Prepare to Scribe

Learn what it takes to sit with a judge and record their scores/comments at a dressage show.

The following article was originally printed in the April 2010 issue of Dressage Today.

A?scribe is the person who sits with the judge on show day and writes down the scores and comments on the dressage tests. I have done a lot of scribing for dressage judges, especially during my U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) “L” Education Program. Although I am comfortable with the process now, the first time I scribed I was like a nervous competitor. The night before, I worried that the judge would expect me to know more. I was certain that I would ruin someone’s test and management would kick me out of the show. Of course, none of these imagined horrors came to pass. Instead, my first scribing experience was like every other I have had since: I learned more about how to ride a better test and what the judges were looking for at each level, the complex nature of scoring and matching a comment for each movement, and much more. The added?benefit is that it is free education.

Anyone can be a scribe. For example, I successfully taught my “civilian” boyfriend to scribe for me during my USDF “L” Education Program, in about two hours. People interested in scribing often tell me they do not feel qualified or prepared. With the new dressage tests this year, I am sure there are even more concerns about scribing tests they may not have seen yet. However, I often find that the people smart enough to ask questions about the position before they sign up for the job are generally quite prepared to scribe.

Show organizers love scribes. They serve a crucial role in the sport because shows would be forced to raise prices if it were not for these volunteers. Once you are ready to become a scribe, here are some tips that may be helpful as you head to your first show:

1. Schooling shows are excellent preparation. Just like a competitor, consider a schooling show before you go on to a recognized competition. At my first schooling show, I sat with the morning scribe and then felt ready to help the judge in the afternoon.

2. Scribing involves writing for eight hours. Remember when your hand went numb the first day back at school, after writing down everything the teacher said? Prepare yourself for a similar feeling. After writing down every score and comment for every dressage test, the quality of your handwriting will slowly go downhill and you will get fatigued. We are all human. It is safe to ask a judge to repeat something or tell them you are having a problem keeping up (because your hand is asleep or for any other reason).

3. Check the weather and dress appropriately. The best dressed I have ever been for a show was on a day that it was chilly and raining in the morning. Before lunch, the temperature climbed to 85 degrees and the humidity close to 100 percent. I wore light capri pants and a sleeveless polo under a rain suit with rubber boots. Packed in my bag was a wool cardigan, a pair of sandals and an entire change of (warm and cool) clothing, including underwear. When I discovered that I had to climb through muddy grass to get to our judge’s stand (a truck), I was very happy to have the boots. Once I got to the car, I put the boots and rain suit in the back seat to dry and slipped on my sandals for the rest of the morning. Having the wool cardigan kept me warm, even though I was damp, until the sun came out.

4. Know as much as you can. The more you know about dressage, the easier it will be to figure out what the judge is asking you to write down. It doesn’t hurt to review the show schedule and dressage test sheets before the day of the show. When in doubt, tell the volunteer coordinator/show manager that you are new and want to scribe for a judge that is covering only lower-level tests.

5. Arrive at the show early. Depending on how far you are from the show grounds, try to get there at least 30 to 45 minutes before your ring’s first ride.

6. Check in with the volunteer coordinator, identify and locate your judge and ring, pick up your judge’s supplies (updated day sheets for your ring, test sheets, red and black/blue pens, bells/whistles, snacks/drinks, a writing surface if you are in a truck, etc.) and get to the ring to prepare your supplies.

7. Once you arrive at your judge’s stand, organize yourself so that you have a secure place to store everything. Make sure the judge has a clean copy of each test (if they want it), their bells/whistles and pens (blue/black and red) and snacks/drinks. You need to have access to the clean tests with a rider’s name and number on each, a place for completed tests and a clear writing surface.

8. When the judge arrives, make sure they brief you on how they score. Unlike the competitors, who simply need to review the order of movements in the test (halt at X, turn left at C, etc.), the judge and scribe need to pay attention to the score (from 0 to 10) for each movement (for example, Training Level, Test 1 has 14 movements); comments on the movements (for example, “Walked into unsquare halt.”); and where to write those scores and comments on the test sheet.

Before the first test, determine what system your judge has for organizing these aspects of the test. Some judges will identify the movement number and then assign their score and comments in that order; others will say only the score with comments after or vice versa. Equally likely examples of what you might hear for Movement 1 (A, Enter Working Trot):

? “Movement one. Straight entry. Walked into halt?5.”

? “Straight entry. Walked into halt?5.”

? “5.”

Also, some judges will ask you to write the scores and comments for the Collective Marks and Further Remarks at the bottom of each test sheet, under the movements. Others prefer to do some or all of it themselves. Ask what your judge prefers and when they want you to pass them the test?after you write the last movement’s score and comments? After the Collective Marks? After the Further Remarks? Or, at the end just, to sign the test? Regardless of when this happens, all judges must sign each of their tests before handing it in to the person collecting tests for the show.

9. As the rider enters the arena, you are responsible for identifying the competitor’s number before the judge rings the bell for them to begin their test. Make sure it matches the updated day sheet for the class’s order of go and the name/number on the test you are marking. The judge will ring the bell, and you will probably have your head down much of the time, as you write.

10. As the test begins, even if you are the next U.S. Olympic coach, do not give your thoughts on a rider, change/omit comments on the test that you do not agree with or talk to the rider without asking the judge first. A scribe’s opinion on the competitors does not matter. Assume that anything and everything that is said in the judge’s box is confidential, especially the scores and comments that are given to a competitor.

Your red pen is for scoring errors exactly as the judge asks you to. Only write down what they tell you to write. Do not put -2 (for the first error) or -4 (for the second error) anywhere unless the judge tells you. If you think they have forgotten something in scoring an error, check with the judge before writing anything.

Pass the test to the judge, make sure they sign it and put it into the completed pile (out of the wind). Pick up the next competitor’s test, check the bridle number, write the scores and comments, pass the test to the judge and then add it to the pile. Repeat until your next break.

As you can see, scribing can be challenging and educational. Eventually, you will find that breaks leave you time to ask the judge about the new dressage tests or hear about the dressage scene in their area of the country. Where else can you get a whole day to learn one-on-one with a dressage expert for free with lunch included?

Hilary Moore

Hilary Moore is a Maryland-based dressage trainer, FEI competitor and Senior Editor at Dressage Today. She is a USDF Associate Instructor and graduate of the “L” Education Program. (

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