Ask the Judge – Can you ask the judge?

Dear Amy,

I was recently at a two-day dressage show. I rode the same test both days, but for two different judges. I thought the second day I did so much better, but my score was about the same. I didn’t agree with the marks, and I was so disappointed. Is it ever possible to discuss your scores with the judge?


Dear Disappointed,

That brings up a very interesting question. According to the USEF rulebook, DR 122.10, a member of the jury may not discuss a ride with a competitor before or after the final salute. However, it is sometimes possible to talk with your judge during a break, if you have arranged a meeting through the technical delegate (TD). 

If you feel as if there might be some discrepancy in your test (a comment doesn’t match the number, or the number seems like it is incorrect) the first thing you would do is contact the TD, who is required to be present on the grounds of all USEF shows during the competition. (If you don’t see the TD, you can inquire at the show office.) You would explain the problem with your test and why you wish to speak to the judge. The TD is allowed to ask judges if they would be willing to have a meeting. Judges are not required to meet with competitors, but most judges will if they can. Sometimes time restrictions make meetings impossible. 

If the judge agrees to talk to you, the judge and the TD will come up with a convenient time and place. Many judges will likely keep the TD within ear’s range during your meeting. If permission is granted, I would try to make your meeting no longer than five minutes and I suggest bringing a copy of the test in question. This will help the judge remember your ride. 

Unfortunately, using a videotape to dispute a judge’s decision is illegal, according to USEF DR 123.7. Keep in mind that a discussion does not imply a change in your test scores. You should approach this kind of meeting as a chance to gain insight into your ride. Remember to be polite and thoughtful.

I would suggest reading your judge’s comments thoroughly, especially anywhere that you might have concerns. Pay special attention to the “further remarks” which you will find at the bottom of your test below the collective marks. This is where your judge will point out the highlights of your test and give you advice about what needs to be improved and developed to enhance the ride. Your judge is not permitted to teach you in these remarks, and will not give you specific directions on what to do: this will be up to you and your coach. Your judge will tell what needs to improve, not how to make that improvement.

If you find your judge was very helpful to you, whether just from the comments on the written test, or from a conversation, you can praise them by filling out an official judge’s evaluation form. In fact, anyone who has ridden for a judge can fill out one of these forms. These may be found in your show packet, or at the show office, or even online. Of course, if you are unhappy with your judge’s observations or manner, (we hope not), you can also use this evaluation form. These forms are submitted to the USEF licensed officials committee, and become part of the judge’s record. 

In addition to feedback from your judges, there are many other ways to learn more about how to ride a successful dressage test. For instance, the Internet has many sites with question and answer forums with trainers, who can give you many tips and insights. If you don’t already have a coach, consider finding one. Judges really try to be fair to all the competitors. They want you to do your best, and they hope that their evaluations will be an asset to your riding.

So, to answer your question, it can be possible to talk directly to your judge. But this kind of conversation should be reserved for a clear discrepancy or error, because, unfortunately, judges do not have time for personal discussions with every rider. Remember to go over your test thoroughly. Consider having your ride videotaped so that you can match the comments to your movements. Make sure you are riding at an appropriate level for you and your horse’s stage of training. Possibly seek a professional, who can help you improve your test and achieve your goals. Good luck!

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