Dressage Judging: Improving the System, Sisyphus' Labour

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 17:08

Wayne Channon's most recent column on Eurodressage "Judging Accuracy - an Oxymoron?" has promoted quite some reaction from within the judging corps. U.S. 5* judge Janet Foy took the time to react and IDOC president Hans-Christian Matthiesen had just posted his Open Letter and New Year's note. 

More dressage people closely involved in the sport felt the need to react. Here is a compilation of their thoughts:

Cees Slings: "Resolving Contradictions"

After reading Wayne Channon’s recent editorial “Judging Accuracy - an Oxymoron?” I could only conclude one thing: the discussion about possible improvements in dressage judging shows no progress achieved at all. First things first: the FEI decides, the DJWG rules!

First Things First: the FEI Decides, the DJWG rules!

No matter how you read Wayne’s editorial, he still blames the judges, one way or another; very subtle, but he did. However Wayne also forgets to mention in his plea that all suggestions made by IDOC get rejected by the DJWG and/or FEI Dressage Committee and vice versa. All parties seem to do their utmost to prevent progress from being made because of personality issues and an internal resistance against being dictated, controlled, influenced by another party. The best example is how something as a small, but simple improvement such as the HiLo drop gets overruled. 

Building bridges from both sides

What apparently pervades very few people involved in dressage judging discussion is that in the Freestyle to Music part there could be enormous improvements possible in the transparency of judging on short term; and these improvements might also help in GP and GPS judging problems.

These improvements contain ‘modern’ technology, like graphic displays of all the gaits, choreography and figures, real-time telemetry. This is embraced by broadcasters, who are enthusiastic about this new technology (called EQM-C). Contrary to Wayne Channon’s experience: we’ve only received very positive reactions from top judges.

We’re pretty sure that these improvements will get the consent of the complete judges frame; because using EQM-C tools and graphics leaves everything in its value in terms of dressage and the influence of the judges.

And their extra heavy and complex task in judging the freestyle will not only 'enlightened', but also objectified, EQM-C’s graphical applications makes the FTM more transparent for the large (layman) audience and not just the dressage fan only.

Even more importantly is that with these improvements dressage sport gets a huge boost; which it might prevent the threat of exclusion from the Olympic Games.

Broadcasters are waiting…..

We know from major broadcasters that the implementation of EQM-C would be THE solution for them to make dressage sport on television and streaming attractive.

Without having to fall back on slow-motion images that are completely absurd in the FTM part – as it is precisely the combination of music, the rhythm, the pulse and the tempo of it - that just evokes the goose bumps we all aim to achieve with the Kur.

Let’s look at dressage from a different angle; from where creativity mixes with new technology; This has already been the angle, where dressage took such big steps in the last four decades and boosted its popularity as an Olympic sport.

- by Cees Slings

Bartosz Jura: Not only statistical and balanced but transparent and scientific picture of dressage judging

In the short response, American 5* dressage judge Janet Foy is calling for balanced and statistical picture before further decisions about judging system changes are made. In my earlier publication at Eurodressage I have been advocating for engaging some sport Universities to obtain thorough and solid perspectives based on statistical analysis of full FEI 2014-2017 competitions scores population. In my humble opinion, only after sport scientists provide FEI with objective inputs, international dressage forum will be equipped in facts, figures and arguments to discuss and decide about dressage future.

In the earlier communication of judging system changes advocates, the gymnastics and ice skating judging systems examples were used. Interestingly, The International Federation of Gymnastics (FIG), in collaboration with Longines (what a coincidence - it is FEI sponsor too) and the Swiss Université de Neuchâtel, is designing and implementing a statistical engine to analyze the performance of gymnastics judges during and after major competitions. As a result of continuing collaboration, the scientific paper was drafted and presented publicly during 2017 Sport Analytics Conference organised by MIT Sloan, including clear analysis results, conclusions and recommendations.

This is example of scientific approach supported with mathematical apparatus and analysis level, necessary to determine the accuracy of judges and judging system. Having such a scientific evidence would be required to have fully transparent and merit discussion in any sport, including dressage. Let's hope that this example will inspire FEI Dressage Committee to engage scientist in global dressage judging improvement efforts. 

- by Bartosz Jura

Tim Nathan: Legislate for excellence? An artists point of view. 

Just looking at the complex issue of judging, in response to Wayne Channon’s  article  Judging Accuracy - an Oxymoron? I wonder how a standard of excellence can be set when there appears to be no agreed upon terms of reference between those who teach it, those who practice it, how its judged and how its understood by an audience.

I like watching dressage. It is clear there is good practice in training of horse and rider and there are common denominators which have stood the test of time and new knowledge. However if one is teaching or being taught  a subject it is assumed that one is judged upon what has been learned or how successful an outcome has been within a framework.

It seems to me that there is no question that judges have the knowledge and experience to do this yet it is not happening. Not for lack of will or commitment or talent. New art is often difficult to look at. However the more annoying or the more i dislike it the more interested in it I become because generally there is something in it of value. Perhaps I have been challenged or shown something I haven’t considered.

I asked a musician recently what they thought when they first heard Bjork. They said they didn’t like the music at all when they first heard it. I then asked what they did next. Their answer was that they listened to the music again and again. Some things one just can’t ignore.

Looking at Art, it is not enough to say “Its subjective”.  There is good and bad art. Just because one doesn’t like it doesn’t mean its not good art. However you are free not to like it but as a professional one can not just ignore it. If it is not understood what is good or what is bad , what is a student expected to aspire to? What merit is being sought?

As an artist watching a horse and rider I am always looking for a complete picture. I look by drawing and observing that relationship. It is an active process. I know that when that relationship is working well It is probable that I will get a successful drawing. This is my criteria for criticism. 

I defend the Art of dressage and those who have the thankless task of judging it,  but I do wonder if my criteria for criticism would be a valid one. To have a framework which is understood by all involved can only be a good thing. In Art it is not possible to legislate for excellence but it is possible to have common understood values. In art how we treat and behave in front of our subject matter is as important as any visual byproduct of that process.

Dressage shares common denominators with drawing in what is unseen. (Professional Practice) The problem of judging a competition publicly is in what is seen.  Anything that adds clarity and accuracy to that process would be in support of education, those practicing it, those judging it and its audience. 

There is always room for new and challenging ideas in art. Perhaps worth legislating for..

- by Tim Nathan