dressage, dressage competition, dressage judges, judge Kimberlee Barker, scribing

Hanging with the Judge

I spent Sunday scribing at a local schooling show with dressage judge Kimberlee Barker. It was a real pleasure despite the erratic Central Oregon weather, which had rain dousing the score sheets at one point, as wind whistled through our judges’ stand.
I highly recommend learning to scribe and trying to scribe at one show or more show per year. It’s always eye-opening.

View from the judge's stand. We can't hear your heart pounding, but we know it is!

View from the judge’s stand. We can’t hear your heart pounding, but we know it is!


If you’ve never scribed before, it’s relatively easy to organize a scribing clinic. Ask your local dressage club about learning opportunities. Schooling shows are a great way to start.
By sitting with the judge and noting her comments and scores, I guarantee you’ll go home with a few things to work on in your own riding. From our vantage point at C, the most obvious error nearly every Training Level rider made was to overshoot centerline in their entry.
This mistake is easy to fix and can save you a valuable point or two. Practice your turn onto the centerline at home on a regular basis, starting your turn long before you reach A. If you get to A and then begin your turn, it’s too late and you’ll end up having to wobble back toward centerline — which is not a great way to start your test.
Another obvious error we saw were riders who didn’t keep their horses on the rail. Use the rail to your advantage to help to keep your horse straight and forward. Again, this is easy to school at home.
Another glaring error is allowing your horse to counterflex as he gazes longingly out of the arena. Maybe you’re not able to get a really correct bend yet, as your horse is green or you’re new to showing, but do keep your horse’s head–and attention–in the arena.
Finally, remember that part of your job is to convince your horse that the show ring is a safe place. If you are stressed out, your horse will spend most of the ride wondering, “What’s wrong with mom??”
A tense rider does nothing to help a horse relax. If you got score sheet comments like ‘tense’ and ‘tight back,’ it probably referred to both of you.
Unless your horse is a true schoolmaster, he needs you to assure him that everything is fine. When you focus on helping your horse to relax, it may help you to let go of that death grip you’ve got on the reins. You can tactfully encourage your horse to relax or yell “Relax, dammit!” with every step of the ride.
We could clearly see the effect relaxation had on each horse and rider — and their scores — as the show progressed. In nearly every case, the rider’s first ride was tense and tight. By the time they entered the arena the second time, they’d relaxed a bit, remembered to breathe, and got higher scores. Relaxation is huge and easier said than done.
I know from personal experience that show ring stress can turn your brain to mush and your body to steel. (Not a good combination for your poor horse.) My own goal is to try to keep things in perspective: no show is a life or death situation. This is something I do for fun.
Speaking of fun, look at the young riders who blissfully enter the ring without a ton of emotional baggage. They tend to get around the ring in a much more relaxed manner, often earning more points than their adult counterparts.
Try to take on a scribing opportunity this show season to gain a new perspective. You are guaranteed to learn a lot. And, while it is work, it can be quite satisfying as you get to know your judge and anticipate her comments and scores.
Let me know how it works out!