Can You Read Me Now?

Deciphering judge comments

You should turn directly off the centerline at C, without drifting first away from the direction of the turn.

This moment last weekend felt something like that Verizon commercial where the guy in the glasses says “Can you hear me now?” I thought I was being clear in the comment I was dictating to my scribe, but apparently I wasn’t.

It was the start of box two, just like every dressage test, where you turn either right or left at C. And, like about 70 percent of the tests I see at lower levels, the horse had drifted right before completing the turn to the left. My comment to the scribe was “Wide at C.” When we had a brief break before the next test, she asked me what I meant by “Wide at C.”

This was not a newbie scribe. She is an “L” Program Graduate, plus an experienced competitor and trainer. She was scribing for the day to complete her “continuing education” requirement for the USDF, so we were having some interesting and wide-ranging discussions when we got a minute or two to spare. However, her question really surprised me. I make that comment all the time, and I thought it was readily understood.

So, this started me thinking about whether any of the other phrases I often use are perplexing to riders who review their tests. I was asked recently to do a presentation for our local dressage club about “deciphering judge comments.” I said I would be happy to do so, but really there is a standard glossary that explains most judge terms and that we all try to use. It’s available on the USDF website (, and I you don’t want to remember that link, just call up the site and then type in “glossary” in the search field.

Even so, there are plenty of situations that can’t all be covered by the glossary. And, in the interest of not wearing out the poor scribe, we try to keep our comments as brief as possible while still being clear. Perhaps, while trying to be terse, we aren’t as clear as we thought—and this goes beyond related issues of handwriting and some very interesting abbreviations. I am going to start testing out with friends some of the standard phrases I use to see if what I think I’m saying is what I really mean to say.

There is an infamous story of a judge who made the comment “wide behind” in regard to a trot lengthening, where the horse’s hocks went wide rather than reaching directly under the horse’s body. The rider became incensed when she read the comment and went to complain to the TD that the judge was making rude comments about her figure. The TD brought the competitor to the judge, who politely explained what the comment meant and that it is a standard judging term. . . and actually can be found right there in the glossary. 






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