Marks system – good or bad?

I am normally a fan of Simon Reynolds’ column – saying it how it is, not scared to be a bit controversial, bringing up current topics. But this week, discussing the marks system in showing and I have to object.I agree with him when it comes to “the same old rumblings” – it does seem to be a continual debate, seemingly as endless as the EU referendum. But I disagree that marks are a bad idea.

Simon says (excuse the pun!) “Putting marks on paper leaves judges open to scrutiny” – Yes it does. When you stand in a ring willing to judge a class of horses, your opinion will be questioned, disagreed with and possibly criticised. But you stand by your decision and people can scrutinize as they wish. I don’t see how putting 19 out of 40 on a piece of paper is any more open to scrutiny than calling a horse in fourth?

He also remarks “poor stewards recording and adding them up” – surely a steward having to use a calculator isn’t enough of a reason not to have marks!?

The wonderful David Ingle was the first person to make me actually think twice about using marks – he said he preferred no marks because then judges had to communicate and justify their decisions with a second judge. Very valid point. But then maybe we add further communication but don’t remove marks. I would happily say I gave a horse 32 because of X, Y, Z…. This would surely even actually be better? Rather than “I really like that one” but “I am not so sure about that one”.

Simon also refers to the communication issue. As a “younger” judge I sometimes find it hard particularly when a very senior judge disagrees with me. My opinion is not necessarily less valuable but maybe I am just not so forthright in my communication and so my opinion is less considered? At least if I write down a mark it is there and has affect.

Simon’s comment about not pulling in after a go round I find truly fascinating, saying it “often alerts me that they are either lost or waiting to see who comes in to groom.” Really !? That is a scary reality. But to be honest I would be more worried by judges that “choose the one that looked like a winner” – surely that sounds more like the face fitting!?

There is then the marking standard question – getting 6 out of 10 at one show and then 9 out of 10 at another show, even with the same judge. When you have a class of good horses do you have to underscore some and overscore others so you don’t have lots on joint marks? Or do you set a benchmark and then go up and down from there – meaning competitors need to look at the class as a whole rather than just their individual mark alone.


dressage marks sheets
Dressage marks and comments – maybe the way forward?
Dressage uses marks and it works. I love the suspense of waiting to see if they score higher – Charlotte Dujardin winning by a fraction of a percentage… I would love to hear a conversation between Charlotte and Carl Hester if they didn’t have marks. “That section of your test was medium good”, “I won and I think I was way ahead of the Dutch horse because the judge said they really liked my test and only liked their test.”

Marks are sometimes the only real feedback competitors get. In BSPS working hunter pony classes, I used to really value the marks. If I went under a judge and got a poor style mark for jumping and the higher scorers were more forward rounds, I would know what I needed to do next time.

Simon criticises the system saying “the winner will be the horse both judges don’t mind, but who could have been one judge’s third place.” But aren’t we looking for the overall best? Isn’t that exactly right?

Corrupt judges will be corrupt whether there are marks or no marks. That is not the issue. But suggesting that showing would be better without the “restriction and rigidity of marks” I have to disagree with.

I would love to hear your thoughts……

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  1. Yes I think scores are fab feedback to get, while you might not always agree with them at least you have something concrete to reflect on and to know how you did compared to the winner as much easier to compare to your past performance and to others performance than vague comments. So easier to goal set and things too. Have you seen the new Riding Club dressage/riding tests? These are scored on the rider skills rather than on the horses paces or way of going, and they seem to be really popular with friends of mine for exactly the reason that they get marks directly related to their own performance. Though how the ’empathy’ category is marked is another question perhaps for another blog?! Thanks Daisy enjoyed reading again x

  2. Whilst I appreciate the angst re: marks, having only ever shown hunters as a ‘grown up’ I have never had marks. I have always had to objectively critique my performance and honestly admit to myself why I was in the position I was in. The absence of marks has not affected me and my horse has improved year on year watching and listening

    I am a home produced amateur, I do come up against the professionals in open classes and professionally produced amateurs in amateur classes and yes, sometimes, I wonder why the line up is as it is, and naturally sometimes politics come in to play, but with the absence of marks to focus and obsess on I have to look at my own performance and the quality of my animal before I start cribbing those placed above me

    So perhaps yes, away with marks would make people look more at themselves and their performance in the ring at the time, rather than at points on a score sheet after the paint dried

    Do marks give people a reason to account their place to someone elses agenda rather than be honestly objectively?? ( sweeping statement apologies, and not meant to irritate just debate)

  3. The success of Facebook has proved that we’re all craving for some kind of feedback. Numerous studies have shown that what gets rewarded gets repeated. However, in the top level of showing your presence is barely acknowledged so it’s no wonder that riders often won’t enter a show until they know who the judge is – it’s the only marker they have to know if their horse may get placed or not. It would be really helpful to have a mark to understand in which areas you might improve.

    1. Interesting point about Facebook. And yes feedback is what we learn from and marks seem a very valuable way to deliver!

  4. Showing needs to be more transparent if it is to continue. Entries are down at almost all major shows. Something needs to change. Marks would at least give amateurs some idea of how far off they are.

    1. Agree that if judging you need to have the courage of your convictions and award marks, especially if a large class. Sorry but you cannot judge 30 ponies fairly without writing something down. To be honest you will not remember individual ponies, it needs something to stand out, I will not go any further. I am not a fan of an initial pull in after the go round. If you are not in the right place at the right time you can easily be missed and if a judge is influenced by this initial pull in, then you might as well give the rosettes there and then. Sorry I experienced one class where the marks decreased in order of the pull in. So the judge was able to order the 30ish ponies – who had not gone round together but in 2 groups – and get the placings correct!! Really, who do you think you are kidding? I just want to be judged fairly, transparency is vital, more important than winning, we cannot all win.

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