The Value and Cost of Electronic Scribing for Dressage Tests

Blogger and USEF dressage judge Margaret Freeman speaks from personal experience to discuss the perks and drawbacks of electronic scribing and scoring.

 I recently scribed at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina, but I was one of those dinosaurs otherwise known as a “scribble scribe,” to be distinguished from the electronic scribes (or “e-scribes”). Therefore, there were three heads in each box around the ring: a judge, an e-scribe for the instant scoring, and a scribble scribe doing it the old-fashioned way as a backup for the scoring and to write judge comments. 

A laptop and number keypad are becoming familiar equipment in the judge’s booth.
(Courtesy, Margaret Freeman)

There was a flurry of technicians flitting around up to the last moment before the rides started and then occasionally if some laptop got cranky. (I didn’t need a technician for my pen and paper.) 

I think the day is not far off at major championships where there will be only two heads in the booth, the judge plus the e-scribe, who will be doing both scores and comments but with a file of paper tests as a backup if need be.
E-scribing is an idea whose time has come. One major value of an e-scribe system to the competitor is that you don’t have to wait half an hour or half a day for scores to be posted. Your score can be posted or announced before you even leave the arena. The viewing enjoyment for dressage spectators is enhanced immeasurably. 

One of the biggest negatives, however, is that any additional layer of electronics to the dressage show experience adds to the cost, and that cost is passed along to the competitors. 

Gone are the days when a recognized dressage show could be run by relatively untrained volunteers working with paper, pen and typewriter. Entries are now done electronically, as is scheduling, not to mention scoring. If there’s any hiccup in the show schedule, such as a weather delay or a judge change, the show can be rescheduled instantly. In the pre-E days, such changes were neither instant nor easy. Gone is the “system” where you got your ride times hand-written on a post card that you submitted by snail mail with your entry. Now, just go to the show’s website.

The competitors don’t have to think about this much. They just enjoy the convenience, although it is a perk they are paying for. Not only does it take an investment for the computer equipment but also for the software and for the training of the people who use it. Professional show managers and secretaries are now the norm, rather than unpaid volunteers, because they know how to do all this stuff and are also often called upon to supply the computers and printers as well. Even one-ring schooling shows now mostly use computer equipment, we’re just that used to it.

I’ve seen enough e-scribing now as a judge at USEF shows to be completely comfortable with it. But, at WEG, I was looking forward to scribing for the new freestyle format that standardizes the score for Degree of Difficulty. This change is made possible by the e-scribing and requires the rider to submit a roadmap of their choreography ahead of time. There is also a paper version printed out in advance for each individual rider, rather than a standard form. The WEG scribes were being instructed in the system on Saturday, the day before the freestyle was scheduled, when the decision was made to cancel due to the impending Hurricane Florence.

Of course, I was horribly disappointed that the freestyle was cancelled, as was everyone present. But I was also more than curious to see how the roadmap would work out, both in the e-version and the paper version. What remains to be seen here in the U.S. at USEF shows (as opposed to FEI-regulated CDIs) will be whether there will be any move toward a similar scoring system, as more and more shows develop e-scribing capability.






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