Horses

WEG judges need to be perfect, know they aren't

Team Netherlands, from left, Adeline Cornelissen, Imke Schellekens-Bartels, Hans Peter Minderhoud and Edward Gal, waved to the crowd Tuesday after receiving the gold medals they earned in the team grand prix event at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Great Britain took the silver medal and Germany the bronze. Story and results, Page B3
Team Netherlands, from left, Adeline Cornelissen, Imke Schellekens-Bartels, Hans Peter Minderhoud and Edward Gal, waved to the crowd Tuesday after receiving the gold medals they earned in the team grand prix event at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Great Britain took the silver medal and Germany the bronze. Story and results, Page B3

No doubt the horsemen and riders who have made it to the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games are dedicated individuals at the top of their sport.

So are the ones who judge them.

"It takes a lot of time, effort and dedication," Trond Asmyr, FEI dressage director, said Tuesday during the dressage competition. "And, they have to be good!"

To get good, a judge must put in quite a bit of time and effort. Try 10 years of international experience, only after the particular judge has reached his or her top national level. Even then, try 20-25 weekends a year of judging shows and competitions.

"They need to do a lot of training before that," said Asmyr, a 55-year-old Norwegian who became FEI director last year. "They need to sit in with judges and listen to them. They have to do a lot of shadow judging and then actual judging on a national level."

Why do it? Why endure the years of training and the sporadic controversies, all for the privilege of being second-guessed?

"I am — and I think you could probably say the same for most of my colleagues — the sort of person who likes a challenge," Stephen Clarke, the president of the ground jury for Tuesday's dressage competition, said after the team competition ended. "The pressure is on, and I like the pressure."

But you must be prepared for the pressure. Once a judge has reached the top of the national system, a course must be taken and an exam passed to be a "first level" international judge.

Once the judge reaches the fourth level, he or she must have at least 10 years of international experience to be qualified for judging the championships.

There are almost 30 judges at that level. A hearing process selects the seven judges for the WEG. No more than one judge is allowed from a country. At this particular WEG, the dressage judges are from the United States (Linda Zang), Canada (Cara Whitham), Mexico (Maribel Alonso), Australia (Mary Seefried), England (Clarke), The Netherlands (Ghislain Fouarge) and Germany (Evi Eisenhardt).

Zang is a resident of the Annapolis suburb of Davidsonville, Md., who has officiated at two previous WEGs as well as the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

There will be one change for the next WEG. The hearing process will end up with a list of 12 judges. A random draw will be used to select the seven.

But the process is transparent. The names of the judges are all known to the participants. (The names of the seven judges for next April's World Cup finals were published last week.) Each judge's marks are shown to the riders as well as the public. Some agree, some don't.

"I wouldn't say there have been problems, but it's absolutely natural," said Asmyr, who himself was a dressage judge for 30 years. "A rider is always disagreeing more with a lower score than with a higher score. And we have to live with that. That's natural. People are, of course, very dedicated to what they are doing, and they want to have the best results."

After the news conference following Tuesday's competition, Clarke took questions from the news media concerning the competition and in some cases the disparity in some of the scoring, which he called "not acceptable."

As a resident of England, Clarke was even asked how he felt about Great Britain taking the silver medal in the team competition.

"Despite what people think, being a dressage judge, I am a human being," he joked.

And, as a human being, he admitted later that sometimes judges are not perfect.

"All we're trying to do, at the end of the day, is to be fair to every rider within every movement, and it doesn't always work," Clarke said. "We make mistakes. But the challenge is not to make mistakes."

Same for the judges, and for the competitors.

"The judges are top-trained," said Asmyr. "Like the horse."

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