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Musings on the meanings of scores

I think there very much is a standard, and that standard includes scoring the quality of the gait in every single movement. Which is why a horse bred to have an uphill canter, with plenty of hind leg reach under the saddle and expressive shoulder freedom, is almost always going to outscore an Appaloosa even if both horses perform the movement equally correctly.

The standards for gaits as well as movements are clearly outlined in the FEI rule book. The one glaring example of where I don’t see that standard applied is the piaffe. A lot of piaffes don’t show much sit and the forelegs do not come off the ground higher than the hind legs, yet are scored well.


Ballet isn’t in the Olympics but as the mother if a former competitive dancer, I can assure you that competitive ballet is very much a thing. And is far more confusing than dressage to interpret judges sheets and overall scores because there is no clear standard.


You have made my point.

Again…you have made my point.

Which is the standards/rules are not consistently applied…because there are no clear standards.

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No. My point is that competitive ballet is more confusing that dressage because dance doesn’t have a standard scoring system. Dressage does.

The one movement - piaffe - is the only exception I can think of. And it actually gets scored pretty much the same everywhere, it’s just that those scores don’t reflect the directives in the rule book.

Have you audited the L program? I wish we had something here in Canada. It sounds like a great way to understand the scoring system and how judges are taught to apply it. To say there is no clear standard scoring in dressage is untrue.


That is my point.

The judges are not judging to the rulebook. Why not judge the judges for how they adhere to the directives of the rulebook? In a quantifiable manner. The statistical methods are out there, validated and in use wherever human performance needs to be evaluated. Commercial software is available. One does not need to reinvent the wheel. All it takes is WILL.

Yes. 3x and was demo rider once. And attended judge’s training back when it was held at Gladstone.


Yes. And medical professionals are FREQUENTLY wrong. Misdiagnoses occur regularly. My sister, a medical professional, suffered a ruptured appendix and ensuing peritonitis that nearly killed her. Because her appendicitis was misdiagnosed in the ER.

I have dozens of other examples too. But my point is, that judging to a standard can be subjective regardless of what the standard is.

I still think you are approaching this from a far too scientific perspective. This is art, not science. Yes, it is sport as well. But there is no way to quantify a judge’s opinion. Football has rules that the referees must uphold. They make judgements on every single play. One referee is even called the Line Judge. And yet - every single game you hear “that was a bad call!” They have instant replay to review a potential bad call. Because it’s SUBJECTIVE.

There are standards. They may well be insufficient; I can’t speak to that. But you are proving my point - that so far the analogies you have presented are just not comparable to competition dressage.


It sure is! But not a human performing on an animal. Therein lies the difference.


Yes they have a judge of the judges…Because there is a lot of money riding in the NFL.

Maybe dressage needs to have “instant replays” to review scoring calls.


Then dressage should get out of the Olympics. If it is a true sport, it needs to have all the “scientific” scrutiny that a sport merits.

If dressage is “art”…then it should go back to the circus where the audience is the judge.

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And that is your opinion, to which you are entitled. I think that (could be wrong here) most would disagree. I get the sense that you are not a fan of dressage as sport. Am I right?


DR 104.4 Extended trot. The horse covers as much ground as possible . Without hurrying, the steps are lengthened to the utmost as a result of great impulsion from the hindquarters. The rider allows the horse to lengthen the frame and to gain ground whilst controlling the poll. The fore feet should touch the ground on the spot towards which they are pointing. The movement of the fore and hind legs should reach equally forward in the moment of extension . The whole movement should be well-balanced and the transition to collected trot should be smoothly executed by taking more weight on the hindquarters.

Also the General Directives, DR 101.2-3

  1. These qualities are demonstrated by:
    a. The freedom and regularity of the gaits;
    b. The harmony, lightness, and ease of the movements;
    c. The lightness of the forehand and the engagement of the hindquarters, originating from a lively impulsion;
    d. The acceptance of the bit, with submissiveness/throughness (Durchlässigkeit) without any tension or
  2. The horse thus gives the impression of doing, of its own accord, what is required. Confident and attentive, submitting generously to the control of the rider, remaining absolutely straight in any movement on a straight
    line and bending accordingly when moving on curved lines.

The above is what you posted in the extended trot thread. How is that not a standard to judge against?


I am not a fan of some of the judging I see these days…

So call me a dinosaur, my riding mentors were all former cavalry who trained horses because they needed horses to complete a mission…the horses had a job…and were trainers of horses so that the horse was capable of doing their job.

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No argument…that is the STANDARD. So let’s judge how well the judges judge to the standard.

As in the NFL, if we had a “line judge” to review all competitions’ scores then we could judge the judge’s scores and how well their judgeing met the standards…now THAT might be an interesting exercise.


So, I’m looking at the USDF Connection mag. Adequan/USDF HOY results, and in only one case did the winner (and ONLY the winner) have a median score in the 80s, and low 80s at that. And that was at Training Level. Nowhere else did winners have median scores out of the 70s. This is my original point: Even HOY winners’ median scores aren’t considered “good,” according to the established meanings of the scores. Are their tests, on average, really only fairly good?

ETA: As I continue to page through the results, in looking at Regional championships scores in the Open divisions, I see very few scores of 80% or above. Are the “top pros” not competing at Regionals?


I meant top in the world - as in those on the podium at World Cups, Olympics, etc.

I highly recommend the Dressage Radio Podcast for posters here. They regularly talk about scores and the scale, and interview judges, riders and the test writers of the tests used.

There’s a lot more that goes into the tests and scoring than what is suggested here.

I find that such an excellent podcast for anyone confused about their scores or about how they come up with tests. Tones of good info.


I think it’s important to remember their are two tiers to dressage.

There are the shows put on under the auspices of national organizations. In the US, it’s USDF/USEF and in Canada it’s EC. These entities create the Training to Fourth level tests and also offer classes using FEI tests PSG and above.

Then there are the international CDI shows that only offer FEI tests including ones like Four year old that are not offered in the national level shows.

The horses that end up at the Olympics or even just on the international CDI circuit mostly do not “come up the levels” in the national shows. They do not plug along through training first second etc over a course of years. They might do the young horse classes but basically they start competing at PSG. As was the case before lower level dressage was created.

The expectations progress and training is very different between these two tiers. I am not sure how much crossover there is. Someone who is moving up international rankings via CDI is not going to care much about accruing points for USDF HOY because it’s a meaningless award in their world. Or about getting bronze silver gold medals.

If we take the CDI scores as a “true measure” of grading dressage, then virtually nobody in the national shows is "excellent " Catch being that there’s no training to Fourth at CDI.


That’s 100% correct if we want and expect that all riders, regardless of skill or level, are judged to the same high standard.

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Looking at results of the 5* CDI in Wellington this week, and similar shows, there are really very few top riders/horses getting much above 70% at GP. So that says most of the Pros are only “fairly good” at the upper levels. Not sure what that tells us…

Edited to add i guess it tells us that maybe a dozen riders in the WORLD are even “Good” on a regular basis.