Between FEI TV committing an epic fail with the European Champs coverage and my busy week writing legitimate articles, I have yet to see most of the GPS and freestyles from last weekend.
What I HAVE managed to do, though, is notice how all-over-the-map the judges were, particularly in the freestyles. Here are a few stats: out of fifteen combinations in the freestyle, only five of them were scored with less than five percent differences from high to low judge. Artistically, which is generally considered less catastrophic when the judges can’t stay within the magic +/-5%, there were just two rides that caused less than a five point divergence. But here’s what really compels me to ask about the efficacy of the Judges Supervisory Panel: the range of technical marks for Carl Hester’s ride was 9 percent! Other visible signs that the judges don’t agree on what is technically good, bad or ugly are the following stretch marks: 8.5% difference for Juan Manuel and Fuego, 8.25% for Isabell and El Santo, and 7.75% for Valentina and Eremo del Castegno. Is this acceptable? Did anyone in the press conferences ask the president of the ground jury to justify such obvious differences in what the judges seem to have seen from their seven places around the ring?
If 5% differences in the artistic marks are acceptable, surely 11% (Valentina) is not. Isabell was the most inconsistently judged competitor, with a 9% artistic divergence to add to 8.25% in the technical. Three judges had Isabell fifth, but Stephen Clarke saw fit to award her only 12th best. That’s a difference of seven placings. Laura B should have been second according to Evi Eisenhardt, but JM Roudier deemed the great Alf to be deserving only of 8th place. Everybody is rah-rah-rah-ing about how sorted out the judging is (if the sole measuring stick as trumpeted by Mme. Withages is that they all fall into the >+/- 5% range), but based on these results I must beg to differ.
The KNHS unfortunately has not put the detailed movement by movement marks up for the Special and freestyle (actually I seem to recall they were up, but now there are only totals), which is a bit of a shame because overall I would give these Euros a triple A rating for getting full results out to the world almost as they were awarded. But I can still have fun with the overall marks. Back to the freestyles. All seven judges took turns at being highest or lowest judges, though two of them stand out as the day’s most and least generous. The judge who gave out the lowest marks was Maribel Alonso at F. Counting technical and artistic marks separately (necessary since a judge might be the high judge artistically and the low judge technically for the same horse), Maribel gave out the lowest mark 9 times and the highest mark just once. The Santa Claus of this championship was Ghislain Fouarge (who is NOT a snuggle bunny), high judge nine times and low judge not even once.
But being the low judge or the high judge on a frequent basis actually points out consistency, rather than its opposite, and I am decidedly NOT criticizing either of these two judges for tending to be the high or low judge throughout the class.
As wild and crazy as the marks were in the freestyles, they were less divergent in the GPS, with some notable exceptions. Once again there was divisiveness about Alf’s merits, with a 7.4% spread between Eisenhardt (76.771% and a sixth placed ranking) and Roudier (84.167% and first). Funny that. Roudier was the high judge on Laura in the Special and the low judge in the freestyle. Does Alf really look that much better from K, Mr. Roudier? And once again, they were definitely not on the same page with Isabell. Markowski had her winning a bronze medal with 80%, while Mary Seefried ranked her 12th – though she wasn’t actually the lowest scoring judge. Stephen Clarke gave her the lowest score at 73.958%. In total, 40% of the top ten and 31.5% of the bottom 20 horses received scores in the Special that showed differences of more than 5 points.
But what does it all mean? Why does Karen waste a sunny Saturday morning doing grade four math instead of taking her dog to the beach or riding her horse? Because Karen is weird and probably should have pursued her love of numbers, so that she could have a blog called ‘Number Nerd’.
I can’t see much in the freestyle scoring that indicates a pattern (other than the possibility that the judging system of freestyles needs a major overhaul), but I think I am seeing something in the Rorschach blot of the GPS marks.
It looks to me as though the marks get less consistent at both ends of the fame spectrum. Matthias and Totilas had 7% stretches in their marks. Near the bottom of the class, two Fins and a Norwegian had spreads of 5.5% and 6.5%. Where the judges agree most is when someone plainly did the best job – Adelinde and Parzival, off course moment notwithstanding – and with the riders whom they have judged enough times to know where they ‘fit’ but who are not the ‘stars’ or ‘recent stars’ or ‘vanishing stars’ – people like Jordi Domingo and Christoph Koschel. From 13th place to that little clump of unknowns from Scandinavia in 23th to 25th place, there is only one rider who received a 5% or higher spread of marks: Victoria Max-Theurer, a rider with both star status and political status. None of this is to say that the judges are bad people or don’t know a good piaffe from a bad one – but I do believe there is hard-to-ignore evidence of two influences at work:
1. put Matthias on Totilas or bring back former World Diva Isabell on a new horse and the judges are psychologically more likely to feel pressure from more places than just the four legged athlete they are charged with assessing. Pressure which is exerted on emotional parts of the brain and clouds objectivity with unwanted thoughts such as ‘this is Totilas, the world’s greatest horse’, or ‘Isabell’s performance in Atlanta was one of the most exciting sporting moments I’ve ever experienced’. The person has never been born who wouldn’t be affected in that way.
2. put a few new names in front of the judges and they are not as likely to be in agreement about what they see as they were with pairs they have seen a bunch of times and whose results always tend to be in the same mark range.
So there. Now I’m going to go out and clear my head in the sunshine.
Oh one more thing. Astrid and I don’t always agree – and that’s just the spice of life that keeps us getting up in the morning and thinking about silly things like horses prancing around inside 18 inch fences – but I have to say I am with her on Paul (Dr. Evil) Shockemoehle’s new found Dutch Fever. Only I would probably call it Gold Fever, since it’s looking like the man won’t stop throwing money at horses until Germany reclaims its former place as masters of the dressage universe. I also found her link to Arnd Bronkhorst’s commentary to be both interesting and reflective of my own views on the topic, from the obscene Matthias and Totilas mugs and t-shirts on sale at the Totilas Shop to the unraveling of the new partnership throughout the Euro Champs. I guess Arnd won’t be doing any more photo shoots for the Schockemoehle/Rath/Linsenhoff tribes any time soon…