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Differences in scoring for AA, O, vs JR...and other scoring questions

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  • Differences in scoring for AA, O, vs JR...and other scoring questions

    I know that dressage scores can be somewhat subjective (different judges may have slightly different scoring emphasis). But within a given show and level/test, with the same judges, is there a difference between the way the amature, open, vs. junior classes are judged/scored? Are they more forgiving for those in the amature than those in open classes? For example, would a score of 70 be more impressive in the O class compared to AA?

    I'm also curious as to what other factors not directly on the score sheet others have felt made a difference in their final score. List of possibilities I could imagine playing a role:
    -horse turn-out
    -rider turn-out
    -rider body type (given similar horse, a rider with lean, long legs might have an advantage at creating a more pleasing overall picture)
    -horse size/looks/expression
    -warmup (if a horse is misbehaving during the warmup, I could imagine a slight disobedience during the test might be marked down more than one that didn't show such antics during warmup)
    -vocalization (horse) during test...especially those obnoxiously loud screams some horses are capable of producing

    As you can probably tell by the questions I'm asking, I'm very new to the world of dressage. Never thought I'd catch the dressage bug in a million years, but alas, I think I may have been bitten

  • #2
    I've done a lot of scribing and from my experience, the judge does NOT take into consideration AA vs. Prof vs Jr. Often the judge has no clue who is an AA or a Prof, and some of those kids look like adults. The judge rarely (I've never seen it) looks at the score sheet to see what the person or the horse is. Even if the classes are separated out, the judges don't seem to care (or really notice).

    Rider/horse turnout makes a first impression that I'm sure leaves some imprint, but no judge has ever remarked that they were going to deduct points for turnout. A good ride is a good ride, but if you look horrible, you may have to have a slightly better ride (think great center line and halt at X) to prove that you're good. But this is like life, people judge by appearance and it takes a great personality to disprove a negative first impression.

    Disobedience outside in the warm up ring is noticed by judges. I have heard judges make comments about it, usually in regards to how they disaprove of the rider's methods. But again, no judge I've scribed for has ever used that knowledge (in a conscious way) in scoring.

    Horse's screaming generally brings a smile to the judge's face. As long as it doesn't interfere with the movement, the judge doesn't take it into consideration, although it may play into the submission score if it is not just an isolated incident.

    Just remember that judges are human, susceptible to all of the influences that the rest of us are.


    • #3
      No scoring difference between amateurs, juniors and open. A strong pro who rides 12 horses a day is more likely to score better, because he's fitter and practices more.

      -horse turn-out - No.
      -rider turn-out - No.
      -rider body type (given similar horse, a rider with lean, long legs might have an advantage at creating a more pleasing overall picture) - No.
      -horse size/looks/expression - No.
      -warmup (if a horse is misbehaving during the warmup, I could imagine a slight disobedience during the test might be marked down more than one that didn't show such antics during warmup) - No.
      -vocalization (horse) during test...especially those obnoxiously loud screams some horses are capable of producing - No.

      None of these things figure into the scoring. Judges, decent ones at least, put on blinders, and score the gaits, the test, the riding. That's IT. They are far LESS swayed by 'first impressions' than most people think.

      Horse turnout. A neater braid job, a cleaner saddle, a newer saddle....nothing. No effect. People, especially those from the hunter world or western world, are ABSOLUTELY CONVINCED the judge is looking for a matching bridle and saddle, a new saddle pad, and the latest color of rider coat and breeches.

      Hey, if they were, that would make it easy, we could all just 'shop for a blue ribbon'. But then we'd all be wearing the same thing, and how would the judge decide THEN!!!! LOL.

      Rider turnout. No effect. A baggy jacket might make it hard for the judge to see the rider position, but all but the least experienced could very well see how the rider is sitting even if he were wearing a beer barrel.

      The rules for clothing are pretty lax in dressage until the higher levels under FEI. The rules for bitting and saddlery aren't as lax, but are still easy to follow. If a person WEREN'T following those rules, he would be disqualified, and would receive no score.

      Rider build. Model with long legs - NOPE. I've seen some very attractive women pile up the 48%'s. I look like Frodo's mother and I never got anything taken off for that, and judge after judge after judge scored me within 2-3 points of every other judge! A decent dressage judge can see the difference. Maybe spectators can't, but that's why a judge goes to judge school.

      Horse type/expression. If expression means the look on his face, NOPE. A REAL big NOPE there.

      If horse means 'moves like a high speed egg beater at a 45 degree angle to the track, fusses constantly at the bit, and drops his back', yeah, that 'type' might have a problem. If 'type' means fluid, reaching gaits with great rhythm and range of motion, swing, bounce and use of the joints, performing with ease, yea, that 'type' would score better.

      Warmup. Absolutely and positively not. Judging starts when the horse comes in the ring. Unless the disobedience and whack job riding continue in the ring, absolutely not. One can usually EXPECT them to continue in the ring, though! Unless the horse is just frisky or startled and needs a little work, what you see in the warmup WILL be exactly the same in the ring.

      Vocalizing. Absolutely not, unless the horse lifts his head, comes off the bit and drops his back, comes to a screeching halt or doesn't do what the rider is telling him to do. OFTEN, neighing horses do exactly that, and neighing is just a minor part of a larger disobedience. But - even a disobedience may not figure largely (or even at all) in a score if it is brief and doesn't affect the other work.

      Judges in general give away NOTHING to 'first impressions'. I think people love to use that as an excuse when they don't win or they can't understand why so and so won, but I think it's mostly baloney, and comes more out of not understanding what the judge is looking for, or not having an 'eye' (being able to see the point-stealers going on as the test goes on).

      Rider 'body type' could affect a score if 'body type' is a euphemism for rider is so unfit he can't ride effectively and get things to happen. Most effect on 'effectivity of the aids and seat' in the 'general remarks' section of the test.
      Last edited by slc2; May. 17, 2009, 10:29 AM.


      • #4
        what a timely thread!

        I would have thought that judges didn't (and shouldn't) be judging AA against a different standard than Open competitors. HOWEVER, yesterday in a second level test 4 class with 11 or so entrants, half AA and half open, the judge scored all AA over about 63% and all Open under 60%. The class was not split, leaving all AAs in the ribbons and all Opens out of them. That sounds awfully suspicious to me. These Open riders were ones who had scored in the mid 60s in other tests that day. Maybe all of them had a bad test and all the AAs had great tests, but....


        • #5
          LOL. Are you sure the pro's didn't richly deserve the scores they got?

          In any case, WHY would a judge score ALL the pro's in a class down, unless they DID richly deserve it? If he's a paid off, corrupt, unfair conniving old weasel, he would STILL like one pro more than another, LOL!!!

          Too, why assume anyone riding open is necessarily riding better than someone in an amateur class? Why assume anyone riding open SHOULD score higher????

          I've seen cases where the pro's were riding open on horses that were new to that level, and the amateurs were riding horses who had done that level for years and beat them completely. The horses that were green at that level, or that were being ridden by the trainer to take some shtank out of them before the owner gets on, no, they didn't always score that well. Trainers don't always get the best horses to ride on.

          Just because you can find some pattern in the judging doesn't mean those riding open get scored harder.

          I've ridden in plenty of classes with pro's and most of the time, they beat us amateurs. WHY? Usually, they are fitter, they ride more, they practice more and they get more help. No real mystery there. They score better and they win. When the amateur rides better, he beats them. And, sometimes the one that wins is the one that stays in the ring.

          Too, different judges see 2nd level differently and it is a very hard level to judge. I've met judges I thought were overly generous in scoring a hunter-like posture of a horse at 2nd level, to my benefit, and I sure still picked up the ribbon, but come on.

          And the other possibility is - the people riding in the open classes were only doing so because they forgot to get their amateur card, or the various independently minded penny pinchers who didn't want to pay the fees.

          They may not have been 'better' riders at all, or professional trainers, or anything like it.

          At every dressage show I've ever been at, there was a very eclectic mix in the 'open' division. I wouldn't make any generalizations about how opens 'should' score against amateurs.


          • Original Poster

            Originally posted by QHDQ View Post
            Just remember that judges are human, susceptible to all of the influences that the rest of us are.
            That's what I figured too...I think it's hard to be completely non-subjective, especially when there are so many factors that go into the overall ride. The reason I am asking these questions is I received higher scores than I expected last weekend...I scored higher than my former trainer (who rode the same test in the O category, whereas I was in the AA)....and am trying to figure out what exactly was the difference. She's an excellent and well-respected rider and put in what I felt to be an awesome ride. However, her horse was a bit fresh/disobedient/distracted during warmup (a couple buck attempts and some neighing, but settled down fairly fast)...and she is somewhat larger, though well-balanced in the saddle. I was quite shocked that I ended up with a higher score I really don't think we did that much better, which lead me to think of other factors that might have played a role in our score: I was meticulous about turnout (both myself and horse); warmed up with more advanced movements than the level I entered (lateral movements, etc). My former trainer was also visibly displeased about her score, and was a bit aloof towards me (though we had been on fairly friendly terms after I switched barns). In the end, I was just happy that my horse was relaxed and focused (I have no aspirations of being the winning-est dressage rider)...but this little incident made me curious about others' experiences with the less-well-defined judging/scoring factors.


            • Original Poster

              You make very good points, SLC2 I know I'm not a better rider than my former trainer, but my horse puts up with a lot more than the one she was on.


              • #8
                Turnout--NO. My friend rides in Open classes because she is a trainer, in a dark brown A/P saddle that's seen better days, and a brown hunter type bridle, and does VERY well against other trainers who have the all the DQ gear. Heck, she rode against Ken Borden Jr. and placed right below him in huge classes this last weekend, him riding one of his up and coming stallions, with her riding her green WB/TB cross ex-broodmare who's only been back in work for 4 months. So, I think good riders showing their horses to the best of their ability is what scores well. Theoretically, you should see overall higher scores in the Open classes because it is supposed to be all professionals. They only group them in separate classes to make them fair (competing against like skill sets/ages, etc.) but the scoring is the same.


                • #9
                  Judges are biased in favor of good riding, good horses and good horsemanship. That comes in all shapes, sizes, ages and professions.


                  • #10
                    I've scribed for many a judge in my life, and in general, the answer to your questions are (as already expressed), NO. However... Judges are human, I'll full admit that. Ocassionally you run into a judge who has certain biases - luckily, not often.

                    Now, a few of your specific questions - in most cases, judges don't even NOTICE what is going on in the warm up ring. Judging a ride takes a ton of concentration - watching each movement (and the movements come fast), and developing a score and comment - who has time to look at the warm up?

                    In a mixed class (Open, Ammie, Jr/Yr), the judge usually doesn't even KNOW who is who in the class. The scribe often does, since they are often a local person, but the judge comes in not knowing most people riding. They judge what they see. I have seen Open riders (trainers) who were not as good as the Ammies or Juniors in their class - some Ammies and some Juniors are FABULOUS riders. There is no rule that says Trainers are always better riders. And sometimes the Trainers are very good riders, but they are on horses who are in training due to behavior issues - so the horses just aren't performing "up to snuff". On the other hand, sometimes you see the Pros scoring way higher - it is all about the quality of the individual ride in the show ring at that time. Scoring better (or worse) than a Pro doesn't make you a better rider, it just means you had a better ride that day in that show ring.

                    Body type - in all reality, a short, heavy person doesn't always look as good on a horse. I've heard a few judges say it is a bit harder to judge someone who isn't a lovely rider. But there has been quite a bit of education and discussion among judges and judge candidates since the Rider Score was increased to a 3. Ten years ago, it seemed it you LOOKED good, you scored well, but now the emphasis is much more on how effective the rider is. So if the ride went well and the technical moves went well (moves more highly scored based on rider skill, such as the walk pirouette), then the rider scores well.

                    Horse vocalization during the test - if the horse stays ON THE AIDS and makes noise, generally most judges ignore it. But in most cases, a horse who is screaming for their trailer buddy is also off the rider's aids - and yes, that will be penalized. I saw ONE stallion a while ago who was calling to a mare through part of his ride, but stayed on the bit, performed beautifully (it was a bit bizarre), and I actually asked the judge after she'd scored the ride because I was curious. She said she didn't penalize the movements as long as he stayed on the aids.

                    Now - one thing I do warn... Many times a movement is in the "in between" category - could be a 6, could be a 7. In those cases, you might find little things can affect whether you get that 6 or 7.

                    I think Fuzzy Pony sums it up best - most judges are heavily biased toward good riding, and nice horses. In fact, if you look at the collectives at the bottom of each test, that really sums up what the judges look at first and foremost.
                    www.MysticOakRanch.com Friesian/Warmblood Crosses, the Ultimate Sporthorse
                    Director, WTF Registry


                    • #11
                      I have not noticed that judges judges differently for aa, juniors, or pros. Pros usually score higher because, well, pros are usually much better riders... I have noticed, however, judges at schooling shows are more "generous" in scoring though than judges at recognized shows are...


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by fuzzy.pony View Post
                        Judges are biased in favor of good riding, good horses and good horsemanship. That comes in all shapes, sizes, ages and professions.
                        Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

                        Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by NewbieEventer View Post
                          In the end, I was just happy that my horse was relaxed and focused (I have no aspirations of being the winning-est dressage rider)...
                          I think you have explained why your score was higher than your trainer's.


                          • Original Poster

                            Originally posted by fuzzy.pony View Post
                            Judges are biased in favor of good riding, good horses and good horsemanship. That comes in all shapes, sizes, ages and professions.
                            Thanks, fuzzy pony. Nicely put However, I could imagine circumstances in which the riding/horses/horsemanship were similar in talent/merrit and the judge being swayed (subconsiously or otherwise) by other, more superficial factors.


                            • #15
                              In a mixed class (Open, Ammie, Jr/Yr), the judge usually doesn't even KNOW who is who in the class
                              Rabbit- I really doubt that the judge knew who was who in the class as it all goes pretty fast.

                              I think judges do try and score fairly for all classes regardless of whether its AA or O, however as others have mentioned there will always be automatic and generally unconscious biases at play. First impressions count.
                              I have horse to sell to you. Horse good for riding. Can pull cart. Horse good size. Eats carrots and apples. Likes attention. Move head to music. No like opera! You like you buy.