2018 Shannon Fund Grant Recipient: Michell Combs

USEF ‘r’ Dressage Judge Training Program: Part 1

Thanks to The Dressage Foundation and their Shannon Foundation Fund for Judges’ Licensing, I was able to attend Part 1 of the USEF ‘r’ Dressage Judge Training Program August 17-19, 2018, in Saugerties, New York. The program was hosted by NEDA, coordinated by the amazing Sally Davenport and supported by her extraordinary volunteers. The instructor for the program was FEI 4* dressage judge Sarah Geikie.

The flight in from Phoenix to Albany was challenging. The original route was though Chicago, which was experiencing bad weather. The flight was delayed and then changed. I was happy make it to Albany and arrived three hours later than expected. Fellow candidate Missy Gilliland coordinated the Airbnb and rental car so we were all set.

On Friday, Sarah Geikie worked with the nine candidates to thoroughly study the candidate’s notebook, reviewing USEF rules, the basics of dressage methodology and the scale of training. In addition, we watched videos analyzing various qualities of walk, trot and canter and then specific dressage test movements. All of us attended the group dinner at a restaurant by the Hudson Friday night.

Saturday was quite adventurous. All the candidates had an experienced, wonderful scribe to assist us. We made it through the Training Level oral and actual test judging. Then the rain started by the time we were ready to begin Second Level. After judging two tests, the downpour was so intense that we ran for cover. The show had to be cancelled the rest of the day due to severe weather and flooding so our group went back to the host hotel, where we finished judging Second Level rides from videos. Then Sarah spent time reviewing the tests as we judged them compared to how she judged them. We had discussions about the tests and overall placements. Our group bonded over the experience. Many of us went out for dinner and dessert afterwards. With the excessive rain and lightning, I admit, that night I was singing “Raindrops on Roses” from The Sound of Music!

Sunday was back to normal. Thanks to the great footing at HITS-on-the-Hudson, the show was back up and running at 8:00 a.m.  Our group completed First Level oral and actual test judging and then reviewed our tests with Sarah’s tests and reviewed our overall placings. After lunch we met as a group and then individually with Sarah to see how we were doing and what we needed to improve upon.

Some specific things we learned over the training were:

  1. Look at the big picture; don’t just judge the mistakes. Look at the whole horse—the attitude and confidence. A judge must be able to see the overall picture.
  2. Have a clear expectation for the gaits.
    WALK – Purposeful
    TROT – Swing
    CANTER – Jump
  3. Understand the difference between impulsion and submission.
    Can’t do it – impulsion issue
    Won’t do it – submission issue
  4. Ask yourself, “How would I ride the horse?” Work on suppleness? Work on energy?
  5. Make sure the first-place horse is the one with the best quality and the best training.
  6. Don’t say “needs,” say “work for improved ___________” or “develop more ________________.”

Sarah believes it’s important to be very specific in the comments and let the rider know what they can do to improve the movements and the overall test.

It was an intensive and adventurous weekend. I believe the dressage community has nine wonderful candidates to be the next generation of dressage judges and further the sport.