Tuesday, May. 28, 2024

They Made A Brave Decision

You need more than an average dollop of self-confidence to be an international dressage judge. No matter how the cards fall, someone will disagree with the result, and, as we’ve seen time and time again, that unhappy person or team will be quick to blame the judging.
   

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You need more than an average dollop of self-confidence to be an international dressage judge. No matter how the cards fall, someone will disagree with the result, and, as we’ve seen time and time again, that unhappy person or team will be quick to blame the judging.
   
The Rolex FEI World Cup Dressage Final (p. 10) was no exception. “Maybe [next time] I’ll have one more judge, and it will be four, not three that have me in No. 1,” was Isabell Werth’s acerbic comment after she lost the Final to Steffen Peters and Ravel by .45 points.
   
At first, I thought Werth had every right to complain. When I watched from my seat near A, I thought Werth’s test was the winner. Ravel seemed just a bit on edge to me, and he had a couple of big reactions in his test—not precisely mistakes—but not his usual seamless test.
   
It was easy to jump to conclusions when the German, Swedish and Mexican judges put Werth first, while the U.S. and Dutch judges went with Peters. Didn’t we just deal with nationalistic judging at the 2008 Olympic Games?
   
But as I tried to get to the bottom of the controversy by reviewing the tests on the streaming Internet feed, this time from a similar vantage point to the judges, I realized my initial perception had been colored by my expectations. I didn’t expect Werth to make a mistake, so I’d missed her bobble in the two-tempis. On the other hand, I’d magnified Ravel’s minor problems into something much greater.
   
Fortunately, I’m not a judge, and they have far more experience leaving their assumptions off the test sheet. On seeing those rides again, a luxury the judges don’t have, I realized that instead of making a nationalistic choice, Wim Ernes and Linda Zang had made a very brave decision and judged exactly what they saw from their positions at M and C. It would have been extremely safe to place Satchmo first. When I talked to Robert Dover about his predictions before the World Cup, he believed Werth had the title sewn up before she arrived, and I know his opinion was shared by most.
   
But those two judges didn’t put Werth on top. Although the two rides were certainly very close, on that day Ravel and Peters were just a little bit better for Ernes and Zang.
   
Before the World Cup, Assistant Editor Molly Sorge was so tired of the feeling that this would be more of a dressage exhibition instead of a competition, that she wrote a thought-provoking commentary (April 3) suggesting ways to change the format so we wouldn’t get the same result time and time again.
   
I’m so glad that on Saturday night all of our predictions were wrong. The result might be different the next time Peters faces off against Werth. Dressage is subjective, and there are many factors to take into account. But on that night, two judges weren’t afraid to score what they saw, even though it went against everyone’s expectations.
   
Of course, it’s even better that the new World Cup champion is our own Steffen Peters, but no matter who comes out on top, dressage is so much more fun to watch when the result isn’t predetermined.

Sara Lieser, Editorial Staff

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