Ask the Judge – Number of Judges

Dear Amy,

At several of our local USDF dressage shows there have been two or three judges’ booths with judges in them for some of the dressage classes. I wanted to know if these classes are judged differently from ones with a single judge? If you have three judges, do you receive all of the scoresheets afterwards? What class would I need to compete in to have this opportunity? I am still new to dressage and ride at Training Level.

Getting Started

Dear Getting Started,

This is a good observation! Many shows now, even our local shows, are offering classes that do require multiple judges. All dressage shows need at least one judge to be positioned on the centerline at the letter C, directly opposite A where you enter. Dressage judges earn different ratings, depending on their experience and expertise. An ‘r’ judge can officiate classes through the Second Level. An ‘R’ judge may officiate through the Fourth Level. An ‘S’ judge may officiate at all levels at a national show. FEI judges, who are sanctioned by the international governing body of equestrian sport, may officiate at all levels at a national or an international show. 

The judge sitting at C is considered the president of the ground jury for that competition arena. If there are two judges, the second judge would be placed on the middle of the long side in front of either the letter E or B: this decision is at the discretion of management. If three judges are required, in addition to the judge at C and a judge either at E or B, the next judge would be based at either M or H. The third judge’s booth will actually be on the short side, near the corner, to either side of the judge at C. When there are three judges, the second and third judges are placed diagonally to each other – If judge number two is at E, judge number three will be at H. If judge number two is at E, judge number three will be at M. 

Whether you have one judge or three judges, all of their scoring will have equal effect. Final numbers and percentages will be divided equally to come up with one final score and percentage. Each of the officials will evaluate the ride in the standard way. It is quite rewarding and informative to receive feedback from more than one judge. You should take note that these classes often will cost more to enter, depending on the number of judges. 

The purpose of multiple judges is to give you a more complete and accurate assessment of your ride. Wherever scores are posted, each judge’s score will be visible, but only the combined percentage score is official. It is to be hoped that all the judges’ scores will be similar so that the final scores will be close, and that the class will be placed in the approximately same order from one judge to the next. However, each judge will have a different view and will perhaps make different comments. After you have completed your ride, you are able to view all of your judges’ test sheets.

When competing in an arena with multiple judges, it is correct to halt and salute only your C judge in your entry and exit. This is the only judge who is allowed to signal you to start your test, who can eliminate you, and is the one who decides if you have made an error – in this case all the other judges will agree with the C judge. If you feel you need to excuse yourself from the ring for any reason, the C judge is the only one who can give you permission. However, you may acknowledge the other judges as you go around the apron of the arena as well as at your exit.

Most USDF tests (at national shows) will only have one judge. One type of competition where you would always see two judges is the USDF Regional Championships, which happen one time a year in the fall. All championship classes require two judges, one placed at C and one either at E or at B. You must be qualified to participate in these classes. If you compete at the U.S.National Finals (for which you also must qualify) there would always be three judges: C, B or E, and M or H. This competition occurs once a year and is in the fall.

So in what classes are you seeing multiple judges locally? These would be USEF qualifying classes, not to be confused with USDF qualifying classes: these are separate systems with different championships. In 2021, USEF competitors who want to qualify for the Dressage Festival of Champions, which occurs once a year (usually in July), will need to earn scores from USEF qualifying classes. USEF qualifying tests can require two or three FEI or S judges to be counted towards qualification. Qualifying classes at the Prix St. Georges, Intermediare 1, Intermediare II and Grand Prix levels require three judges. The following levels require a panel of two FEI or S judges: FEI Children Tests, FEI Pony Rider Tests, FEI Grand Prix 16-25 Tests, FEI Intermediare II Test (Brentina Cup), USEF Developing Horse Prix St Georges Test, USEF Developing Horse Grand Prix Test, USEF Four Year Old Test, FEI Young Horse Tests for Five, Six, and Seven year olds. More and more riders in our area are interested in these tests and luckily we have show organizers and secretaries willing to offer them. 

As you can see there are many different classes and opportunities to be evaluated by a panel of judges. If you would like to have this opportunity at your level, one goal might be to try to qualify for a USDF regional championship. Regional championship tests are offered at all levels, including Training level. You would be required to ride the qualifying test, which is the highest test of the level. If you want to qualify for the Training level championship, for example, you need to compete at Training level test three. You need to obtain minimum scores from two tests with two different judges and from two different shows. To qualify as an adult amateur at this level, the minimum score is 63%. There are additional membership requirements and often a modest fee that go along with being able to qualify. If you do qualify and compete at the USDF regionals you will have two judges and will receive expertise and commentary from two officials. As you progress further in dressage competition there are many additional opportunities to be judged from a panel. 

Until then, keep enjoying your dressage journey and supporting our shows and riders by watching these classes. If you have the opportunity to attend High Performance shows, such as CDIs, World Cups and Olympics, classes can have five, six, and even seven judges – sometimes there will even be a judge at A.

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