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Column: Also invite other juries

One of the most well-known subjects of discussion in dressage is the jury. Without juries, there wouldn’t be dressage. However, the dressage sport stays a world where we don’t know everything about. One of the facts is that some juries are invited to judge almost every week, whereas others almost never get an invitation. What causes this difference? It would be a good thing to also invite juries that do not judge very often in Europe. Even though opinions differ, with this column I would like to bring the subject up once more.

During the international competition in Guadalajara I spoke with several juries. They do have a high FEI raking and are praised because of their skill level. However, they almost never judge in Europe. For example: it is an exception for an American jury to be invited to judge a competition in Europe. The only juries that do receive invitations are some 5* juries and every now and then a 4* jury. This is also the case for juries that have their origin in Argentina, Peru, Mexico, Brazil or Chile. I even looked towards the Asian, African and Pacific countries, who do have several well-known international juries. Sometimes, in Portuguese or Spanish speaking countries, a jury from a Central or South American country is invited. In general, the juries that are invited to judge the European competitions mostly originate from the neighbouring countries. Just take the Netherlands as an example. We do see a lot of the same faces at every competition. These juries are praised for their experience and skills, that is for sure, but we keep seeing them. This gives them the opportunity to get to know the riders and to know what their maximum is. The other way around is that you, as rider, do know how a specific jury will judge your performance. Does this benefit the sports?

In my opinion, the influence of juries that originate from countries outside Europe or have their origin in less developed countries, will cause less bias between rider and jury. When we keep inviting the same juries over and over, the competition gets a lot less interesting. A little while ago, I heard a jury tell a rider the following: ‘In my opinion you rode your horse a lot better previous time.’ This comment causes question marks. Why did the previous competition matter? The jury is at the competition to judge what he or she sees at that moment and what needs improvement for the future. This is one of the reasons there is a bias between rider and jury.

For juries that originate outside of Europe it would be good to enlarge their knowledge and be able to judge other combinations. That makes it possible for them to develop themselves and create opportunities for more juries to judge. A jury with less experience does not necessarily mean that his or her judgement is of a lesser quality than the judgement of a jury that can be found judging on a weekly base. By providing them with more opportunities to judge in other countries, the juries are able to develop themselves even more. Juries do have to be present at Refresher Seminars organized by the FEI to keep their knowledge up-to-date.

Why aren’t we inviting these juries and what causes that one jury is invited to be at a certain competition and the other judge is not? One of the reasons is, of course, the financial reason. A plane ticket from Melbourne to Amsterdam is more expensive than a ticket from Madrid to Budapest. When competitions are organized, this is one of the first things they try to save money on. However, I still think that it can be profitable to invite a jury you would not invite in the first place. Another reason why one jury is favoured compared to the other is favouritism. I think that this does not need more explanation.

“For juries that originate outside of Europe it would be good to enlarge their knowledge and be able to judge other combinations. That makes it possible for them to develop themselves and create opportunities for more juries to judge.”

A 2* jury (a jury from less developed country that is allowed to judge until the international Small Tour level) almost never gets an invite. Simply because they are not allowed (yet) to judge Grand Prix, even though they do function very good in the Small Tour and youth competitions. The same thing applies for 3* juries. The 3* juries are starting to learn how to judge the Grand Prix and they are in the process of developing themselves to get the 4* and finally the 5* status. They also deserve more invites to gain experience. These ‘unexperienced’ juries can learn so much from their more experienced colleagues.

In the countries outside of Europe, such as the United States of America, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, New Zealand and Australia, they are almost forced to invite European juries, because that is where most juries originate from. They are obligated to pay those expensive plane tickets, so why do European organisations not pay for them?

That is why I keep questioning myself why things go the way they go. Let’s invite juries from other countries. This causes a better image for both the rider and the jury and will benefit the sport. Besides this reasoning, inviting other juries also increases globalization, a thing that is very important to me. I would like to suggest that the FEI assigns one or two juries to the competition that cannot be influenced by the organisation. These juries can be randomly chosen from all available juries all over the world. This prevents that the same juries will be at the same competitions, where I come back to the favouritism. This also increases the opportunities for juries that are still developing themselves.

Overall, I conclude that it would be of great benefit to the dressage sport to increase the variation in juries invited at international competitions. I think I made my point more than clear. Even though it will be an investment for the organisation, I am quite certain it will lead to a positive result for the riders, the juries and the organisation. Let’s put the favouritism aside and give everyone a fair shot.

Koen Gomes

Translation: Lisanne Matena


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Koen is all-round in media. He has been passionate about the (equestrian) world for many years and travels all over the world. He works currently for different national federations worldwide and studies international politics.