My dearest fellow DQs. Please do not let the distractions of life get in the way of performing your free and nearly effortless civic duty as members of the Canadian Dressage community. Make sure you cast your votes for DC High Performance Chair. I hesitate to tell you that the deadline isn’t for another four weeks, because I will be too busy jetting off to Holland for the GDF to remind you last-minute types to vote before the October 25 cutoff date. Let’s just pretend the deadline is in two days, like I did this morning when I took all of 30 seconds out of my day to vote on line.

One of the most dysfunctional of the many dysfunctional sectors of DC these past few years has been its critically important High Performance Committee. Until EC finds the resources, and places the creation of an HP department at the top of its priority list, each discipline’s volunteer HP Committee  is all the athletes have for support from the organization. The incoming chair of DC HP can make or break the programs that are absolutely necessary for our Juniors, Young Riders and major championships team members to reach skyward. Please, please don’t delay. Vote today.

After some careful thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not my place to promote one candidate over another in this election. Besides; just doing what someone tells you to do is a lazy cop out and a missed opportunity to get just a teensy bit engaged. If you don’t know anything about Tony Eames, Gina Smith or Liz Steacie, please read their bios and letters of intent, which you will find at the link I made in the first paragraph.  And if you find, as one of this blog’s readers did this summer, that the letters of intent are insufficient information, here are links to the first relevant item that comes up when you Google each of their names:

Tony Eames

Gina Smith

Liz Steacie

You could also take a look at the blog post I wrote last month when the nominations for DC HP first came out.

In other DQ news on a more international front, a bit of a scuffle is emerging between two of Britain’s most vocal advocates of dressage, God of all Judges, Stephen Clarke, and the most numerically proficient dressage rider I know, Wayne Channon. You’re probably already up to speed on this online debate, which is taking place on Eurodressage – but if not, here is a link to what Wayne said, and here’s a link to what Stephen said. Once you’ve had a peek at this attaque and contre-attaque regarding the judging at the Euro Champs, my own two-bits’ worth below will have more meaning.

The main source of Wayne’s ire is the exceptionally out of line score given by Swedish judge Gustaf Svalling to British team member Michael Eilberg, who found himself needing to pull a career topping result out of Half Moon Delphi after Laura and Alf had to bow out of Herning – instantly rendering Michael the third strongest team member. I must confess I was not paying very close attention to the team competition (due to my galavanting about the French countryside), and I didn’t notice the offending mark given by Svalling until Wayne pointed it out in his editorial. I agree with Wayne’s criticism of the score, but for once I don’t agree with his math.

If Michael’s scores had been a bit more ‘all over the map’, Svalling’s 65.532%, given from his seat in the booth at F, might not have looked so out of line. But all the other judges gave Michael over 70%, which made the Swede’s bit of nastiness stick out, not like a sore thumb, but like a swollen, crusty, puss-filled big toe.  The next lowest score Michael got from the panel of seven was 71.809%, more than six percent higher. The gap between the lowest and highest scores for his test was more than ten percent. I assume that the difference wasn’t caused by the kind of ‘fly in the eye’ mistake that is corrected by the JSP, but by an overall hairy eyeball cast upon the performance by the judge at F. And apparently Delphi looked somewhat more appealing to Svalling from E, the position from which he judged the GPS and saw fit to give the pair a score of 71.042%, five and a half percent higher than in the GP. Svalling’s score in the GPS wasn’t even Michael’s lowest in that test. That’s quite a turn around for a judge from one day to the next, with the same rider and horse who presumably didn’t spend the time between the two tests completely changing the way they train.

It’s also worth noticing where Svalling’s mark put Michael in the ranking. His highest ranking from a single judge put him ninth; Svalling ranked him 41st. I don’t know that I have ever seen such an extreme inconsistency in a single judge’s ranking at a major championship, for any competitor – never mind one from a medal-winning team. Hell, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that kind of difference in any international competition in the entire dozen years I’ve spent staring at the scores.

Wayne’s trademark polite but shoot-from-the-hip delivery of his opinions is usually taken in stride by the equable and always human Stephen. But his response suggests that he was knocked into relatively unfamiliar emotional territory by Wayne’s rant. He sounds defensive, and that isn’t the most flattering colour for Stephen. I think the mere fact that Svalling saw fit to deliver a GPS score that fell suddenly into line with his colleagues is the most substantive evidence that he was off his judging game in the team GP test. I’m actually surprised Wayne didn’t mention it, in fact. Wayne suggests a number of possible reasons for Svalling’s failure (if we can agree that it was that) to fairly and competently judge Michael’s GP ride. Most of them are not new: nationalistic judging, not knowing the horse and rider, being two of them.

Stephen manages to return to his usual glass-half-full optimism near the end of his riposte, and he admits that the judging system must continue to strive to improve. He does conclude with one final, slightly catty remark to Wayne, though, which leads me to believe we could have some lively debate at the GDF next month (hands rubbing together, slightly wicked grin spreading across my face).

Okay, so onto Wayne’s math, with which I don’t concur. He says that Svalling single-handedly brought the Brits from gold to bronze, and I don’t believe that argument holds up in the numbers. If you simply tossed Svalling’s score entirely, and based Michael’s average on the other six judges, sure. That does put GB into gold medal position. But it’s not a reasonable way to calculate the impact Svalling had. You would also have to give the same treatment to the Germans and Dutch teams, and throw out the single lowest relative score given by a single judge to a single one of the three counting riders’ results for those teams too. When you do that, the team scores emerge as follows: GER – 235.254, GBR  – 234.663, NED – 234.349. We can say Svalling single-handedly took silver away from the Brits, but not gold. I think the bigger message in all of this is that the closer the scores are, the more impact a single judge has on the outcome. Not rocket science, is it? And I don’t honestly believe that there can ever be a perfect judging system in a subjectively judged sport. Period.

Wayne goes on to propose some possible fixes, tossing a few aside as not really addressing the issue. And as serious as this topic is, when medals and Olympic qualifications hang in the balance, I must admit I started to giggle when I read Wayne’s comments on the suggestion that the judges’ marks be anonymous. Anyone out there remember The Gong Show and The Unknown Comic? As I read about the merits of anonymous judging, the image came to my mind of the judges taking their seats in the booths, all with bags over their heads.

Maybe it’s healthy to find a little funny in all this hair splitting over fractions of points.

I wonder what the judges would give for rhythm, energy and elasticity in the performance below…