run. I doubt that we want to create a separate “playpen” for amateurs that can not be visited by certain judges.
I think this is an issue that the amateurs ought to deal with themselves. All I am trying to do is give you a “heads up,” so don’t shoot the messenger.
Again, And Again, And Again