I spoke recently with FEI 4* judge Lee Tubman. I have done lots of interviews with dressage riders and I thought it was time to get a judge’s perspective. Every horse and rider enters the dressage arena at A , halts at X, and salutes the judge who is at C. In the international competitions there are five judges and the judge at C is the President of the Ground Jury. In the World Championships and Olympics there are seven judges.
How did you start on your journey to be a judge?
I was on the Canadian Young Riders Team at the North American Championships in 1985 and I decided I wanted to understand more about how I received marks in the tests. I also wanted to know what the judges were looking at during a test. So I took a judging course. I’m a person who enjoys being on a learning curve and so I kept on taking courses. I found it was also a help in my training and coaching. It was especially useful in understanding what the judges were looking for in the collective marks and I could pass that on to my students. I also started judging at schooling shows to start with and then moved up. In 2006 I had my S level certification and was judging National level shows.
What are your judging goals now?
I’ve been judging the North American Youth Championships for the last four years and I really enjoyed that. I would love to be a judge at the Pan Am Games. I would have to be appointed by the FEI to do that.
What do you think about some of the recommendations of the Dressage Judges Working Group that have recently been presented to the FEI?
I think they should bring back the collective marks. As a coach these are marks that I know can really help my students. These marks give you the essence of a test and serve as the ‘vital organs’ of a dressage test. They are very important especially for a young rider coming along.
If they want to cut it down to just one collective mark then it should be a mark for ‘general impression’.
What do you think about the short Grand Prix test?
For a Grand Prix test to show the all elements of Classical training to Grand Prix all the elements must be included in the test. The short test has cut out some of these elements. Also the shortened test affects the pace and I do not think it is acceptable for the majority of horses. The short test lacks rhythm.
Does the order of the riders with the best coming last put pressure on a judge?
As a judge I must avoid liking or disliking a particular horse. I have to judge what I see in the arena and avoid thinking about any pressure of the best coming last. I must focus on only what I see.
The DJWG has suggested listing judges marks in relation to where they are positioned in the arena. What do you think about this?
Judges can see very different things depending on where they are sitting in the arena. The judges at E or B , on the sides can see the piaffe very differently from the judges at the C end of the arena. An extended trot looks very different going away from you, when you can only see the horse’s behind, than coming toward you. Also if you are at M of H your view of the ones (changes of canter lead every stride) is very is different than from E or B. So placing the scores of the judges in similar positions together in the results would make it easier for people to know if the judges at E or B had seen something that the judge at C could not see.
What do you think is the most important thing for judging going forward?
Education for judges and for the general public. Judges always need more education and need to practice self diagnostics after competitions. And as far as the Code of Points go I think that is good but the judge should be capable of making a decision based on the quality of the performance rather than just on a minor fault. I think that training to avoid mistakes is the way the sport will get into trouble. If coaches train their students to avoid making mistakes than we will have a very boring sport to watch. Dressage is a performance art and the best artists always take risks. That is what is exciting.
Thank you Lee Tubman for taking the time to speak with me and give me the judge’s perspective.