What is panel judging? Understanding one component of Dressage competition judging.

What is Panel Judging?

Lilo Fore, a USEF Dressage ‘S’ (Senior) Judge and as an ‘R’ Sport Horse Judge and a FEI 5* judge, discusses in an interview for Dressage Headlines, the concept of panel judging, that I found interesting and educational. Please take a read:

The U.S. is the only country having just one judge for each national class; every other country has [panel judging] at least two or three judges for each national class. There are expenses associated with each judge include airfare and hotel, food and daily compensation. The only time there is national panel judging (not a CDI) in the United States is at yearly USDF Regional Championships and US National Championships.

A “panel” is usually comprised two-to-five judges positioned around arena, at C, M, H, B or E.

Lilo shared, “What I miss mostly that I’m not doing the FEI level, is the panel judging. We sit around the ring together all day and judge the rides and then we can really talk about it later. The other judges really keep you on your toes. They really keep you honest, straight forward and really sharpen your skills.  And that is really important.”

“We, as judges beat ourselves up regularly even if we feel there is even only a small difference. We feel terrible and the ride we judged plays over and over in our mind, (like a video replay) on why we came up with that score. With discussion though, we feel at the time we maybe had a good reason. Our marks must make sense to riders, trainers, coaches, spectators, media, but when one realizes how many times we judge an event during a year, discrepancies could occur for sure once in our judges life, (machines we are not).”

“What is really the issue is that in the National classes, we do not have enough panel judging. When the judges go through the levels, and they do sit at the different places, they still use the same methodology and terminology than when they are sitting at C. But, you can’t. You have to have methodology and terminology for each part of the arena. If you are sitting at B or E, it’s very hard to say, ‘The angle was good,’ or ‘The alignment was correct,’ or ‘the straightness was enough.’ These are the things that show you are still guessing a little bit. Because you cannot 100% say these comments from those parts of the arena. It takes time to really develop the correct terminology by sitting at each of the different places around the ring. Because what you do see is the engagement, the through-ness and adjustability within the gaits. It’s where you can really see the self-carriage and the impulsion levels. You can see if the poll is the highest point, if the nose is in front of the vertical. You can see the contact. You cannot really see if it’s not enough bend. You can see if it’s too much bend because the neck is turned over. If the horse is not doing too much in the frame it’s really difficult to see from the sides. The bend in the half-passes are hard to see from the sides, but you can see if the haunches are trailing or if the horse is not engaged enough. Or the horse is missing the support and on the forehand or the neck is too low or the horse’s frame is incorrect because the hindquarters are not engaged enough and the neck is short.  These are the things you can see from the sides.”

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