Does Dressage Need Golf Handicaps?

In her post, Our Responsibility To Dressage Judges, Bonnie Walker says that

There has been much talk about placing a different standard of testing for the adult amateur versus the professional …

Wtf? Seriously? Incidentally, Ms. Walker does not approve

… and I am against this. While my sympathies lie with the AA who gets slammed at a show THERE IS A REASON. It is not as though your judge sees you enter the ring all doe-eyed and adorable and grins with malice.

With Previous Horse, I spent many years in hunter/jumper land. It always seemed to me that the amateurs were regarded with a faint air of condescension. Necessary as cash cows but not quite real riders. (Yes, I was an amateur. Yes, it reflects my insecurities. Doesn’t mean I’m wrong.) Now a group of folks are volunteering to enter into that arrangement?

In case, I am being too subtle, I am whole-heartedly against easing of standards. If you want respect as a rider, go out and earn it. In addition, it’s not as simple as professionals vs. amateurs. Compare an amateur rider supported by a well-off family to a professional who teaches 14 beginner lessons and then rides his competition horse by headlights. I know where my sympathies lie.

If we must take action to appease folks, I offer this suggestion, courtesy of Hubby:

Rider Handicaps for Dressage

Here’s how I see it working. Judges proceed normally. Raw scores are posted in one column. Next to it is a multiplier based on experience, previous wins, past scores, what-have-you. Ribbons are award based on the adjusted score. As you improve, your handicap at that level goes down, discouraging riders from dwelling at a certain level. A ride at a new level gets a bigger handicap, cutting riders a bit of slack, inviting people to move up. The multiplier would be small enough to adjust for the halo effect without covering egregious errors in riding. While this would have been a bear 20 years ago, computers could be programmed to input the handicap along with other rider data.

Exceptions could be made. Raw scores could be used for qualifiers, or moving up, or whatever. Upper levels &/or bigger shows would not allow handicaps. After all, if you aren’t a scratch rider, what are you doing there?

A lot more math needs to be done, but the basic idea is on any given day, every rider has a chance to win the class. Golf does it. Hubby’s crew regattas do it. Horse racing is built on it. There is no inherent reason handicapping wouldn’t work.

What think you? Ask your friends. Post the link on forums and bulletin boards. I hereby invite the Internet firestorm telling me why this is a horrible idea.

6 thoughts on “Does Dressage Need Golf Handicaps?

  1. Ooooooh Mama are you going to light some fires! Good one. Don’t lower the standards (I agree – if you want respect, earn it), just level the playing field and encourage (or require) those individuals who should move up to do so. Eventing has a grading system which requires good horses to compete at their appropriate levels.

    I keep remembering when Moses and I were competing at First Level (where we belonged) and were getting beaten regularly by a top local professional on a horse which was competing First, Second and Third levels (at the same show!) and took year-end awards in all 3 levels. I guess when you are paid by the ride, and get a bonus for each win (that was the pro’s arrangement with her owner), you do crap like that, but it wasn’t much fun for the rest of us.

    We have the same problem in ballroom dancing. There are people who dance in a lower bracket because they can win, and winning puts money in their hands and in the pockets of their professional partners. I guess that any time money’s involved, there are going to be people who play by the letter, and not the spirit, of the rules.

    I don’t want to be coddled because I am an amateur – I want to compete against legitimate standards against my peers (my real peers, not just anyone who is “slumming” or picking up an easy win in my class by completely outclassing us) on a level playing field.

  2. My initial thought is that it’s not a good idea, because there will be endless arguing and COTH forum-quarterbacking about how wrong the multipliers are … I guess the question is how big a problem is this? Granted, I am an eventer and we can compete against other peons by riding in the “rider” division (never competed more than 2 levels higher). If we all competed in “open” divisions (against pros) I’d probably be upset about it. Does dressage not separate green riders with no higher experience? If so, maybe that would be the way to go instead of a subjectively defined coefficient.

  3. Agree on the “armchair quarterbacking” debate. Dressage has adult amateur divisions (which are usually populated by the landed gentry, leaving us peons in the same boat), but otherwise, you’re on your own, and there’s no real criterion to keep the Prix St. Georg’s riders out of Training and First level.

  4. In dressage, you are essentially riding against yourself. Your last score, you next score. THESE are your goals. Whether you leave the ring with a ribbon or not really isn’t part of the equation. Says I. 😉

      1. Although I’ve got to add that to get consistently beaten by pros who don’t belong in the class (yes, it’s Open, and yes she can technically ride the Third level horse in the Open First) can be a little disappointing. I’ve been around long enough to understand that if I’ve turned in a 50% test that merited 50%, getting beaten by a 65% is acceptable. If I’ve put in a 65% (the ride of the year for me) and I’m getting beaten by a pro who put in a 72% ride at a level she should have left two years ago, it’s not quite the same feeling. I agree that it’s me riding against my last score, but still…

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