Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- Judges for the Rest of Us

Or, An "L" of a Judge

The world of horse show judging has many levels. "R" judges evaluate the riders at top, A-rated shows. But there are many, many stairs to climb before one reaches the "R" Penthouse Suite. Lesser judges working their way up the ladder may be rated "r" or "S." Until recently, I was unaware of another level: "L."

As I understand it, "L" judges exist only in Dressage. They are certified as competent to evaluate dressage performance at Training through Second Level. Gaits, paces, movements, figures, collective marks, and the basics of judging methodology are covered in their training process.

Getting your "L" qualifies you to judge the lowest common denominator within the dressage world. Very few people will ever ride at the Grand Prix Level. Anyone with a year or two of competent instruction and a forgiving horse should be able to complete a Training Level test. But getting your "L" is not simply a matter of writing out a check to the USDF and waiting for your credentials to arrive.

The process involves multiple phases of instruction, hands-on learning, and formal testing. It requires over 72 hours of continuing education!

According to the USDF:

The final exam takes place at a USDF/USEF recognized dressage competition. The duration of the examination is approximately 1 1/2 to 2 days. Two examiners conduct the exam -- one of whom must have been an instructor for an earlier education session.

The examination will include a written test, and a practical judging test with some oral questioning. Candidates may be required to judge orally.

The written test is a closed book exam which includes true/false & multiple choice questions. There are no short answers or essay questions. The questions are compiled primarily from the general and dressage section of the United States Equestrian Federation Rule Book, the USDF Glossary of Judging terms and from the teaching material of the “L” Program.

I was impressed. That's a considerable outlay of time, energy, intelligence, and -- no doubt -- money, to be officially qualified to sit for hours on end in the sweltering sun at a local show and evaluate 114 riders as they ride the same walk, trot Training Level test one at a time.

Judging, like teaching, is an often thankless task. People do it for the inner satisfaction it brings, and for the sense of contribution to something they hold near and dear to their hearts. In the entire recorded history of horse shows, I doubt that there has been a single one where every competitor agreed with the judge's marks, and felt that the placings were just, right, fair, and well-deserved.

I grew up showing on several Class A Hunter circuits. Now, if I show, it's at the local or regional level. It's gratifying to know that (at least in Dressage) even at the less prestigious shows, the judges have had extensive training, and have shown a real committment to the sport. Not every ride requires an "R" judge's opinion. Here's to the judges for the rest of us!