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Friday, October 31, 2008

October 31st – No Spooks Here!

It’s Halloween, but none of the fifty zillion kids in the Exhibition and Trade Fair (think Royal and Spruce combined, then quadrupled – and all under one roof) is dressed up in anything weirder than French fashion.

When I am in a foreign country I try really hard to speak the language. I would say that my French is good enough to get by, but I’m no Nicho Meredith, that’s for sure. Now, French people have a special quality that so far I find unique in all the cultures where I have tried out my language skills. When I ask a question in French, before I get an answer, I often get a correction to my grammar. Last night is a perfect case in point. I felt like a burger. It was on the menu (a fancy one: Limousin beef, shaved parmeson, potato pancake for a bun, and arugula on the side). So I asked for it in my best French accent: un hamburger si-vous-plait. I got a puzzled response. “un ammboorguerre” I said again. “It’s not a hamburger,” was the reply. “It’s a burger.” Anyway, it was a good burger. And she was right, after all. There was no ham in it.

Into the Bellies of the Beasts

So after all my shoulder-checking at the GDF, it has been here in France that I’ve got up close and personal with the judges. It started on Wednesday evening as I was driven by horse show shuttle from the airport to the hotel. There was another passenger in the vehicle with me, and it was only after a few minutes of friendly chat in the dark that I realized I was talking to the Hungarian judge from Hong Kong, Barnabas Mandi. It was a few more minutes before the penny dropped for him. We were discussing the judging, and I happened to mention that I recalled he had given Salinero an eight for a rather croup-high set of ones on centre line in the Speciale. Dr. Mandi is a real gentleman, and first he thanked me for finding his ‘only mistake’. He then told me in a very polite, almost friendly, tone of voice that what I was doing – meaning the blog – was a perfect way to destroy the sport. I (also politely) disagreed of course. Mr. Mandi was in fact quite fascinating to talk to, and while I am reluctant to write too much of what he said here, since it was an off-the-record conversation and betraying trust is not one of my sins, here are a few items we touched on that I am pretty sure he’s ok with me sharing:

  1. He pointed out to me that he gave the only zero that Satchmo received for his piaffe-passage transition at G, saying that the only way the movement could have been less performed than it was, is if Satchmo had left the ring. Actually he wasn’t the only one. J. M. Roudier gave zero too.

  2. He also pointed out Stickland’s analysis (this guy is really popular with the judges, I must say), which revealed that the judges didn’t differ by more than 5% in Hong Kong. I guess Stickland meant the final marks, because there is a hell of a lot of difference between a zero and a six. Mr. Mandi didn’t much like the word ‘solidarity’, which I offered as a descriptor of how the judges were in Hong Kong, but he was ok with ‘on the same page’.

  3. I was interested to know what Dr. Mandi does besides judging these days, and he said he was just on his way from working with some top jumping horses (in Holland or Belgium I think) whose flat work he trains. “I don’t train international dressage horses, of course,” he said, the implication being that doing so is a conflict of interest for an international judge. Hm.

I was quite pleased to have spoken to one of the Hong Kong judges, because it gave me an opportunity to say that I wasn’t trying to destroy the sport. And it wasn’t scary at all! It also made that judge more human to me, and I will never again be afraid to ask Dr. Mandi a question about his judging directly.

I guess you could say I’m getting Christmas early this year, because yesterday after the Grand Prix, Mariette Withages and Ghislain Fouarge (dammit! I keep putting an ‘s’ on his name) approached me after the press conference. Mariette told me she had read on my blog that I had questions for her at the GDF, and I replied that I did indeed. We then had a conversation about all kinds of things. A man sitting nearby later said it sounded like we were arguing but if he thought that was an argument, I’d hate for him to witness what my husband and I call arguments. No, Mariette was very polite and open to my questions, and she was unhesitant in her replies, which she knew were getting written down in my book. When I asked her why more riders don’t come to the GDF, she advised me to ask the riders (I’m on it!). She then said that “some people are thinking that they can rule the world,” and that there is “no mutual respect any more.” She also added that the judges aren’t afraid to be criticized, and that they know that in a subjective sport like dressage, “we are the weakest link.” Hm.

That’s just a taste of what we talked about, and rest assured it was not one sided. I said that my intent is not to just attack the judges, but that if no journalists were going be critical of them, that left the riders to do it, and they sure aren’t in a position to do that publicly without fear of retribution. I think the conversation ended on a civil note, at least outwardly it did.

Now Mr. Fouarge (no ‘s’!) stayed behind to have a word with me too. He too was incredibly polite, but now I know it’s really true. All the Olympic judges read my blog. Mr. Fouarge took issue with my calling him something that judges aren’t normally called, but there was some confusion because he had believed I was quoting Steffen Peters when I used the name. Out of newly gained respect for Mr. Fouarge and a desire that he will speak frankly to me again some time, I will not write that name again – but if you are really curious, go to my GPS judging analysis in the HOG blog. Now I need to email Steffen and explain that I did not quote him in reference to Fouarge in any way.

Setting the Record Straight

This is what I learned from Mr. Fouarge that I wish I knew in Hong Kong. The reason he rang the bell in Carex’s ear was because of a new policy adopted by the jury to give each rider exactly 60 seconds from the time he or she entered the stadium until the bell rang. Carex just happened to be in front of C at that moment, and while he says he waited a bit in hopes that he wouldn’t startle the horse, Mr. Fouarge was compelled not to treat one rider differently – he had to ring that bell at 60 seconds. What also happened to make matters worse is that something from the electronics under his table fell and made a small crashing sound. Why that wasn’t explained to the media during the press conference after Ken Braddick asked about the Swedish protest is beyond me. It would have made SUCH a difference. The other clarification: Mr. Fouarge never said that Debbie should be ashamed of herself for showing Brentina. He did make a critical comment on her test sheet, but not THAT critical. These Chinese Whisper games can get way out of hand.

To Mr. Fouarge I would like to say: I’m sorry I assumed you were an evil judge-monster in Hong Kong. You were extremely civilized in talking with me yesterday, and I am looking forward to future conversations that will prevent such a misinterpretation of events from happening again. No, people, I’m not sucking up. I know you would all stop reading the blog if you thought I was caving. But he really was open, listened to me with respect, and I will never hesitate from asking him questions in the future – even if they are hard ones. And my opinions are always open for revision. Always. That includes changing them back to what they were before if there is evidence that I was right in the first place. Hm.

Painted Brown

No big surprise – Anky won the Grand Prix yesterday, but not by much over Nathalie the Danish rider with the awful-to-spell last name. Anky apparently doesn’t ride Painted Black in prize givings ever since he so ungraciously bucked her off at a show last year. Instead, she did her victory lap and wave on the horse of the other Dutch rider in the dressage here – a very cute bay that reminds me a little of my own little Dutch dressage partner at home, my beloved Theo.

Today’s blog was really dedicated to the judges, but tomorrow I’ll share more about the delights of Equita-Lyon. And no more blogging about food, I promise.

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