California Riding Magazine • June, 2014

The Elusive "10"
Valley Oaks CDS Chapter offers an introduction to dressage judging by staging USDF "L" Program sessions this fall.

by Michele Dodge and Joan Cinquini

Have you ever wondered why you got a 5 and not a 7 or 8 on your leg yield? Or why the big, fancy Warmblood got a higher score than your steady-Eddy (but not so fancy) horse? How a horse can win that Training Level class even with several mistakes? Have you ever wondered what it means to get a 6 or an 8? How you might improve your scores? Want a better understanding of those comments and scores on your dressage test? Judging dressage is a complex process, as it is a discipline that combines sport and art. Learn about the judging process, or even take the first step to becoming a dressage judge through the USDF L Program.

The L (Learner Judge) Education Program developed by the United States Dressage Federation is the foundation toward becoming a licensed dressage judge; as well as an excellent educational program to help become a better rider, competitor, breeder, trainer or spectator. The Valley Oaks Chapter of the California Dressage Society is hosting this program in the Rancho Murieta/Wilton area (just south of Sacramento) beginning in November. Successful completion of this program is the first requirement to apply for the United States Equestrian Federation's "r" (recorded) judging program, as well as providing the person with the title "L Graduate," which means they are qualified schooling show officials.

The L Program sessions are taught by Senior USEF judges from throughout the United States who have completed rigorous training and selection procedures to qualify as USDF faculty for this program. Senior (S) judges are licensed to judge through the Grand Prix level, and bring a broad knowledge to the program, as they are judges, competitors and teachers. The L Program consists of two parts, and each part is three, weekend-long sessions. Some organizations only offer Part One – Valley Oaks made the decision to provide both Part One and Part Two so the participants have the opportunity to progress on to the USEF "r" judging program.

Part One (Sessions A, B, and C) is open to auditors as well as participants. Auditors of the program will gain an understanding of the art and science of dressage judging. Demo riders also get extensive feedback from judges and "judges in training" without paying the cost of showing.

Session A focuses on the judging process and basic biomechanics. Topics include responsibilities and conduct of a judge, the rules of dressage, and the knowledge and abilities required of a judge. Then there will be discussion of appropriate judging comments, methodology for arriving at scores, and an understanding of errors and how they affect scores. There is about a day-and-a-half days of lecture, discussion, and videos; and about a half-day of evaluating demo riders.

Session B emphasizes judging criteria for Training, First and Second Levels. This session focuses on the requirements of each level; evaluating the quality of gaits and paces (paces are the variations within a gait – such as working, collected, medium trot); and the process of judging individual movements and figures. It consists of a day of lecture and discussion and a day of demo ride evaluation.

Session C is a similar format, but focuses on the final collective marks and rider biomechanics. In this session, we pay quite a bit of attention to the rider's seat and position and influence on the horse. We also focus on the "collective marks," which include the quality of the gaits, the quality of the horse's training (the submission), the energy and power (the impulsion), and the effectiveness of the rider. These collective marks are also the basis for evaluating every single individual movement.

These sessions begin in November and will be completed in April 2015.

Part Two of the L Program is three weekends of pre-testing and testing, and is only open to 10 participants who have completed Part One. No auditors are allowed at these sessions. In sessions D1 and D2, the participants will practice judge at rated shows under faculty supervision and with feedback to help improve their judging skills. The final weekend is a rigorous examination consisting of a written test on the USEF rules; actual judging (from the sidelines) of at least six tests at each of Training, First, and Second Levels; and oral examination to further test judging knowledge. Successful participants must demonstrate the ability to score appropriately and consistently; use appropriate language in their comments; and place horses properly. They must also complete prescribed scribing and "sitting" (with judges at shows) hours on their own time. This will begin in Summer 2015, with the exam occurring in April 2016.

The Valley Oaks Chapter is currently accepting applications for up to 25 participants and a limited number of auditors for the L Program, and will soon be looking for demo riders and horses with show experience from Training through Second Levels.

For more information or application forms, visit the Valley Oaks website at