Helpful Tips

Behind the Scenes of Dressage Judging with Peter Gray

Alina Tang

Discover the inner workings of dressage judging as we delve into the pursuit of fairness, the essential role of scribes, and the pure satisfaction experienced along this extraordinary career.

Dressage is an elegant and precise sport that showcases the harmony between horse and rider. Behind the scenes, there are dedicated judges like Peter Gray who play a crucial role in evaluating performances and providing constructive feedback. Peter has judged at some of the world's most prestigious events including the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event and the 2022 World Championships of Eventing in Pratroni, Italy. Peter has also competed and coached in eventing at the Olympics. He also currently competes at the Grand Prix level of dressage. Yup, he's kind of a big deal, and we are so happy to learn from him as a coach on the Ride iQ app.

In Episode 28 of Ride iQ's Ask An Expert, Peter Gray shares his experiences and insights as a dressage judge, offering a glimpse into a day in the life of someone in this role. From working with scribes to assessing riders' performances, let's explore the world of dressage judging.

The Unsung Heroes: Scribes and the Pursuit of Accuracy

Person in blue long sleeve button up shirt writes on a piece of paper with a pen.

In the intricate world of dressage judging, scribes serve as the judge's trusted confidants. These astute individuals possess a wealth of knowledge and a deep understanding of the movements. Their role goes beyond transcribing scores; they are the judges' allies in ensuring accuracy and maintaining the integrity of the competition. The best scribes possess the rare ability to listen attentively and record quickly, capturing every nuance and detail with precision.

In their silent support, scribes allow the judges to focus solely on the task at hand—evaluating the performances and providing meaningful feedback.

Staying Sharp and Maintaining Fairness as the Guiding Light

A cup of coffee on a saucer with a chocolate pastry.
"As a judge, you have to keep yourself alive and vibrant so that you score that person at the end of the day just as well and fairly as your enthusiastic start to the day."

At the core of dressage judging lies an unwavering commitment to fairness.

Peter emphasizes the importance of rewarding the exceptional performances generously while constructively critiquing those that fall short. A judge's ultimate goal is to create a comprehensive range of scores that reflect the true abilities and achievements of each horse and rider.

It is imperative for judges to stay alert and sharp during long days to ensure each rider is scored fairly. While Peter takes judging seriously, one way he stays energetic is embracing banter among his fellow panelists and scribes in between rides. As many of us might relate to, Peter has a system of using fruit, chocolate, and coffee as energy boosters.

Through their expertise and experience, judges strive to be impartial and consistent, ensuring that every participant is given a fair chance to shine.

Pinpointing Top Horse and Rider Pairs

"You put a smile on your horse's face, you put a smile on your face, and you do the best you can to show the harmony between you and your horse. You show the freedom of the gaits and ride the movements as technically correct as possible."

Dressage judging is a subjective art, where judges interpret and define what constitutes harmony. Peter specifically recounts a rider he judged at a clinic recently, who demonstrated a unique softness that reflected the level of sophistication we should all be striving toward in this sport.

Peter’s philosophy can be summarized by the phrase, “happy horse equals happy judge.” In practice, this translates to a few questions that Peter asks himself:

  1. Would I let this rider ride my horse?
  2. Does this rider have the same softness with which I was trained?
  3. Is there fluency and confidence in the horse through this partnership?

The Ever-Evolving Judge

A close up of a bay horse's legs as he trots in a dressage arena.
"I love the challenge of being fair. And I'm still continually working on that to be the very best judge that I can be and it's not easy."

Dressage judging is a lifelong pursuit of knowledge and refinement. Judges, like Peter, continually seek to expand their understanding, stay attuned to emerging trends, and adapt to the evolving demands of the sport.

The reward comes not just from evaluating performances but also in the personal growth that comes from being a dedicated and open-minded judge. Every competition becomes an opportunity to learn, refine skills, and provide valuable feedback that elevates the standard of dressage.

Looking for more guidance? Try Ride iQ!

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Our mobile app offers 60+ jumping lessons and other equestrian resources at your fingertips. Enjoy on-demand coaching anytime, anywhere, at an affordable price. With new audio lessons and podcasts added weekly, you'll have a wealth of knowledge right in your pocket. Try us for free for 14 days, available on both iPhone and Android. Say goodbye to rushing and hello to controlled, confident jumps with Ride iQ!

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