Philippe Karl’s letter to Michel Henriquet regarding low hands.


Putting the horses in order

Everyone knows that dressage judging is subjective, but what that exactly entails seems to be a little foggy. When you scribe, you continually hear judges worrying over whether the horses are in the right order, or not. Did you know that your judge runs over to the score postings between classes, just like you? It’s not a job to envy. They have to try and remember what they gave that horse two or three horses ago who was just a little better than this horse. It’s stressful work. There isn’t an objective standard. A dressage test is simply too complicated for that to work. Whether or not this system is acceptable to the competitors, however, depends on the judge and what they value in a ride. Snazzy gaits are great, but they won’t give you balance, bend and cadence.

It’s like baking bread.  You can’t say the crust does the work of holding in the bread.  There’s also a complex inner structure that’s elastic yet strong to keep the form solid.  The inner tension is far more important during the early stages of devolpment/baking.  Once the loaf has conformed to the shape dictated by the inner structure, the crust can firm up and become what it was intended to be. 

Neither rein should be used to pull.  It’s all about positioning.  Put the rein where it needs to be and let the position of it position the horse.  It’s really that simple.

Spooky Hands

Got spooky hands? At least 50% of the riders I see in the arena have spooky hands. Their hands are so low that they bear down on nothing but the bars of the horse’s mouth. Some horses suffer through it, and only occasionally dip behind the vertical in an attempt to evade the pain. Many do not cope so well. These horses spend most of the ride with their nose in the air and tossing their heads. Invariably, the answer for the rider is to lower their hands even more, and pull. I have seen some spectacular melt downs result from this tactic.
If the hands are raised to the level of the mouth, the bit acts on the corners of the lips. This results in a much happier horse, less melts downs, no flip overs, a nicely open throatlatch, and hind legs that move freely forward.

Why Scribing Matters

I was unsure of how I wanted to begin this blog, but this issue is fresh in my mind, and highlights the intent of this blog well. Scribing is important. It’s important to riders and it’s very important to instructors. There are many nuances that are missed just by reading a score sheet. Judges are required to limit their written comments to empirical observations only. They may not ‘coach’ a rider. This can often cause some confusion.
At this weekends Chatt Hills event, I overheard a trainer telling her student to slow down her transition to extended trot. She claimed that the judges want to see the trot slowly developed. This is patently untrue. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had a judge say, “I wish she had just gone for it”. So how do the wires get so crossed that otherwise good trainers are making such incorrect assumptions? They’ve never scribed.
When a rider receives a score sheet with the comment “slow to develop” and there’s an 8 score on the movement, that rider is likely to assume the best. Aha, “slow to develop” must be a good thing. What they didn’t hear was the tone with which the comment was given, nor did they hear the comment that wasn’t written. No doubt the judge shook his/her head and quite mournfully uttered the phrase, then looked to the scribe and said, “it could’ve been a 9 had she gone for it”.
So how do riders know which comments are meant to be positive, and which negative? Scribe!!!! You will learn, and quickly, what judges want. If you just can’t bring yourself to sit in that little booth and watch dressage all day, at least remember this: comments that contain words like “good”, “nicely”, “bold”, “harmonious” are positive comments. If it’s short and to the point, it refers to something that needs work. Of course, there are always exceptions to that rule. If you want to be certain that you understand that score sheet you’ve paid so dearly for, spend a day in a hut. We won’t turn you away! That I can promise.