Advice for a first time scribe?

Saturday we’re having a schooling show at the farm where I board and I’ve been asked and agreed to scribe. I’m honestly a little daunted by the task, but excited at the same time because what a fun way to spend the day and how educational!

Thankfully, most of the rides at our shows are Intro and Training Level, a few First, maybe two Second, and once in a while maybe a Third. There are a few Western Dressage tests thrown in there as well as the Working Equitation dressage tests too. It’s not a huge show, but there’s usually an okay turn-out for a one-day schooling show.

Anyway, I’ve read the USDF’s guidelines for scribes. Any other helpful tips? I don’t want to screw up. And I just found out that the judge is someone who I did this intensive week-long working-student type thing with about 30 years ago. This woman taught me loads and I really look up to her. She’s also burned into my memory as being a stickler for everything being RIGHT. So, I want to do my best! I appreciate any and all advice!

  1. familiarize yourself with the tests.
  2. ask the judge if she gives numbers or comment first. and sometimes they switch mid stream - so by being familiar with the tests you can tell if the comment is wrong for the movement (for example, needs more overstride wouldnt apply if the movement is canter depart after the extended walk…)
  3. bring your favorite pens, blue and red.
  4. leave out vowels and use short versions of words. Riders will figure it out.
  5. Many judges will check with you when the test gets to the walk - “now we are on box 8, right?”
  6. If you get lost of lose a comment or score, just go on. Judge will remember what she said.
    You will do great! And thank you for volunteering!

Get the scores in the right boxes above all else.

After a bit of practice you will develop a flow with the judge and even be able to watch some of the test! Not at first. Eyes on the page, use a finger to follow along, and your peripheral vision to see approximately what the horse is doing.

If you seem to have missed a score don’t get flustered. Depending on the judge you can either say “and for the circle?” (whatever is missing) or keep silent and let them fill it in at the end before they do the collective marks. Some of them can manage two tracks of conversation, the test itself and whatever is going on in the booth. Some of them require Absolute Silence from the scribe.

Show your work. Keep the test visible to the judge. They’ll be able to glance down and confirm that all is well.

By the end of the day you will be an experienced scribe. When doing a looooonnnnng afternoon of lower level tests with a judge that likes to talk we might be joking “extra credit for the spots right?!” when an adorable POA starts around the ring for the 47th Training Level Test 1.


Tell the judge it’s your first time scribing. She will be glad to know that.

Abbreviate whenever you can. Draw a little square instead of writing the word “square.” Same for circles. Write “trans” for transition, “bal” for balance, etc. One I use often is NRG for “energy.” Use arrows. “Drftd ← of C-line” for “drifted left of center line,” “tensn in ↑ trans” for “tension in upward transition,” etc.

If you are in the middle of writing a comment and the judge gives you a score, immediately write the score and then return to the comment.

Be sure to use the decimals: 6.0, 7.0, etc.

I take my own pens, ball points that I know write smoothly and with little pressure.

Don’t be tempted to tell the judge anything about the horses or riders.

You will be very glad you did this!


The above advice is all fantastic.

Don’t forget also to verify the rider number at the beginning of the test. You may need to write the number at the top of the test, or attach the sticker for that rider if you’ve been given a printed sheet of stickers. You definitely don’t want the scorers to return a test because they have no idea who the rider is, as it will be very hard to remember!

Extra pens - always have extra pens. More than once I’ve had a pen run out of ink in the middle of a test, and had to switch to a new pen. Make sure you have blue or black and red. I scribe at events, and bring all my own supplies, but I’ve seen quite a few who don’t even have a red pen available!

Errors - use your red pen if the judge indicates there’s been an error (for example, the rider went off course). I write “-2 off course” in the comment box with red pen, and then also indicate the total errors/marks to subtract at the end of the test below the collectives. You may want to ask your judge what they prefer (if they would rather total up any errors themselves) but I’ve found mine prefer me to do it so that the scorers don’t miss them.

If I hear a comment like “circle too big” when the movement is to ride a 15m circle, I also use my pen (blue or black) to circle the “15m” in the movement description along with the comment. This also works with comments like “ride to the letter” (I circle the letter in the movement description). This helps to draw the rider’s attention to exactly what they were supposed to perform.

When each test is finished and the judge has written his/her comments, double-check that all boxes have a score (including collectives), that the judge has signed the test, and the rider number is indicated.

I also keep my phone out to check the time, to compare to the ride times. The judge may want to know if you’re running ahead or behind and by how much. It’s also good to put your phone on vibrate to avoid any distractions.

Have fun! You learn so much from scribing.


Yes, this is really important!

Many experienced riders know to stop and tell you their number, and even the test they are riding. But some riders don’t know to do this, or they might forget. If you can’t see the number, don’t be shy about calling out and asking. I’m sure you (OP) know how important it is that the scores and comments are for the correct riders.

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This AND write down the horse color/markings/identifying features. That way if things get mixed up despite your best efforts and you’re writing on the wrong test, it will be easier to sort out that 86 was not a chestnut, that must really be 95 who went out of order.

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All the above!

Here’s some logistics lessons I’ve learned. Most of my experience is scribing at the VA Horse Center, so you’re more familiar with your surroundings than I was with mine (had never shown there, only volunteered). IMO the more prepared and comfortable I am, the better I can concentrate on supporting the judge.

Dress comfortably, but nicely. The first time I scribed I wore my “best” barn work clothes, then felt a bit awkward next to the well-dressed judge. The next time, I dressed a bit “too” nicely, to include fancy-ish shoes, so of course it rained all day and at times poured buckets, which flooded the end of the arena we were in. The judging booth was like a little island in the sea. There, l learned to wear footwear appropriate for wading through ankle deep water. Take a rain jacket, shawl or blanket in any weather other than high summer. Never know. My rainy day experience was in the summer but after getting wet (and not taking an umbrella because of horses, of course) I was chilly once judging resumed.

I now also pack a towel and alligator clips, after the experience where I sat in a passenger seat all day and as the afternoon progressed, the sun beat down on the passenger side like Dr. Evil’s death ray… I was miserable! I had something I draped over the open door then closed the door on it, but those evil rays snaked into and around every opening, and could have been solved with a judicial placement of alligator clips, the large kind. Lesson learned.

Also, if you don’t know already, learn where the closest restroom is. Yet another experience… we had a no show so I had about 6 min, decided to take a quick break, “official” restrooms were some distance away and I reasoned that there had to be something closer to accommodate competitors. There was, but it wasn’t apparent, time was ticking and I got a little desperate, finally found someone braiding who looked like they might know, and they did, and I returned with plenty of time. But I’d have avoided that little bit of stress with a simple reconnaissance before-hand.

Whatever drinks and snacks you may prefer. IMO VHC is generous to its volunteers, but as a scribe you’re still captive to a car or booth for possibly several hours at a time. And be careful of AM coffee consumption, if that’s your thing.

Arrive early, review the order of go and corresponding tests required and supplied, and ensure you have extra copies “just in case”. Have that ready well before the judging starts.

Finally, not required I think but nice to do, is after you have tests ready/your things ready to go, if you’re in a booth it’s nice to tidy it and arrange things so the judge can arrive and get right to work. I once arrived at a booth/trailer that looked like it had been used for storage for some time, and hadn’t been kept very organized. I took a few minutes to arrange random stuff neatly out of the way, swept the floor and surfaces, got the judge’s area ready and made sure they had the (most) comfy folding chair of those available. The judge actually noted that I’d done this and said a quick “wow, thanks” before getting down to business, so that made me feel good.

I really love scribing. It’s a personal challenge for me to get down as much as possible of the judges comments, especially if they say more than “halt not square” or “fairly straight”. Some don’t, but some do!


I’ve never done this, and never been asked to do it. It can’t hurt, but I think it’s way beyond anything necessary, especially for a first-time scribe.

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I can’t say I do it on EVERY test, and not if things are calm and orderly. But if things start getting interesting … it can help if it all goes sideways with the schedule for whatever reason.

Wow, you’ve gotten great information here! Don’t let it intimidate you; as some have said, you’ll do just fine. The only thing I could add is to BE QUIET. As in. don’t talk unless you’re spoken to. And this from someone who really doesn’t talk much… (unless wine is involved) :slight_smile:

It could be regional. I’ve always been told to write it down in as much detail as possible. I would say it has covered my bacon a few times - especially when it’s a sea of bays with no white. When that happens don’t just write “dark bay” – say “dark bay w/ diamond browband” or “dark bay w/ left hip scar”. Any sort of identification, including what the rider is wearing if necessary: “dk bay, rider w/ maroon coat”.

A lot of excellent advice has already been given. My contribution would be to make sure you bring an extra coat or layers. Even when it’s sunny and 65F, you can get a little chilly if you’re sitting still. I’ve gotten cold a few times in the booth.

Bring extra pens, bring water, eat a good breakfast, and make sure to pee before you start. Have fun and thank you for volunteering to scribe.

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If the scribe writes the correct entry number at the top of the test there shouldn’t be any need for these details. I’ve scribed dozens and dozens of times, I’m always the first one our recognized show committee calls, never had a complaint, and never written down a horse’s color, browband decoration, or rider’s coat color. Again, it can’t hurt, but to load this onto someone who’s scribing for the first time at a schooling show is a bit much.

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We do both. It’s not enough to say it’s competitor 56 - from a distance that could look like 58, or 59, or even 86. Having the right number and identifying features absolutely dispels any uncertainty that the wrong competitor was recorded.

I have never scribed, but I can say that when entering scores or looking at score sheets I have seen ‘bay horse with white star, blue jacket’ (example) pretty frequently.

It seems like something the scribe can write while the judge is making their final look and comments on the previous rider’s sheet.

Please be aware the 2nd level test are some of the hardest to scribe. I have scribed every level and freestyles. If they are one of your first rides, don’t get discouraged!

The biggest thing I tell new scribes is not to panic. If needed, skip a movement comment to get back on track.

Also be aware the judge is not infallible. If the comment/score seams off, ask for movement number/ description (freewalk, trans., Etc).

There are a couple of things I keep track of for the judge. Let them know if the next rider will be doing a different test. I also keep track of the time. If the ring is running late, I let the judge know. If it running early, I let the judge know how many minutes until the next ride time so they don’t ring out a rider before there ride time.

You should be provided a day sheet with the rider names, numbers and class. Before the first ride, I use that to triple check I have all the test. It is easier to fix ahead of time versus when a rider is in the ring. Most shows provide a judges copy of the test. If needed, you can use that.

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In addition to all the good advice, I’d like to add - please dont volunteer personal anecdotes about your barnmates. Oh, yesterday this horse bucked her off in the canter, my daughter rides next, what do you think of this horse’s movement since the vet injected it two days ago, all are things the judge doesnt need to know.


This past weekend I scribed at an event, and only one single rider the entire day actually told me their number. It was a rainy day so numbers were wet and folded over, or on the bridle on the opposite side from where I was sitting when the rider passed, etc. Some of the riders I recognize from past events as I’ve been scribing 7 years here so I could compare to my start list, but it’s quite frustrating to have a rider trot around the ring oblivious while I’m trying to make out the number, meanwhile the judge is ringing them in because we’re behind!

Be kind to your scribe :grin:

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I believe I said the CORRECT number.

Excellent advice here. I would like to underline that you tell your judge that this is your first time and then just follow their lead. THANK YOU for volunteering.

  1. Put on lots of sun blok.
  2. Drink lots of water (after you have verified where the bathrooms are)
  3. I would like to respectfully disagree with the suggestion above to mark -2 in the case of an error. This can confuse the scorer. Just write ERROR in red. (The first error is -2, the second -4 and the third is elimination.) Also, if the judge says “use of voice,” this is not an error. The judge will handle the deduction when the test is concluded.
  4. Be prepared for any weather conditions.