BD Judges Convention 2012

BD Judges Convention, Bury Farm E.C., 5th April 2012

Article and Photos by Simon Battram

“The essence of dressage is that the horse stays in front of the aids / rider” – Stephen Clarke

At the BD Judges Convention, kindly sponsored by the British Dressage Supporters Club, a valid question to the two speakers, Dutch judge Wim Ernes and judge Stephen Clarke, ‘where should the horse’s nose be?’ as this is on a lot of riders minds due to the hyperflexion frenzy. Wim answered as long as the horse was active with the hind leg, round and swinging through the back and seeking the hand he would not mind, within reason, where the nose was. However for a test he stressed that the horse should then move poll high with the nose slightly in front of the vertical!

Stephen, the first British born person to judge at an Olympic Games, and Wim, who has more than 30 years judging experience, talked through each horse and rider combination from lungeing the young horse and the basic gaits to grand prix level movements, commentating on the way of going and also giving suggestions for improvement, although not agreeing every time, they complimented each other!

Jennie Lorriston-Clarke lunged the young horse followed by Lizzie Murray and the 4 year old ‘Sweatheart’ (Sir Donnerhall x Caprimond). Wim discussed the importance of working the horse so that the whole musculature was involved with a ‘continuous top line’. “Before any horse should be asked up to a working contact they should be ridden, stretching over their top line, seeking the rein forwards and rounder, allowing swing through their backs.”

Nathalie Kayal and the 5 year old DHI Bravo focused on the reaction to the aids, quality of transitions coming through from behind and not allowing the first couple of strides of trot to be mediocre; the first stride of trot should be crisp and as active as those to follow. “The horse must work more and the rider works less.” Bravo certainly looked more engertic as attention to detail was paid to the transition work.

Carinsio and Becky Moody showed good potential. Wim wanted the horse to work initially in a less high frame, forward, rounder to the contact to allow more swing through the back. This theme of activity from behind, forwards through the transitions and the horse working for himself was continued with Lucy Cartwright and Samba Dancer.

Matt Hicks and KWPN El Zorro, a horse with a powerful engine and strong hindquarters, worked on keeping good activity with the two judges pointing out submission starts from behind, not to think about the head of the horse but the activity coming from behind and not slowing the horse down as this compromised the clarity of the rhythm.

Woodlander Rockstar partnered by Maria Eilberg and Matt Hicks with High Mark showed walk and canter pirouettes. The general comment was the pirouette is a complicated movement and complicated to mark! “A good quality canter is needed in order to ride a good quality pirouette”, said Stephen and Wim mentioned that although in the pirouette for the grand prix the sequence of footfall will break, the horse should always keep the impression of the 3 beat, with energetic but regular strides. Stephens approach to marking this movement was to think through a series of questions which included whether the horse is straight, does he have the right positioning to enter the pirouette, is the weight being taken behind and whether the movement is ridden with the required 6 – 8 strides.

Stephen said that counting the strides was not about “policing” the movement but rather to confirm that the rider had control of the horse’s balance throughout.

Beverley Brightman and Gutsherr and Rhett Bird with Donzello demonstrated half pass and zig zags. Stephen looked for the riders having the horse set up through the corners, showing good bend and give to the inside leg. With the correct positioning and bend, shoulders in front of the hind quarters both riders could ride actively forwards through the movement. Wim added that the stride length should not shorten through the movement but show the same energy and reach before, during and after.

Lisa Hopkins riding Walkman BC, and Richard Davison with Hiscox Aliano, both at grand prix level, concentrated on the piaffe and passage. Stephen was impressed with the attitude of Lisa’s horse that showed some super work having only competed in two grand prix. Wim’s comment to both riders was don’t work the piaffe or passage for too long in each repetition. Whilst Richards’s horse was offering extravagant work Wim’s remark was he should not ride the full potential every time as the quality was being compromised.

Ride for less, get correctness and then the potential will get realized! Stephen supported this view saying that the need to focus on straightness and consistency was paramount.

Throughout the afternoons sessions, the audience were asked to give their marks when each rider rode through a certain exercise and then Wim and Stephen talked through the marking and the reasons why they gave what they gave. This blend of looking at the horse firstly through the trainer’s eye and then the judging was really informative. The main theme that came through was the need to keep the reaction to the aids and the activity, without speed, from the hind quarters.