August 3-6, twenty eight FEI and National  ‘S’ judges made their way from the Americas (North, Central, and South) to attend a continuing judges’ education seminar, graciously supported by IDOC, at the World Longine’s FEI World Breeding Dressage Championships for Young Horses in Ermelo,  The Netherlands. Over the course of three long, action packed days, Dutch FEI 5*/Level 4 judge, Mariette Saunders, conducted a fantastic educational forum. Her enthusiasm, knowledge and experience, humor and honest evaluations of each horse and rider were greatly appreciated by the group. Her openness to discussion, and to answering all of our questions helped us see, and better discern the details in using the correct score range and to better give meaningful remarks in our own judging of Young Horses.

We looked not only in depth at the scores for each of the Gait boxes, but also at the scores for the Submission and the Perspective boxes. We were certainly exposed to the whole gamut of gaits, different conformations, temperaments and types of horses, as well as a good variety of the many things that can happen, good and bad, in the young horse tests! We got a lot of opportunities to use the 5-10 score range, but we especially enjoyed the opportunity to see so many quality horses which enabled us to practice seeing the nuances in the 8, 9, and 10 range. This, in particular, was very appreciated by our group who often, where we all live, see very few Young Horse Tests, let alone many of good to excellent quality.

The facility, footing, and infrastructure at Ermelo made it a very enjoyable experience, despite Mother Nature being very moody, with an ever changing mix of rain, sun, downpours, lightning and thunder.  The covered spectators’ area kept us dry and afforded us an excellent view of the action in the main area. (A CDI and some of the small final classes were held in another arena on the facility.) Also of note was the fabulous DJ who mixed music on the spot for each horse throughout the weekend, greatly enhancing the performances, and experience; as well as the treat of having the start list as well as the score board and announcer giving the pedigree and breeder of each horse, as well as the rider, owner, and breed registry, and country it was representing.

The First Qualification classes were huge, with 40-45 horses in them.  From that class at each age range, the horses placing 12th and above went on to directly compete in the Finals, and the remainder went on to show in the Small Finals (consolation test) where the top three placings there could earn their way back to join the top 12 from the original test in the finals.  It made for some very competitive and exciting competition!  We were able to watch the 4 year olds (which was offered by the show as not part of the FEI Championships, but rather a national class, with horses from many countries there competing), as well as the FEI World Championship’s Competitions for 5, 6, and 7 year old horses.

Days were long, but somehow Mariette’s voice held out and her palpable enthusiasm didn’t wane. She stated that judging the final classes here was “like being in a candy shop”, and that it was! We enjoyed a constant stream of amazing horses representing countries across the globe, as well as a gathering of many of the dressage world’s elite, with not only top riders and horses, but trainiers, judges, and breeders in attendance. We were treated to some moments and performances that gave us goosebumps and even brought us, and our instructor, to tears–not easy to do with a group of people that has been judging for decades!

We greatly appreciated seeing the competition emphasis being on rewarding not only top athletes with quality natural gaits, but also in recognizing correct training and development, harmony, and confidence in the horses.  Mechanical and manufactured gaits, rider induced tension, and training not reflecting the classical pyramid was clearly not earning high marks.

The resounding feedback from the group was that they would return in a heartbeat should another opportunity for a forum at this championship happen in the future! Many thanks to Janet Foy, who not only envisioned this fabulous opportunity for those of us from the American continents, but who, along with her travel agent, Pam Chesnut, arranged it; to Mariette Sanders who went above and beyond in sharing her knowledge; and to Kristi Wysocki and Kari McClain who helped things run smoothly for the participants on site, as Janet was quite busy as part of the official judging panel for this event.  Thanks also to the following participants who took this opportunity  to expand their knowledge, at their own expense, and admirably for no credit of any kind. From the USA: Gary Rockwell, Jeanne McDonald, Kari McClain, Kristi Wysocki, Charlie Musco, Cindy Canace, David Schmutz, Lisa Schmidt, Nancy Benton, Sandy Hotz, Louise Koch, Sarah Geike, Debby Savage, Elizabeth Kane, Jodi Jones Lees, Sue Mandas, Christel Carlson, Agnes Billington; From Canada: Cara Whitham, Ali Buchanan, Joan McCartney, Brenda Minor, John MacPherson; From Columbia: Cesar Torrente; From Peru: Marian Cuningham; From Argentina: Sandra Smith, Gabriel Armando, Constanza Comaleras.