My journey as a judge has led me from northern New England all around the world, including judging at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. It’s been an exciting ride starting when two friends and I traveled down monthly to the New England Dressage Association dressage judges’ program. This was prior to the USDF “L” program. We had the good fortune to spend a weekend a month for nine months learning from different judges before taking our final exam to become a dressage judge. I had been lucky to be given a strong background in dressage by my instructor and friend, Jane Savoie, and although I needed to learn to channel that into being a judge, I felt well prepared by the time of the final exam.
Initially when I got my dressage license, dressage judges were also eventing judges. There was no specific eventing judge in the USEF. This changed as the USEF developed an event judges’ program. Event judges, in addition to judging dressage, also oversee the competition and work in collaboration with the Technical Delegate and Course Designer to ensure a safe and fair competition. As you can imagine, this required a whole new group of skills and understanding of the eventing rules. Fortunately for me, I was an avid event rider and trainer.
As I got more experience in this role I was encouraged to apply for my international license as an eventing judge. To apply you had to have a certain amount of national experience as well as USEF putting your name forward to the FEI. You then had to pass your assessment at an FEI seminar. The seminar was a nail-biter, but it was great preparation for the pressure of judging international competition.
In international competition you are on a panel of two or three judges known as the ground jury. We work as a team, judging the dressage individually with our scores then averaged. It’s always interesting to work with other judges from around the world and be able to compare and discuss our scores after the dressage phase is over. Emphasis is based on teamwork with your ground jury, the technical delegate and course designer. You make lifelong friends from the world over and although the pressure of competition can be intense, there’s always time for a good dinner and some interesting conversation.
Being a dressage and eventing judge has been a challenge and an honor. I have been privileged to judge at some of the top competitions in the world such as the Tokyo Olympics, the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, N.C., the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru, Land Rover Kentucky, and Badminton. Each event has had its own challenges, but I have felt confident that the USEF and the FEI have prepared me to do the best job possible.
If you have any interest in being a licensed official, I encourage you to check into it. You’ll be challenged and learn to think under pressure. You’ll also meet wonderful people and judge fabulous horses.