While riders usually want to focus exclusively on training, riding, and competing, becoming a dressage judge can offer many advantages, both in terms your own expertise and your contribution to the sport as a whole.
The Impact on The Sport
The benefits of judging stem from the fact that navigating through the numerous requirements and parameters of the USEF judging program gives you a deep understanding and appreciation of what judges really bring to the table. Most riders see that judges have to deal with frustrated riders who blame them for their low scores, but being a dressage judge is so much more than that.
Judges are given a unique opportunity in the sport: they get to impact how the dressage world views, talks about, and conducts dressage riding, training, and even teaching. Many riders who later become judges have attested to the fact that even though judging is a big commitment in terms of time and resources, it is certainly a worthwhile and rewarding experience to invest oneself in the education and development of the community and sport they love. At the end of the day, your role as a judge is to shape the future of the sport by rewarding good training and guiding the rest of the riders on how they can do better next time.
The Impact on Yourself
Dressage is also one of the few sports where you have to prove that you can perform what you will ultimately be judging. In other words, not everyone can become a judge. You must first apply to enter a judging program and you must prove your competence of the sport by having earned scores above the level that you will be learning to judge. For example, you can start by getting your USDF “C” license. This is a great way develop a good eye for what simpler things, like a straight entrance or a balance transition should really look like. Studying the Judging Terms in the USDF Glossary will also give you a whole new perspective on what kind of comments you should be offering to competing riders. Instead of sharing your personal or general opinion on what a rider could improve on, you will develop specificity in your observations and formulate informed, more helpful comments.
Aside from developing an appreciation for correct basics, judging dressage shows can also help you become more attentive to the basics of the Training Scale instead of just focusing on the description of the movement. As a judge, you will always be an advocate for the horses. Hence, you will learn not only to correct the rider’s position, but also to assess how the aids affect the performance of the horse. You will learn to always keep a close eye on rhythm issues, and you will be able to differentiate clearly between impulsion issues and submission issues.
At the end of the day, becoming a dressage show judge will improve and refine your skills as a rider. You will not only gain a clearer perspective on what quality riding should look like, but you will also have the opportunity to see first-hand the impact attention to detail and fine-tuning. Obtaining both of these perspectives will undoubtedly help you know where you, as rider, can continue to work on and where the sport in general should be moving towards in the future.