Will you win a dressage competition depending on which judge you got? 

Good night,

Today me and this handsome fella above have been to a dressage competition. My instructor Kim went for her first competition after giving birth to her candy as I like to call her child (Snoepje). Together with Ivonne, we had a really nice day filled with laughter and Kim did great for her first time back competing since ten months time. 

The competition was around 20-30 min from our stable, so not too far away, and it wasn’t so busy which was nice as well. However walking away from the competition I had a bitter taste in my mouth. 

Growing up I played handball. Handball it’s pretty easy, you score the most goals, you win. You got no one else to blame, but yourself if you don’t score goals. However in dressage it all falls in the hand of the judges. I know they should be, but do they really manage to stay objective? Do they remember that they should look at how handy a rider is and how well he or she does the movements and not at how spectacular the horse is? Will you get more points if you got longer legs cause that looks “prettier” or when you got an expensive attire? 

I have my doubts..

What I find good horse riding can be completely different to what another person finds good horse riding. I want to see a relaxed combination that flows together where you see both enjoy what their doing in harmony. Not a horse forced into a specific position with a rider riding with a harsh hand. 

Watching the combinations warm up today I noticed a girl that was riding a really nice horse, but she rode the horse in a way that I would almost call animal abuse. Her aids were all over the place and as the horse didn’t understand what she asked the reins became shorter and shorter until the horse had its head on its chest. She moved the horse around the arena in a way that made me want to gag. 

The fact that the horse didn’t buck her off, showed how much shit he actually put up with. At one point I stood with another groom that I had never spoken to before and this rider comes in front of us and clearly makes a point of that she could steer the horse in extremely small circles.  The other groom looked at me and we both start laughing at how redicolous it looked. But then she goes in and got second place, because today, tight riding on”spectacular” moving horses was what the judge found good riding. 

But what can we do about it? Not much. As long as there isn’t a general guideline to what good (animal friendly)riding is, there is going to be loads of different opinions and scores depending on the judge. I get that it is that way, but I must say, my “overly fair heart” bleeds just thinking about it. 


You may also like


  1. Well this is all too familiar. Dressage is a subjectively judged sport and that makes it very difficult.Sadly this is the same at any level and at any level of dressage show. I’ve seen some curious judging with horses who are uneven ( to my eye and if I see it it must be BAD) not being rung out in CDIs because the rider is someone who is getting qualifying scores for the Olympics And some of the shite I have seen in warm ups at CDIs would make your blood curdle! I try to ride on in a way I think is right and humane and sympathetic to my horse who works so hard for me. That’s all we can do really. that and not train with people who espouse the brutal and brainless type of riding.

  2. In BD dressage, the riders position, aids etc are only accounted for in the collective marks. Not the mark for each movement. So the rider can be all over the place, but if the horse is still performing the movements correctly he will score highly for the movements but then lose marks in the collective scores.

    I compete my ex racehorse in dressage when I can and it is disheartening when we do our best ever test and don’t get the marks I think it deserved, but ‘losing’ t better horses doesn’t bother me too much.

    I don’t think its the better movement which scores higher at local level shows, more the judges level and experience. We compete mainly at prelim level, but my boy works in quite a high outline, whereas at intro and prelim they expect the horse to be working long and low. So when I get judged by lower level judges, I often place lower in the rankings. When I am marked by a higher level judge against the same group of horses, I tend to place higher I the group, even if my score is lower than with the lower level judge.

    And of course each judge has a preferred way of going and it might not be particularly flashy or spectacular. Some judges might prefer natives paces, or thoroughbreds athleticism. And although this shouldn’t influence the individual movements in the test, it might give them an extra half mark in the collectives.

    I wouldn’t let it bother you, the best thing about dressage is you can just compete against yourself and hopefully get some helpful feedback from the judge!

    1. Thank you for the thourough comment! Here in the netherlands youll find judges that base the score completely on how the horse moves(flashy movements). So if you have one rider that rider great on a “normal horse and one rider that rider ok on a a “flashy” horse the flashy one will win even if the normal one rode better. For example if you got a breed like Frisian or Fjording you’ll 9 out of 10 not win just because they don’t like those breeds. But Anky van Grunsveld went out the other day and said the system needs to change to make it more fair. So hopefully someone will listen!

      1. It is annoying when flashy movement is all that counts! I think there’s been a big push over here recently for it to be more about correctness that WOW! So if your flashy horse cant do a 20m circle you won’t be winning anything!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *