Notes from the Judge’s Box with Robyn Fisher

Welcome to a new column brought to you by the team at Galway Downs in Temecula, CA! As we gear up for a full slate of fun at the Galway Eventing Championships (November 1-5), which

Notes from the Judge’s Box with Robyn Fisher

Welcome to a new column brought to you by the team at Galway Downs in Temecula, CA! As we gear up for a full slate of fun at the Galway Eventing Championships (November 1-5), which will host the USEF CCI4*-L National Championship, as well as Young Rider Championships and Area VI Championships among many other competition offerings, we’ll be bringing you more content from Galway Downs. Learn more about Galway Downs here.

Robyn Fisher and Betawave. Photo by Libby Law Photography.

Dressage is sometimes dissed as the dull phase of eventing. FEI Level 2 and “S” National Eventing judge Robyn Fisher disagrees.

And not because she’s the proverbial “DQ – dressage queen” who hasn’t experienced the thrill of galloping cross country or flying to a fault-free show jumping finalé — she has!

Robyn has done all that and more in her career as a professional rider, trainer and coach. Her R Farms in Moorpark, CA is a hub for young horse development – dressage and eventing horses — and she coaches amateur and seasoned professional equestrians.

Since starting the rigorous educational journey of earning the USEF’s eventing judge certification in 2011, Robyn has delved deeply into the art of dressage — its execution from the saddle and its evaluation from the judge’s box. She’s a regular on the West Coast eventing circuit and will be part of the Ground Jury at the West Coast eventing season finalé, the Galway Downs Fall International Nov. 1-5.

Thanks to Robyn for taking the time to share a few horsemanship tips from her judge’s perspective.

Galway Gazette: How did your deep dive into dressage come about?

Robyn: I chose to explore the judging program in 2011. Amy Tryon was a very close, dear friend to me and she encouraged me the most to move forward with getting my license. Once I did the first seminar, I was hooked.

The first seminar made it clear that there was/is so much more to learn about a sport I had been living for over 30 years. I tell people who are starting out passionately that you can end up going down a rabbit hole because there are so many fascinating facets to the sport of dressage.

GG: What is your goal for your judging career?

Robyn: My goal is to judge championships and the Olympics one day. Because of that, I have not fast-tracked getting my FEI licenses because I think it’s really important to do right by the riders.

At that level, officials have a duty to get it right for the competitors. It’s important that judges, like riders, continue to learn and have mentors to inspire and educate. I am testing for my Level 3 FEI license this fall and will then be able to officiate as president of the ground jury, at the 4* level.

GG: What are some relatively easy ways to maximize points in a test?

Robyn: It’s so important that the riders read the directives of the test. The directives are the criteria of what judges are looking for in each movement.

GG: What are some common weak points for eventers in dressage?

Robyn: I think the majority of eventers see the dressage phase as a means to an end– meaning they have to do it in order to do the cross-country. I think riders should shift that thinking into understanding that proper dressage schooling will maximize your horse’s competition longevity and soundness, as well as the rideability in the jumping phases.

GG: Can you share any unofficial tips and tricks?

Robyn: Know your test so well that you can focus on good riding rather than on remembering where you need to go. So often nerves influence, positively or negatively, a performance. If you can focus on the performance rather than remembering the pattern, you will tend to have a smoother test.

GG: What things most positively influence a judge?

Robyn: A happy horse. If I see a horse that is doing its test so willing and supple and looks like it’s smiling, usually that will leave an impression.

Also, the judges first look for rhythm and relaxation at every level. Riders need to know and fundamentally understand what rhythm and relaxation mean and how to build upon them.

Dressage is not about making a horse put its head down in a frame. Rather, it’s about getting the horse in a balance that allows for ease of movement, self-carriage, and harmony. That means a horse working with biomechanical correctness from the hind legs, pushing through the body, in an uphill balance. A rider can pull a horse’s head In and do the movements, but that won’t win.

Riders need to understand the correct biomechanics in their horse’s movements. Once they can execute the fundamentals, the points will come.