Horse Show 101 – Dressage Scribes Get Free Lessons

Toni Webb and judge Axel Steiner

Dressage Scribes Get Free Lessons
How To Become The Judges’ Favorite Scribe
By Toni Webb


How would you like to have a free private dressage lesson, or clinic, with a top dressage judge, and it could last all day? Nice, right? I have been getting this amazing benefit for several years now, and I can tell you just how to do it – become a scribe! Judges at dressage shows use scribes to write the scores for each rider in every level. That way the judge can keep their eyes on the horse in the ring, and make timely comments as the performance progresses.  Becoming a scribe is easy, and anyone can do it. The qualifications are minimal: legible handwriting, ability to quickly write what you hear spoken, some easily-acquired familiarity with the abbreviations for dressage movements, and probably most important, the ability to keep your comments and opinions to yourself!
Handwriting has always been the method scribes use to record the judges comments. Recently though, some larger shows have been using computers and enter the comments there. However, there is usually a handwriting scribe along with a computer scribe, if the show is doing electronic scoring. It is a way to confirm that the scoring is accurately recorded.
If you are the handwriting scribe, you will be unable to watch the individual rides from start to finish. Each movement requires a score, and most of the judges give a comment on each movement, too. A comment could be one single word, or a couple of very specific sentences for you to fit into that tiny box on the score sheet. Your job is to write exactly what the judge says, without editing. Sometimes, during a slower portion of the ride, like the free walk, the scribe has an opportunity to watch for a minute or so. That is if you are all caught up with the scores and comments!
Each ride is typically five or six minutes and there is only a small break between riders, maybe two or three minutes, for the judge to look over the finished score sheet and sign it. The scribe is basically writing all day. With that in mind, I suggest that you bring your own pens, ones that feel good in your hands! Get the most comfortable, finest pointed pens you can find. You will need a red one (only for errors), and for everything else, black or blue. The show generally supplies pens, but are not always the most reliable.
Now for the free lesson… You are listening to an experienced judge who is evaluating each horse and rider on each movement in each test. If you are interested in showing your own horse, pay extra close attention when the tests you might ride are being shown. The specifics of what judges are looking for are there for the taking! Your judge will make comments on and off the record. Your job is to listen, and write the exact comments on the score sheet. But, listen for your gift. The judge is giving you some inside information that is seldom, if ever, taught to an aspiring rider. As an example, I scribed for a judge who pointed out, off the record, that she did not understand why anyone’s halt was ever sloppy, since ANY horse can stop square if you practice, and that move is worth just as much as a transition or a canter depart! She said the riders were giving away an easy “8,” when they don’t practice that move. And there are often two halts or more in a test. Freebies!
Next time, I will share how the scribe sets up the judge’s stand, and prepare you to start scribing for the first time. Until then, look on the website of the United States Dressage Association for the list of abbreviations used by scribes – Write on!


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