Wednesday 8 June 2016

Scribing Overview

This past weekend I scribed at the CA/ADA Black Tie CDI3* and Gold Dressage Show at Rocky Mountain Show Jumping in Calgary.

My view from C

An important unwritten rule of scribing is that what is said in the judge's booth, stays in the judge's booth (except what gets written down on the test). I cannot share specific details, but I do think it is fair to share generalizations from the weekend and from my experience scribing as a whole.

I scribed for three days and scribed for the following classes:
- CDI Grand Prix, Grand Prix Special and Grand Prix Freestyle
- CDI Intermediate
- CDI Prix St. George
- Third Level
- Fourth Level
- FEI Young Riders
- FEI Junior Riders
- FEI Young Horse
- FEI Materiale
- Prix St. George
- Intermediate
- Grand Prix

It was super cool to scribe for the FEI levels, but I wish I could have scribed some Training Level rides to pick up some tips more directly relevant to my own riding.

At this show, I wrote down scores all the way from 0.0 to 8.0 (there was one show last year where one person got a 10.0, but not this time).

It was a beautiful facility in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains

The Judges

There were six judges at the show: three FEI 3* judges and three FEI 4* judges. They represented five different countries. I will do a separate post on what is required to get certain judging levels but these are very qualified folks.

Even at this level, judging is not all these people do. Some of them are dressage coaches and clinicians, but some of them hold down day jobs unrelated to horses like lawyers and psychologists.

You can see me in the background writing
Photo credit: Quantum Photography (, used with permission

Dressage judges are human and not perfect, but they work very hard to be fair and consistent. In this show, there were many classes with more than one judge around the ring. If the judge's scores were considerably different for the same ride, they were concerned and took the time to review the tests and discuss the reason for the discrepancy. Sometimes there is a valid reason for the difference though - you see different things sitting at B compared to at C.

Judges work hard (and so do scribes). When you are in that booth, you have to be focused 100% of the time. Every second between riders is spent determining the collective scores and comments for the last test. Judges don't get many breaks, and the ones they do get aren't long. When the bathroom is on the other side of the showgrounds, a 15 minute break is nothing.

CDI Award Ceremony

What we should all know as riders

When you do your loop around the ring before the bell, the scribe is probably trying to read your number to reference it with the day sheet. Passing by the judge's booth/table/car etc. in a direction where your number is visible is appreciated, or you can say your number to the scribe if you want. Also, some of those insert style bridle numbers are pretty impossible to read from a distance.

Judges generally try and ring you in as soon as you do one loop of the outside. However, sometimes the test before you may have been a difficult one and they need an extra minute to figure out the comments or double check a rule so if you're left doing multiple laps that could be why. Likewise, if you try and say hi to the judge on your loop or after your final salute that's cool, but don't be offended if they are otherwise occupied.

We need more dressage judges. However, to become a judge or upgrade, you need to do some auditing and shadow judging at recognized shows. Having a judge in training at a show can slow things down a little, but it is important so please be patient if it takes a little longer to get your test sheet back.

Judges want you to succeed. Even if they seem harsh, it is out of wanting you to know what needs to improve. When something goes wrong in a test, they are probably wincing right alongside you.

Don't worry so much about breed bias. Just like everyone else, judges may have their personal opinions about what kind of horses they like or dislike, but they're good at being objective, it's their job. I've heard judges say that they aren't a fan of X breed as the horse is entering, but then turn around and give out 7s and 8s if that X breed horse does a movement well.

On your test, the individual comments on the movements are designed to help you know what to improve for next time. If you have a bad score, there should be a comment to go with it, but many good scores don't have comments. Judges also do this to help save their scribes from writing so much (we appreciate it). If you get an 7.0 or higher, that means good job, don't expect a comment saying the same.

CDI Victory Gallop

The training scale and object of dressage are hugely important. The majority of comments (and reasons for not getting higher marks) relate to these fundamentals: More engagement, more fluid bend, more balance, poll up, tight through neck, more over back and into bridle, more uphill, tension, restricted, rhythm mistake, tempo change, behind the vertical, mouth open, resistant, etc. These are the comments that I end up writing over and over again so be aware. That said, if you're in a 4th level test and your horse can't do clean changes, you're going to get some seriously insufficient scores.

If you ever get nervous about showing, just be grateful that you aren't showing at a CDI. Riding in front of 5 different judges at the same time looks intense!

Lovely facility, lovely weekend

The rest of my weekend

I spent time chatting with a lady who was auditing. She was showing me videos of the $125,000 usd FEI prospect sale horses she rides in her position of head trainer at a breeder in Florida. Let that sink in a little, $125,000! In turn, I was showing her videos and photos of my no-name little grade pinto at training level. It was kind of surreal. (She thought Kachina was cute and a nice mover though!) We exchanged contact information and I may try and clinic with her the next time she's in the area. 

Another judge saw me scribe and recruited me as a scribe for a show in July. 

I used my short lunch breaks to shop. I ended up buying two new show shirts/sun shirts. I also sat in expensive saddles so we'll see where that goes. 

Karen Pavicic is currently ranked #2 in Canada and has a real chance at competing at the Rio Olympics with her lovely mount Don Daiquiri. She was riding at the show and I got to scribe her tests and even got her autograph after. 

There were wasp nests in a couple of the judge's booths. I do not like wasps (aka, they pretty much terrify me, but I am better than I was in that I can now prevent myself from screaming when they get close, which is probably a good thing considering the circumstances)

I know it's small, but there were still wasps!

It was a lovely sunny weekend for horse showing, but it was hot. I got a little sunburnt, but just on my right arm where it was sticking out into the sun to write comments. I was staying in a camper with my friend so didn't have access to a shower or air conditioning all weekend. Getting home on Sunday night to my house with its plumbing and real bed was awesome. 

Mountains in the distance

The show gave out volunteer gifts. As a scribe, I was given a very nice scarf... a winter scarf, during a weekend that was approaching 30'C! I had to laugh. It is a nice scarf though, I look forward to wearing it... in about 5 months from now. 


  1. It sounds like a great weekend!

    1. It was! It makes for a long, tiring weekend but I always learn so much :)

  2. So many good points here- especially the one about judges WANTING to see you succeed!

    1. I remember your post about scribing a while back, I think some of my points were the same as yours but it is true. Scribing really helps to get a better understanding of judges.

  3. It sounds like a very good weekend. The upper level tests still terrify me :)

    1. The first time I scribed Grand Prix I was like "OMG, everything is happening so fast! I can't write that quickly! Panic!", but this weekend it already seemed much more reasonable and keeping up didn't seem so hard.

      I love scribing the upper levels because it shows me that FEI pairs are still just horses and humans, not magical centaurs that fly on rainbows. What they do is still seriously impressive but it makes me dream that I could maybe someday get there :-)