Warning: The material contained in today’s blog is rated DQ (that would be Dressage Queen, not Dairy Queen)

I have just recently (this morning in fact) been apprised of the tremendous judging gaff that occurred at the WC qualifier in Mechelen, when Anky rode Painted Black not to her freestyle music, but to what she stated afterward was a ‘practice’ version of her Tango freestyle. I had read previously that she used the wrong music, but I had no idea how bad it was. I just watched the video – and that wasn’t any practice CD. I’d be willing to bet a nice bottle of Malbec that it was the original, unedited recording Slings and Kerkhoff would have used as the base music for the finished product. Not only was she cantering to trot music and passaging to canter music, but there were some amazing mismatches between music transitions and choreography. The ride from halt to halt was about 25 seconds over the time limit, too. I can’t tell for sure if the judges penalized her for being overtime – but the 80-plus artistic scores suggest not. Those scores also indicate that the judges gave their artistic marks based on what they know she usually scores for that freestyle, rather than the performance itself.

Cheers to Anky for improvising like the cool-headed mistress of freestyles she is, and jeers to the judges who were apparently wearing ear plugs. You too can watch this disheartening evidence that some judges either don’t actually give marks for what is in front of their eyes, or that they make no effort to understand the basic principles of evaluating the artistic elements of freestyles. Sadder still is the probability that both of those factors were at play here.


If the issue of poor freestyle judging interests you, read on. But prepare to be horrified. I know I am.

Artist or Anti-artist?

Since creating freestyles that won gold medals and World Cup titles galore, Cees Slings and Victor Kerkhoff have gone their separate ways. I’m not sure what Victor’s up to these days, but Cees is up to something that I find utterly baffling and totally dangerous. He is designing an electronic gizmo that will tell judges everything they need to know about whether the freestyle they are watching is artistically meritorious. It is called EQ-Musync and is, according to the creator himself, “a new complete measuring instrument for Freestyle dressage. It will wipe away all ‘gray areas’ of adjudication: subjectivity versus objectivity; relation to musical taste; lack of knowledge of music and rhythm and evaluation of syncronicity. All these unquantifiables disappear with EQ-Musync.”  He compares his machine to the Hawk Eye system that is used in tennis. Excuse me Mr. Slings. This isn’t tennis we’re talking about here. There is no artistic impression involved in calling the ball ‘out’. I have a whole bunch of questions for you, but here are three of them:

Will your monster machine take note of the use of transitions within a piece of music to highlight a specific movement, such as a softer phrase for a piaffe or a pirouette, and stronger music for extensions and tempi changes? Will it tell the judges that the horse took the first step of a new gait right at the moment the music changed for that new gait? This is called interpretation – just in case you forgot, it’s on the score sheet.

Will the diabolical instrument inform the judges (who will now presumably almost not be needed at all) when the style of music or instrumentation enhances the horse’s natural expression and way of moving? It’s not just matching the footfalls you know. That’s the easy part but the right music doesn’t start and end there.  You might even call this a ‘gray area’.

Will the dressage judge decapitator tell the judges when the performance gave goosebumps? Or when the horse and rider rose beyond what they did in the technical test the previous day, thanks to choreography that highlighted the horse’s strengths and music that put the rider in an emotional place that gave him or her the riding moment of a lifetime? 

I could go on and on and on about this. What if the powers in the sport go for this contraption? How can you use a calibration device for something that has the word ‘art’ in its very definition? Oxymoronic I say! And if it were deployed as a replacement for educating judges (not that music education for judges currently exists, but I was hoping it was on its way –  and I’m not talking about freestyle clinics with judges who have never ridden, let alone created, a freestyle), why would anyone even bother trying any more? Everyone would just buy something from a brand new section at the tack store – one that offers pre-made music which is guaranteed to dot all the ‘I’s and cross all the ‘T’s that Cees Slings decides are the artistic elements that count in freestyles.

You know what I find the scariest part of this story? Cees Slings has been one of the artists. I have dreamed about how exciting it would have been to take part in creating freestyles of the same caliber of his and Victor’s productions.  The idea that he could turn his talents to sucking every last shred of emotion and artistic expression out of the one thing that has made dressage exciting to more than the participants and their loved ones has me scratching my head with both hands.  How can you reduce the assessment of a musical performance to a string of beeps, lights and numbered results (I can’t erase the mental image of C-3PO judging freestyles of the future) so that judges don’t have to know a thing about a large proportion of the scores that will put Olympic medals around necks? And, more importantly, why do you want to? Please tell me you were joking.

I have no doubt that today’s blog will get some blood rising. I heartily your welcome comments (but please sign your name – you know how I hate anonymity).