Every experienced dressage judge realizes how important the person next to you in the judge’s box is, but not many competitors understand how valuable the scribes who write down our scores and comments are. Except, of course, when they can’t read the scribes’ writing.
There are so many ways that scribes can make or break you as a judge. The longer I officiate, the more grateful I am for the good ones and the more frantic I become when I end up with a “lemon.”
That rarely happens in this country any more, but I know of situations that made the judge look like an idiot because the scribe was incompetent. And I’m sure many of our fabulous American scribes can easily recall incidents when the judge was not on the ball, before they saved the judge’s skin.
One horror scenario is to be partway through a test’especially when you’re judging with a panel of two or four others’and having the scribe turn to you and pronounce, “It doesn’t say pirouette; it says changes.”
You try not to take your eyes off the horse while asking the unthinkable question: “Do you have the correct test?” Backtracking is awful when you’re judging alone, because it holds up the whole schedule, but doing it while the rest of the jury is waiting is pure torture.
A good scribe always checks on the accuracy of the test’since the wrong one can slip in by mistake’and also makes sure that the number on the competitor is the one printed on the test.
Here, we’re blessed with show managers who realize that scribes must have a certain amount of experience before you put them with a judge working the FEI levels’although some of our new national tests are quite demanding now too, since we give many separate scores in rapid succession.
But at the FEI levels, judges are required to comment on any movement receiving a 6 or less, and I think that competitors deserve to get some good news too.
I’m guilty of being one of those judges who runs off at the mouth, so I realize that it’s more difficult to keep up with judges like me who are more verbal. And I know that three or four days of nonstop writing and checking is tiresome and rather repetitious.
Although no one’save the judge’is better informed about the action in the ring than the scribe, they are the only ones who never get to see the tests. That’s certainly a frustrating situation, and it was made very clear to me at one of the North American Young Riders Championships, when my scribe would mournfully sigh every time I opened my mouth as if to say, “Not again!” After an hour of this lament, I started to feel guilty about not allowing the woman to watch in peace and had her replaced.
One of my colleagues once told me a cute story of a judge who was given a “new” scribe. The judge started the test, gave a 6 for the entry and halt, a 7 for the extended trot, and a 5 for the shoulder-in. At that point, the scribe threw her pen down in disgust, turned to the judge, and asked, “Why don’t you make up your mind?’ “
Our country is, I believe, the only one that has a group of scribes whom I wouldn’t hesitate to call “professional,” although a lot of their work is a labor of love. Some of them get flown to important events, and they’re like a club of sages in their field.
When you arrive at the show and find that your scribe is a familiar face who knows her stuff, it’s with a warm, fuzzy feeling you crawl into your box. These are the people who will never comment on your scores (whatever their opinion), never show that they’re tired or bored, and will share their blankets when it’s cold and their ice when it’s hot. They’ll give you a nudge when a horse enters the ring and you’re still busy with the previous scoresheet, and they’ll remind you of a transition score when you’re slow.
They keep track of errors and even take time to write down the scores that are announced. It’s a wonderful support to have, and when you also get to keep the same scribe throughout the entire show, life is good!
Now, let me tell you how it can be in “perfect” Europe, where I have had some of my best “thrillers.”
Often, people assume that just because a person is a judge, he or she is also a competent scribe. This could not be farther from the truth. On many occasions, especially in Germany, I’ve had to insist that the judge/scribe stop watching the test, start writing down the comments, and refrain from voicing their opinion about every score.
Usually at this point, the computer operator jumps in to protect their buddy, and things can become very intense for a short while, until the ranking order is re-established.
Scribing is not a good way for a judge to learn anything but vocabulary and how difficult it can be to be a scribe. To learn more about judging, it’s better for the judge to “sit in” on tests, observing the performance and listening to the scores, without compromising the competitors.
Foreign managers also tend to want to replace scribes after every class. At a recent show, I judged six classes with six different scribes, five different computer persons, and sometimes a journalist sitting in to listen. This revolving door of personnel doesn’t give any opportunity to establish a rhythm, and I’m so glad we don’t usually live with that system at our shows.
At one memorable show in Hamburg (Germany), I was introduced to my scribe, “Mrs. Miller,” whom I was told had been working in that capacity at this particular show for the last 30 years. “Great,” I thought, “she should be able to do this without a judge!”
We started the class, and I gave a score and the comment. No reaction from Mrs. Miller. I repeated my drill. Nada. I touched her on the arm, whereupon she turned to me, cupped her ear and said, “What?”
Mrs. Miller was extremely hard of hearing, and as I bellowed my scores in her ear, the competitors would go by and throw me a glance that said, “Well, thanks a whole lot!”
In the freestyle I roared louder than the music and ruined many a beautiful program.
As a competitor, I appreciate when the scribes write legibly. By that I mean not like the judges, whose writing, if they write their own general impressions, is normally indecipherable.
After a while, we competitors learn some of the most common abbreviations, and when we review our sheets we “get in the groove” as the scribes try to give us as much information about the performance as they can, without getting behind the judge and making mistakes.
In that respect there is a unique relationship between the rider and the scribe, because the rider can only receive as much input as the scribe is willing to transfer, even if the judge is generous with her comments.