Why Do We Scribe?


People often ask, “Why do you scribe?” Have you read Illusions by Richard Bach, where he shows that everything is either fun or learning? Scribing is both.

Many years ago, I first began scribing in the reining and reined cow horse world as a favor to a friend. I learned more about reining in those shows that I could have learned in years of lessons. More recently, I wondered if the same would be true in the dressage world – absolutely!

Scribing is the best education on the planet. You get a front row seat, with an incredibly knowledgeable commentator providing an in-depth description of the horse and rider’s movements. What could be a more fun way to learn?

A quick look at the USEF Scribing Guidelines http://www.usdf.org/edudocs/competition/usdf_guide_for_scribes2012.pdf can, at first, seem rather daunting. But never fear – as you work with each judge, a rhythm develops and you tune into their language and expressions. If you work with the same judge a few times, you will almost know the score from their comments. The secret, especially in the beginning, is to organize yourself, stay very alert and constantly focus.

The first rule is to close your lips tightly and listen. As my grandfather once told me, “You can’t learn anything when your lips are moving”. Your job is to help the judge, making their job as easy as it can be, and assuring that each rider has their score sheet completed as accurately as possible. Think about it as “your ride” and what you would like to see.

Working equitation show at the National Western Events Center in Denver.

At first, you won’t be able to watch the ride much, if at all. Things move pretty quickly, especially in the smaller arena. However, listening to the judge’s comments is an education in itself. Later, with more experience, you will be able to glance occasionally at the riders during periods of walks and trots on the long side or across the diagonal. Be patient – it will come.

Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

  • Arrive early! You’ll need to take the test copies and judging box to the judge’s table. Take an extra cushion for your chair – you’ll be sitting all day – and a blanket for your lap in cold weather. In Colorado, we need to be prepared for anything! Make sure you have the day sheet (list of riders, horses and tests), the correct tests and a copy of each test for the judge. Most judges have their own book of tests, so these will usually turn into extras.
  • Once the judge arrives, allow them time to settle, then introduce yourself and ask if they have any special instructions. Most judges give comments, then the score; better to clarify that up front.
  • Your cell phone is a great timer, but that’s all you should be using it for. Please remember put it on silent. You, the judge and the rider do not need this distraction.
  • After the ride, the judge will complete the collective marks and final comments. Please do not talk while they do this! They must review/remember the entire ride in their mind – imagine the concentration required here. This is the time the next rider will be warming up. You should be preparing the next test, assuring the rider number is correct for that horse/rider and adding the horse’s color/markings to the score sheets which require this.
  • Once the judge has completed the collective marks, they will give you the test to hold for the runner. Tell the judge the name/level of the upcoming test and, if they have requested, the amount of time they are behind or ahead. Some judges like this; some don’t – another thing to clarify up front.
  • Try to write as legibly as possible. The comments are for the rider’s benefit and you want to do the best job for them. The judge may also need to review these comments as they prepare their collective marks. USEF Guidelines include recommended abbreviations which will make your job easier. If your hand tires, try some flexion/extension of your fingers during the breaks. I carry Traumeel in my bag and use it as hand lotion throughout the day.

Please remember that judging is a tough job, one which requires tremendous focus and attention, from the first rider at 8:00 am to the last rider, no matter how late. That can be 6:30 or 7:00 pm. They must persevere in rain, wind, heat and cold and never miss a beat in the horses’ steps

Without exception, every judge I’ve worked with, from schooling shows to Dressage In The Rockies to the Colorado Western Dressage Fall Finale, has been kind, considerate and helpful. These people are on the rider’s side, rooting for them all the way. They delight in giving a high score, look for positive comments to make about both the rider and horse, and groan when they are forced to give a low mark. They will wait patiently when a horse spooks at the judge’s table and work hard to give the benefit of doubt if something is unclear.

At the end of the day, sometimes a very long day, I’ve had quite an education. Not only have my own lessons been confirmed, but I now have many, many more questions for my instructor. The result is a deeper level of understanding and, more importantly, the confrontation of “knowing what I don’t know.” Have you ever heard something, over and over, and felt you have at least an analytical understanding? Then, in one magical instant, you get that “A-ha Moment”, and there it is – that true meaning you can feel all the way down to your toes. For me, those moments often come after watching hundreds of riders make the same mistake, just like I have hundreds of times. All in all, it’s pretty humbling, but an experience which will only make you better for your horse. In my mind, that’s who we’re here for.

©Pat Van Buskirk 2017. This article was first published in the July, 2017 issue of  The Centaur, published by the Rocky Mountain Dressage Society.


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