American Dressage Legends: Capt. Andrew Bela de Szinay

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The USDF Executive Board Room bares Bela de Szinay's name.

Reprinted from March 2016 USDF Connection magazine

Educational and competitive programs for youth in dressage are so well established today that it’s easy to forget they didn’t exist as recently as 40 years ago. Many of the juniors and young riders who benefit from these programs have never heard of the man who’s considered the father of these programs—so let’s meet him now.

A native of Hungary, Capt. Andrew Bela de Szinay (1913-1988), like many riders of his era, received his equestrian education in conjunction with military service. And like many people working to rebuild their lives and careers after World War II, he emigrated to the United States, settling in Maryland in the 1950s.

There de Szinay embarked on his second career, working for the Westinghouse Corporation as a mechanical engineer for 20 years after receiving his US degree from the Johns Hopkins University (MD) at night school. After he retired in 1978, he transformed himself yet again, this time into a dressage judge, technical delegate, equestrian journalist, and equestrian administrator.

DASHING YOUNG OFFICER: De Szinay in the Hungarian cavalry in an undated photo (COURTESY OF BETTINA LONGAKER)

If you were an American dressage enthusiast in the 1970s and 1980s, chances are you were well acquainted with “Captain Andy,” as he was known, through his monthly “Thinking Aloud” column in Dressage & CT magazine. De Szinay penned 148 articles from 1973 to 1988, on subjects ranging from dressage judging and training theory to his opinions about competition rules and the goings-on at national and international equestrian organizations. He was the first equestrian journalist to interview HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, then president of the FEI. His June 1981 column outlined a proposal to establish a dressage World Cup competition parallel to the jumping World Cup, which is very similar to what we have today.
(Below, read one of de Szinay’s “Thinking Aloud” columns about dressage judging.)

De Szinay was the inaugural chairman of the USDF Judges Council (now Judges Committee) and the creator of a judges’ forum. But his most lasting legacy is his stewardship of the dressage young-rider program. He established the USDF Advanced Young Riders Committee and served as its chair from 1982 to 1988. De Szinay believed strongly that there ought to be a North American Young Riders Championship for dressage, and the existence of the competition (now the NAJYRC) and its qualifiers and selection procedures is a direct result of his efforts.

De Szinay was known as a true gentleman who was kind to horses, encouraging to dressage competitors, and a stalwart colleague. Lowell Boomer, the late USDF founder, was quoted as saying that “Andy was one of my most dependable and reliable sources of guidance. He was so enthusiastic about everything for the betterment of dressage.”
In 1988, The Chronicle of the Horse honored de Szinay as its Overall Horseman of the Year. He died unexpectedly later that year at the age of 75. He was inducted into the Roemer Foundation/USDF Hall of Fame in 2004.

Thinking Aloud

The Judges’ Influence on Dressage
By Capt. Andrew B. de Szinay

From Dressage & CT, May 1974. Reprinted by permission.

One of the topics connected with dressage judging is the question of its influence on the development of the sport. Can the judges have an influence at all? If so, how is it exerted?
The subject is intriguing and from time to time it comes up in contemporary literature. Within a year I came across two quite thorough articles, one in the September ’73 issue of Dressage Letters [California Dressage Society’s magazine], where Melanie Lofholm spent considerable part of her column discussing the subject; the other in the information’s bulletin (Mitteilungsblatt) of the German Judges’ Association. The latter gave a review of a lecture on the subject, delivered at an official dressage judges’ forum in May ’73. That article also offered some reflections and comments by the author. Both of the studies are in agreement that the judges’ task is two-fold: first to judge and score the individual’s performance, determining thereby the outcome of the contest, and secondly, to exercise critique and, by the comments, establish a trend for the development of dressage.

Both articles answer the first of my questions—I am convinced, correctly—in the affirmative and differ just slightly in the opinion voiced over the second one. Mrs. Lofholm states that “judges influence the standard of dressage to the extent that competitors take their score sheets seriously. And that degree is based on the competitor’s respect for the judge.” Later she writes: “Riders look to the judges for evaluation, not only of geometry, but also of the quality of the ride in terms of the gaits, the obedience, lightness and suppleness, and the impulsion, all to be considered throughout the test.”

Captain Andy: De Szinay in an undated photo

The German author Count von Thun-Hohenstein states regarding this second task of the judges: “The other, considerably harder task is the constructive, direction-setting and guiding critique. For it, there is only one true possibility, the protocol…. The dressage judge can exert his guiding influence only through concise, understandable, exhaustive protocol which then will always be available to the rider for study. The protocol watches the upkeep of classical dressage, the equestrian education of the individual competitor and through all these, exerts corrective, directive, definable influence on the art of riding as a whole.”

The difference between the two views might be caused by the differing national circumstances. The American author expresses herself within the framework of the “General Impression” section of the dressage tests, which has been the only known approach to us here in the US. The German uses a word, not too familiar to many of us, “protocol.” In the past, European dressage competitions had both scoring and protocol judges. The latter did not judge the individual exercises of the test but observed the whole picture and dictated observations during the performance, commenting about the gaits, general impression, lightness, precision, impulsion, shortcomings of the ride, etc., and by such overall statement he made clear to the rider the problem areas where improvements were needed. Because the remarks were always given within the requirements of the accepted “state of the art,” the proper influence on the development of the rider and that of dressage, was assured. To give increased publicity to the remarks and to establish wider receptive grounds, the protocol notes had been published, together with results of the competition, in the official organ of the FN [German National Equestrian Federation]. I think it was a near perfect solution and I feel that the riders lost heavily when the system was abolished.

With no more formal protocol judging, the only room left to exercise the “directing” influence is the “General Impression” section of the score sheet. This, of course, has to be filled in with remarks after the rider completes the test and the judge has scored and criticized all individual exercises. The completion of these four (we can safely say) most important paragraphs will take a certain amount of time. And I think here is where we experience some trouble. To make clear, short, concise, right-to-the point statements is not a simple task. Very few individuals have the ability to produce such opinions in a short time. I feel it is the lack of time that influences mostly the usefulness of those important remarks and restricts their values. I do not want to imply that several minutes are needed to complete the general impressions alone, but on some occasions the available time seemed to be woefully inadequate. Here are a few examples of the time squeeze which judges found themselves in sometimes:
1st level, tests 1 & 2: test time in large arenas 7½ and 7 min; time for 1 rider 8 min.
2nd level, test 1: test time in large arena 9½ min; time for 1 rider 10 min.
3rd level, tests 1 & 2: test time 9 min; time for 1 rider, 10 min.
4th level, tests 1 & 2: test time 10 min; time for 1 rider, 11 min.

These are extreme cases, I admit, but they clearly reflect the point in discussion. ½-1 minute is just too short time for selected, summarized expressions and since judges do want to help the smooth progress of the show and do not like to fall behind time, their remarks might become hurried, less concise and in the final analysis the rider, and dressage itself, will be on the losing side.

I think all of us agree that on the one side it is very heartwarming to have many rides on a show but on the other, it is disheartening for a judge not to have enough time to express the general impressions in clear, precise terms, or not to write a few additional suggestions for young riders who may follow those if they work alone or could discuss them with their instructors.

So this time my call goes to our show organizers to allot just a little more time than that quoted in the examples. These few minutes will pay great dividends. They will further the cause of the show, help the riders in their progress, the judges in their influencing task and most importantly, through all these, advance the development of the art.

Check out podcast 113 discussing Capt. Andrew Bela de Szinay at usdf.podbean.com.

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