TEAM EFFORT: Dressage judges and scribes need to work together to ensure the best experience for the competitor. Dutch FEI judge Francis Verbeek (center) and her scribes scrutinize the USA’s Tina Konyot on Calecto V at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Best practices for judges, scribes, and competitors

Reprinted from the May 2016 Issue of USDF Connection

By Marilyn Heath

A conscientious scribe is a valuable asset to every dressage judge. A good scribe makes the judge’s job go smoothly. The scribe should be familiar with the tests being judged and should record the scores and comments accurately. The USDF Guide for Scribes (download it for free at explains the role of the scribe, how to become a responsible scribe, and how to best help the judge.

Likewise, judges are expected to conduct themselves in a professional manner. Recently a scribe contacted USDF Connection about the conduct of a judge, and the complaint was forwarded to the USDF Judges Committee for review.

According to the scribe, the judge to whom she was assigned rang the bell for the next rider while still completing the collective marks and comments, rummaged through the snack basket during a ride, and checked her cell phone during a test. The scribe perceived these actions as inconsiderate and inattentive to the rider, and mentioned in her complaint that this was not the first time she had observed judges acting in this manner.

The Judges Committee appreciates this scribe’s volunteer efforts and thanks her for taking the extra time to report this issue. On behalf of the committee, I’d like to address the scribe’s complaint.

 The complaint points out to judges that their behavior is being observed the entire time they are judging. Admittedly, this adds to the pressure of judging each horse fairly and accurately, and of keeping up with an often tight schedule.

Although it would be best to confine snacks to breaks, in the judge’s defense, in order to keep up with a tight schedule of rides, it is sometimes necessary to ring the bell while completing the further remarks. The USDF Judge’s Checklist states: “Stay on time! It is the responsibility of the judge to stay on time throughout the show. You must make your final remarks quickly and go on to the next competitor.”

 The rider is allowed 45 seconds to enter the arena after the bell rings. If the judge has a few remaining words to write after ringing the bell, it is time well used. In such cases, it is helpful to the judge if the scribe says “Horse on center line” as the next pair enters the arena. It is good if judge and scribe can work together in this way. I understand that some judges even ask the scribe to ring the bell as soon as the previous horse steps out of the arena!

In keeping with United States Equestrian Federation general rule (GR) 1033.3, “Except in the discharge of their official duty, the use of cellular phones or other similar communication devices by judges while in the judges’ box during a competition is strictly prohibited.” For a judge to telephone the show office is an example of official business. Some judges use their cell phones’ clock feature to check on the time, as well. At one time, shows provided clocks in judges’ boxes, but since the advent of cell phones this practice has mostly disappeared. Cell phones’ clocks are more reliable than wristwatches and are easier to access, so many judges get in the habit of using their phones for this purpose. Better yet, the scribe could keep the judge informed of the time as the rides progress, and let the judge know if he or she is ahead of or behind schedule.

That said, a judge’s personal use of mobile devices during tests, such as reading e-mail or checking text or voice messages, would most definitely not be official business and is clearly against the rules. A scribe who witnesses such an offense may report it using the USEF Member’s Confidential Evaluation form, which is used to evaluate USEF judges, stewards, technical delegates, and course designers. This form is available from the show’s technical delegate or competition office and is also downloadable from the USEF website (, and it is confidential.

Prospective judges are taught to give their full attention to each rider and to stay focused for the entire day, offering the last rider the same attention as the first. Being a judge is different from an observer, and it requires a different set of skills.

Judging dressage requires the ability to do several things simultaneously. The judge must perform multiple tasks at once: observe the test pattern (know where each movement begins and ends); monitor the basics and the criteria of each movement and evaluate the result; formulate a comment that addresses the essence of each movement and word it concisely for the scribe; assign a score to the movement, knowing the meaning of each numeric score; score appropriately using a standard methodology; and monitor the extras, such as whether the scribe is keeping up, a competitor’s use of illegal equipment, and any unusual circumstances in and around the arena.

The judge must also be able to keep a mental running tab of gaits, impulsion, submission, and the rider’s position and effectiveness as well as the horse’s suppleness, lightness, rhythm, straightness, and related features in order to correctly and quickly complete the collective marks at the end of the test.

 Of course, the job of a scribe is not an easy one, either. Most judges have had to put in plenty of scribing time in the process of becoming a judge, so judges should be sympathetic to the plight of a scribe. Scribes endure the same often unpleasant weather conditions as judges, don’t get to watch the rides, and suffer from writer’s cramp, all for the love of the sport and what education they can glean from the experience.

 If a competitor or a scribe believes that a judge has been rude or inattentive to the rider in the arena, the USDF Judges Committee encourages him or her to complete a USEF Member’s Confidential Evaluation. File the evaluation with USEF by sending to loinquiry@ within ten days of the violation. Only when the membership speaks up to the appropriate organization can corrections be made.  

Marilyn Heath, of Naples, FL, is a USEF “S” dressage judge, a faculty member of the USDF L Education Program, and a member of the USDF L Program and Judges Committees. 


  1. I hate to think of scribes as tattletales, but we do see a lot. It has never occurred to me to report on questionable judge behavior, and after scribing regularly for a decade I’ve only once seen something that maybe should have prompted an inquiry (clear bias). But how anonymous would such a report really be, when only the scribe was witness to the comments/actions? And a scribe really shouldn’t be talking about what goes on in the judge’s booth, so reporting is violating that ethic. Hmmm….

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