The Western Dressage Group Apprentice Judging Program
By Joanne Coy

joanneWOW. I think that’s the word that best summarizes the Western Dressage Group Apprentice Judging Program that took place in November 6-8, 2015 at the Western Dressage World Show in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I am truly embracing Western Dressage, I understand why it’s taking off like crazy, and after seeing the competition at the World Show, I’m even more impressed. I’ve been involved in dressage for several decades, and when the doors were opened to entice western riders to give dressage a try through Western Dressage, I was pretty excited. What a great opportunity to “grow dressage” and create better partnerships with our horses.

Twenty five participants attended WDAA’s first-ever Group Apprentice Judging Program, all of us interested in becoming more informed to judge Western Dressage and possibly go on to become a licensed USEF Western Dressage Judge. The program was lead by Karen Homer Brown and Janet Dolly Hannon. Our weekend began with a “legal vs. illegal western dressage bits” lecture with Cliff and Joyce Swanson. Then we moved quickly to another arena to see and critique some rail classes (Suitability, Hack and Equitation). The next day began at 7:00 a.m in the classroom with USDF “S” Judge, Dolly Hannon, our leader and instructor for the weekend, giving us tips about the differences and similarities between English and Western Dressage. As a recent L Graduate myself, the learner judging program through USDF, I was somewhat prepared for the intensity of this kind of class. The WD Group Apprentice Judging Program was very similar, but compressed into three days.

Each day was filled with lectures, practice judging, discussion about the rides we saw, scoring of the rides and comparing our scores to Dolly’s scores. We began our Saturday and Sunday at 7:00am, and ended at 6:00 pm. At times we had to judge and scribe for ourselves, which will make judging with a scribe again seem so much easier!

Students in the program were from all over the country, all with judging backgrounds, and all with the same interest–to learn as much as possible about this new sport. Getting licensed by USEF in Western Dressage is not a simple process, and the group apprentice judging program is only one of the many steps required. Other steps include more apprenticing with judges at live shows, as well as video judging (evaluated by experts), attending the Judge’s Seminar in Tulsa in February, and a written exam. I know this journey will take time (and lots of effort), but I’m committed to the process. I have met many dedicated riders and judges who, like me, feel that western dressage is a great blend that enhances the horse industry, which is a great thing.

As with any form of competition, the judge is trained to consider accuracy and the correct basics of training. In fact, the training pyramid of dressage was often referenced during the program. The most important element that we were told to look for, however, is the harmonious relationship between the horse and rider, and that was mentioned often. The ride should look like a pleasant experience for both the horse and rider. I’m pleased to report that I saw many many rides at the World Show that demonstrated that basic concept. I’m even more pleased that two of our own Michigan riders, Kim Nobel and Jennifer Mclelland-Kiser, both scored above 80% in their Basic tests and came home with championships. Very impressive!

As you can tell, I’m hooked. At the beginning of February, I’m returning to Tulsa for the Western Dressage Judge’s Seminar to continue my journey in gaining more experience and skill in judging Western Dressage. I also attended a Train the Trainers program last summer in Illinois, led by Frances Carbonnel and Cliff Swanson, which is a program I highly recommend for anyone interested in knowing more about Western Dressage. Being around others who are enthusiastic about training, judging or working with horses is a valuable experience, and Western Dressage offers this opportunity. If something comes up in your area in Western Dressage, I suggest you grab the reins and go!

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