Five things I learned scribing at a dressage show


  1. Judges want to see you succeed! I saw this judge ask people if they were ready to go or if they’d like a few extra moments to trot around the ring before she rang them in. I saw her give points for effort. I saw her give people plenty of time to compose themselves after having an error. Dressage judges want you to have every chance of success (but there’s only so much they can do)!
  2. Appearances matter. Points weren’t taken off for a less-than-perfect appearance, but the judge definitely acknowledged beautifully braided manes, well-dressed riders, and well-groomed horses.
  3. You can abbreviate everythingHave you ever really examined a dressage test? The boxes for comments on each movement are tiny on some tests! (I’m looking at you, Second Level Test 3 and Western Dressage everything.) It’s important to fit as many of the judge’s comments as possible on the test, so creative abbreviation is encouraged. Examples? s/b for “should be”, crkd for “crooked”, plus lots of ↑ and ↓ arrows!
  4. Sometimes the judge loses track. Some tests have a lot of movements to score; on several tests, the movement (e.g. a circle) and the transition (e.g. upward to canter, downward to trot) are separate scores. The judge sometimes zips along the test with comments and one score, only to realize the error several movements later. Everyone pretty much got a 6 on forgotten movements.
  5. Scribing is fascinating. It was so, so interesting to hear the judge’s commentary and pick up on what she deemed important. While I couldn’t watch the test and write simultaneously, I could discern what the judge was looking for. Some things that surprised me? The judge actually cares about if you’re riding into the corners, head position doesn’t matter as much as you think it does, and the judge will notice that your circles are not round.

Have you ever scribed? Did you like it? Find it interesting? Get hand cramps?

Author: Stephanie

Equestrian, amateur cook, people person.

21 thoughts on “Five things I learned scribing at a dressage show”

  1. How did you find her comments varied from dressage to western dressage? I’m planning on showing WD this coming year and am wondering if the judges look down on it somewhat from a dressage judge perspective.

    1. I thought her comments and scores were very consistent from classical to western dressage. She was looking for the same things in every ride: forward, relaxed horse, rider performing accurate figures and utilizing corners (she was obsessed with the corners!), smooth transitions, etc.

      That said, WD is very popular in Oklahoma, so the judges we hire are used to seeing it and scoring it (some of them even ride it)!

      If you go to a show and feel like WD is being scored/judged unfairly, I’d encourage you to give show management feedback about it. Trust me, we don’t want to hire judges that make people upset, because upset people don’t come back to your shows! 😛

      1. VERY true. I haven’t been yet, so I don’t know how it will work. If I make it out to the Western Dressage Worlds in Tulsa next year, we will have a meet up, yes? 🙂

        1. Oh yeah, absolutely! Lots of our usual WD crowd skipped out on our championship show to go to the Worlds- next year we’re going to try to schedule differently LOL. But yes, we will most certainly meet up and have fun!

  2. I love scribing! I just started it this year but have scribed a few shows, from a local unrated open breed show to the provincial championships to a CDI***. I even got to scribe for a 4* FEI judge everything from training level to Grand Prix! I may never be a great dressage rider but I feel like scribing is kind of my calling, finally something that combines my love of dressage and my neat engineering printing lol.

    I totally agree with your 5 points about scribing (except I scribed for one harsh judge who used 5 as her default score). It’s so educational. It’s a very different experience depending on the judge – some make it super easy by always saying the scores and comments in order, some switch back and forth and it’s much harder to keep track. I’ve learned to love when it’s a nice ride, because then there’s usually much less to write. The piaffe/passage tours on the Grand Prix test are ridiculous to scribe, it all happens so fast and there’s also transition scores so if there’s comments for each (“more elevation”, “loss of rhythm”…) it gets to be impossible.

    The lower levels were also really valuable for me to scribe as I’m a first level rider with a new horse starting training level. It’s fantastic to see which types of things the judge always marks down and which don’t seem to be as much of a problem – e.g. for lengthenings so many people are told “not enough lengthen” or “needs more impulsion”, while the “running” comment is relatively rare. That tells me that it is better for me to ask for the best lengthen I possibly can even if we err on the side of rushing, rather than being tentative or conservative about it.

    I’m torn for next show season: I want to ride in more shows, but I want to scribe too, and there aren’t enough shows in my area to do both.

    Did you get to scribe any freestyle or young horse classes? Those are a whole other kettle of fish

    (long time reader, first time commenting)

    1. OMG I can’t imagine scribing super high level tests! I was struggling to get it all written down for Second Level LOL! I was grateful this judge was very good about commenting, then scoring; it only got hairy when there were separate scores for transitions and movements.

      Like you, I am a lower-level rider and I was glad to get feedback on what the judge felt was important at the level I ride! Your comment about lengthening is absolutely spot-on; I wrote a lot of “not enough lengthen/needs more lengthen/no change shown” this weekend!

      1. Scribing for the higher levels was intimidating at first but I found it really rewarding. It helped me to see the “big picture” to give me an idea of what things to work on now if I ever want to have a chance of moving up (accuracy, relaxation, and always more impulsion!). It also made those levels seem a bit more real to me. Writing down comments of “little change shown”, “not enough extension” etc. on a PSG test makes it hit home that even though these partnerships are at such a high level, they are still real horses and riders working on some of the same issues we lower level peons have. (Seriously, throughout all the levels, I’d say less than 5% of riders had enough lengthen/medium/extension for the judges – it’s a trend people!). It seems most of the “circle not round” comments finally drop off around 3rd level though lol

  3. i really REALLY want to try scribing – seems like such a great learning opportunity. and actually now might be the perfect time while i’m too crippled to do anything else haha.

    really tho – your first point is so important. i’ve ridden for so so so many kind and generous judges who gave great comments or were just pleasant to interact with. but unfortunately it’s always the crabbier judges (or those with questionable eyesight lol) that stick in our minds…. gotta remember that most are really pretty awesome!

    1. Yes! Go forth and be a cripple scribe! We always seem to be frantically searching for scribes; I think people are really intimidated by the idea of it. It’s pretty easy as long as you can stay focused and write quickly!

      It’s definitely hard to remember that judges aren’t out to get you- I think eventers get stuck in that mindset a lot because no one’s favorite phase is dressage. (And it has such a big impact on your overall score!) But the majority are pleasant and helpful individuals (this judge even chatted with a few riders after their tests, offering them encouragement or advice on how to improve). The crabby ones REALLY suck, though!

    1. It was super educational! And let me tell you, scribing is like, the best show job. You aren’t on your feet all day, show management offers to buy your lunch, and they provide you with snacks! I never get that treatment running the in-gate! 😛

    1. I’m kind of surprised you don’t! It’s been a very long time since I competed in hunters- judges give numerical scores, but is there any kind of scoresheet the competitor sees? Any reasons given for the scores?

  4. I would love to scribe more but my wrist won’t handle it 🙁 once they get on board with typing comments, I’ll be all about it though.

    Sounds like a great experience! Definitely a lot to take away 🙂

    1. I’m kind of surprised they AREN’T on board with typing comments! Can you imagine how much faster it would be? And then you could just print off each competitor’s test as you go!

  5. As a non-dressage rider I find the whole getting feedback awesome. And probably like your drivers test (what does she mean- I totally checked my blind spot) where it reminds you that how it looks from the saddle is often different than from the ground. I think if hunters had to give comments it wouldn’t be so biased as it is.

  6. #1, YES! I can’t even say how many times a judge next to me has kept up a running commentary of “come on, come on, hold it, you’ve got an 8 right now…darn!” when they blow the lead or break from the canter or whatever. They want so, so much to see good tests. I have scribed for every possible type of show except the super-competitive FEI levels, and I have never, ever seen a judge that is looking for problems. They’re always looking for places they can give, rather than take away.

  7. I was lucky enough to scribe at the AEC’s the first year it was at Chatt Hills- even though it was junior BN I learned a lot and had a great time! Need to make time to do it again 🙂

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