Monday, July 1, 2013

Questions About Dressage | Ask The Judge | 7/1/2013

Questions About Dressage

With Amy McElroy

Amy McElroy is an FEI competitor and a USEF R judge, qualified to officiate at any USEF recognized show at all national dressage levels. She rides, trains and teaches at Fairlane Farm in Aiken and judges between 15 and 20 dressage shows and events each year. In her popular Ask the Judge column, she answers readers' questions about dressage. Do you have a question for Amy? Send her an email at

Dear Amy,

I recently went to a dressage schooling show, where I scored quite well on my test. I was sharing my excitement with some of my dressage friends, and one of them said I should not be so excited about my score because the judge was not a "real judge." What does that mean?

-Somewhat Confused

Dear Confused,

I first would like to congratulate you on a successful dressage test. I am sure that what your friend meant was that the judge did not have an official judge's license. In the state of South Carolina, at any dressage show or combined test that is not recognized, the show is not required to have a licensed judge. An unrecognized show in South Carolina is one that is not sanctioned by the South Carolina Dressage and Combined Training Association (SCDCTA), the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) or the United States Eventing Association (USEA). The rules in other states vary.

Show managers put great thought into hiring judges that they feel are competent to officiate at their shows. It is important to have a good judge, because the quality of the judging is a reflection on the show. Just because a judge is not licensed, it does not mean that he or she is not a good judge. Some unrated schooling shows do offer judges with licenses, and any recognized show is required to use a judge with a USEF license.

Let's talk about the licenses that you might see listed next to a judge's name in a show program. If there is not a rating next to the judge's name, you can look the judge up on the SCDCTA website (for licensed state judges) or the USEF website under "licensed judges."

Judge Licenses and Ratings

Unrecognized Judge: an unrecognized judge can officiate at an unrecognized schooling show. There is no license or training required. Judges should, of course, be thoroughly familiar with the sport and with its rules.

SCDCTA Approved Judge: To judge an SCDCTA schooling show, the judge must be approved by that association. In order to be approved, a judge must have competed successfully and have earned certain minimum scores in the level at which they are judging. For example, if you have competed successfully up through the Fourth Level, you would be eligible to apply for approval to judge up to the Fourth Level. Approved judges are also required to attend an SCDCTA judge's forum every other year to keep their approval current.

USDF L graduate: L graduates can officiate at any unrated show. These judges have had formal instruction in judging. In order apply to become an L graduate, candidates must have met a list of criteria. For instance, they need to have earned certain minimum scores at least through the Second Level. If they are approved for the L program, they then go through four sessions of training administered by the USDF. The program includes written and oral components, as well as scribing. The "L" is a prerequisite for entering a USEF r program. If you want to move on to the r, you must be an "L with distinction" (L*), which means that you have passed your L testing at an excellent level.

USEF r (recorded judge.) The r judge ("r" in the lower case) is allowed to judge at any recognized show through the Second Level. These judges have passed the L program with distinction and they have met other stringent criteria. For instance, one criterion is that they need to have a certain number of good scores at Fourth Level or above. Once approved to enter a program, the r candidate undergoes formal training and extensive apprentice work under judges approved by the USEF for judge training. To graduate, you must pass an oral and written exam and have completed all the required apprenticeships. After that, candidates are reviewed by the USEF. Judges that have earned an r are well-versed in scoring and vocabulary and have a methodology for placing riders correctly.

USEF R (Registered Judge). The R judge ("R" in the upper case) is allowed to judge at any recognized show through the Fourth Level. The R judge has passed the L program with distinction and has earned the r license. In order to apply be an R candidate, a judge must have met a number of criteria, such as having judged a certain number of shows, and having good scores from Prix St. Georges Level or above, to name a few. Once approved into a program, they will have formal training and extensive apprentice work, including practice judging. To pass, candidates must take a written and oral exam. Scores from these exams and evaluations of all the apprentice work will be taken into consideration. Anyone who earns an R is a confirmed and respected professional judge.

USEF S (Senior Status). The S is the highest ranking that the USEF offers. These judges can officiate at all levels through the Grand Prix. Prerequisites for getting into an S program include earning the R, having scores through the Grand Prix Level, and judging many shows and classes at Fourth Level, just to name a few. S candidates undergo more formal training and apprenticeship. At the end, they must pass the S tests (oral and written) and their apprentice work is reviewed. Judges who have earned an S are highly experienced and should be well-respected.

I hope this gives you insight on how judges are classified by the associations. Quite apart from these ratings, there are ways to assess the job that a particular judge may have done at a show.

Good judges:

  1. Show pleasure in their work.
  2. Have an objective attitude.
  3. Have complete understanding of the test.
  4. Have an ability to assess the whole picture.
  5. Stay on time.
  6. Give comments and numbers that match.
  7. Can give helpful remarks.
  8. Can assess the best part of your test, and tell you what still needs work.

If you liked your judge, or did not care for your judge, not matter what his or her rating or licensing status, be sure to fill out the evaluation forms that are available at all SCDCTA and USEF and USEA shows.

As the great German dressage judge Gustav Rau once said, "Judging dressage means the self conquest of the judge for the benefit of truth and justice."

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.