Mar 12, 2018

Ten Tips for Volunteering as a Dressage Scribe

Amber Heintzberger Photo.

Volunteering is a great way to be involved in horse sports, whether you are an active competitor who wants to give back or you are a horse enthusiast who just wants to be involved. Every competitor in eventing must ride a dressage test, and every dressage judge at a horse trials or three-day event is required to have a scribe to write down their comments and scores during each ride so that they can focus on the horse and rider in front of them. That means that there is a great need for volunteers who are capable of scribing. This can be a great way to give back to the sport and get to know what happens in the judge’s booth - but there is a little more to scribing than being able to quickly write things down.

USEF licensed “r” Judge and USDF Gold Medalist Jacquelyn Stapel recently conducted a seminar for people interested in scribing at Four Farthings Farm in Northern New Jersey. She offered tips to make your scribing session run smoothly for both you and the judge.

  1. Make sure the rider has a good idea overall what the judge said about them while they’re in the arena. The competitor is relying on your notes to communicate the judge’s thoughts, so you want to write down as much as you can, as clearly as you can.
  2. How to dress: be neat and clean, but dress for comfort. You will be sitting there for a long time, and judge’s boxes are often open to the elements, so dress appropriately for the weather. Bring sunblock, sunglasses and a (not floppy) hat in case the sun shines directly onto you. If it’s cold, bring a warm jacket and gloves – it’s hard to write if your hands are frozen! A few hot packs are helpful too, but take it easy on the warm or cold drinks, since you can’t take a bathroom break until it fits the schedule.
  3. Do bring your own water to drink, and maybe a few snacks, but lunch should be provided.
  4. About that schedule: dressage shows and horse trials are planned to the minute. Try to arrive around 15 minutes early so that you can meet the judge and get situated before the start of the competition.
  5. Keep the gossip in check. If you’re scribing at a local show it may be tempting to tell the judge all about your good friend’s struggles with her OTTB, or how amazing her new imported warmblood moves, but the judge should be starting the competition with a clean slate. Let him or her firm their own opinions about the horse and rider in front of them.
  6. You will have a lot of paperwork to keep track of. Make sure that the test you are writing on matches the bridle number of the horse that is about to enter the arena. Papers can get out of order, a horse might scratch, or someone may have dropped a stack of papers and put them back in the wrong order. Getting off track with one test can set you off on the wrong foot for a whole string of entries. Don’t be afraid to call out to the rider to confirm their number before they go into the arena (the judge will need a few moments to write their own comments down between horses).
  7. Find out common abbreviations for dressage terminology, and use them. There are no strict dressage scribing shorthand rules, but you’ll be writing a lot of notes throughout the day and need to get the point across as succinctly as possible. You can draw pictures of an O for a circle, or draw a square to describe a square halt.
  8. Your job is to write the judge’s comments and the scores. If you do not hear the judge, or miss a score, ASK THEM. It’s very difficult to go back and figure out what number should be assigned to a particular movement, so it’s better to briefly interrupt by asking them to repeat the score as quickly as possible.
  9. Be sure to write down full points and half points. Rather than writing “7”, write “7.0” for full points or “7.5” for half points. You do not need to write down coefficients, and you do not need to calculate final scores – the scorer will handle that.
  10. If you get behind and have to choose between writing down a comment and writing down a score, always record the score. You can leave the comment section blank for a movement or two if you need to catch up.

It’s easiest to start out with the lower levels – find a schooling dressage show to give scribing a try, and give yourself a chance to learn the ropes. Maybe at your next event you’ll be hanging out in the judge’s box!

Check out this short video of Jacquelyn Stapel talking about the importance of abbreviations and how competitiors can brush up on their terminology with the USDF Glossary of  Judging Terms.
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