Jeff Moore Gets The “L” Program Off To A Great Start!
by Sandra Adair

Vast knowledge, great stories, and deep compassion for both horse and rider are just a few of the things that Jeff Moore shared during the USDF’s new “L” program, hosted by the Houston Dressage Society. Thirteen “Learner Judge” candidates and 34 auditors braved the inclement weather January 24th and 25th to attend Session A of this new program designed to train prospective Training through Second Level judges. It is also for anyone interested in gaining a better understanding of gaits, movements, and concepts such as balance, frame, suppleness, impulsion and throughness. We need to remind ourselves that the purpose of the USAE tests is to guide us in the correct and systematic training of a dressage horse, and each judge ascertains how well we’re doing our job. Whether we compete or not, every moment we’re on our horses we are “training” them, correctly or not. By teaching us what a judge looks for, the “L” program can helps us become better trainers, better riders, and if we show, better competitors. As you read this review, keep in mind that we went non-stop for two days, and covered more than 70 pages of handouts (that we were so grateful Mr. Moore provided!) It would be impossible to summarize everything covered in this clinic in a page or two. However, this month in Part I, I will give you the essence of Session A, and what I considered the highlights and most helpful hints, and will delve deeper into the topics next month in Part II.

Introduction to Judging

Saturday’s lecture began with general issues for judging. Even though this section was most pertinent to the prospective judges, we all benefited from looking at the Dressage section of the USAE Rule Book. If you haven’t looked at it in a while, I’d highly recommend it. In addition to giving detailed criteria for all the movements, it clarifies all the rules, such as errors, use of voice, ties, and elimination. Jeff encouraged everyone to diagram their tests, in order to be clear where a movement not only began but ended (the first letter of the next movement), and to use the directive ideas to help identify the key components of each. He pointed out that even though the scoring scale is from 0 to 10, judges score mostly from 5 to 7, sometimes a 4 or 8, and rarely less or more. It was good to remember that a 4 is insufficient, 5 sufficient, 6 satisfactory, 7 fairly good, and 8 good! We may have begun to think that 7’s and 8’s are unattainable instead of what we should be aiming for in our everyday training. To do that, we need to pay as much or more attention to the collective remarks as we do to the movements themselves. Even the Basic Score for each movement is determined by evaluating not only the execution of the movement, but also the purity and soundness of the gait, and the submission and impulsion shown. The Basic Score is further adjusted by Modifiers such as the quality of the corners, shying, jigging, resistance, and the less central parts of the movement (like the transition to halt before the rein-back). We started to get an idea of how many “separate tapes” a judge must be able to run simultaneously, and how, as riders, we must be able to do the same thing! When our minds began to boggle, Jeff would lighten things up with a story (like the scribe that interpreted the comment “wandering X to C” as “wondering ecstasy”!) We broke for lunch with a renewed appreciation for the special skill and hard work it takes to be a judge!


Saturday afternoon Jeff introduced us to biomechanics, the study of the way muscles move bones to create action. We looked at the horse as a machine to better understand how and why it moves the way it does. One of the most interesting topics in this section was the neck, the horse’s major means of balance. Jeff had us empathize with our riding partner by visualizing carrying a box of books weighing 150 pounds (the weight of their head) at arms length! The neck is also the most easily influenced part of the horse and the clearest visual indicator as to what is going on in the back. One of the handouts showed us what we see when a horse is “round”. The jugular groove (where a vet puts a tube down their throat) is clearly delineated, and the complexus musculature, the set of muscles just under the crest, extends from behind the ears all the way to the shoulder. Add to that a softly swinging tail, and the picture of a horse stretching over its topline is complete. We learned that it’s impossible for the horse to bend evenly from his head to his tail, and that “rigid jaws” is actually a function of tight neck muscles! Jeff taught us the importance of oscillation, the up and down movement of the neck, and how a rigid rider can block this motion in the walk and ruin the gait.

Dressage Terminology

The liveliest discussion of the weekend addressed the terms and concepts of our sport that are most frequently misunderstood or misused. Some of the problems stem from inaccurate translations from other languages. The French phrase, from which we derived the term impulsion, literally means “the desire to carry oneself forward,” which adds an element of self-carriage to our translation, “the desire to move forward.” There are normal English words with invented meaning, such as engagement and regularity. Last but not least, there are those concepts no one ever quite clearly defines, like ‘follow the movement’, ‘over the back’, ‘in front of your seat’. I will address the wealth of information Jeff gave us defining and clarifying dressage terminology in Part II.


We spent Sunday afternoon watching riders perform movements from the various levels, and learned what to look at and what to look for. As a trainer or a rider (you can always video yourself), looking at a ride from a judge’s point of view gives you not only feedback to improve your score, but more importantly an indication of how correctly your training is progressing. We, along with the judge, should assess the regularity and quality of the gaits, the impulsion, submission, straightness and throughness shown. We need to evaluate not only the execution of each movement, but also whether or not its purpose (e.g., to supple, to collect) is fulfilled. We repeatedly saw the importance of tempo, fluency, engagement, elasticity, roundness, reach, steadiness and self-carriage. Again, as I cannot do this valuable information justice by condensing it into a single paragraph, I will give it the attention it deserves in Part II as well.

I’m sure I speak for everyone that attended this session when I extend a huge thank-you to Jeff Moore, for his commitment to improving the quality of our sport, to Nancy Kempe, for her endless work in organizing this program for HDS, to Christy Raisbeck and Freestyle Farm, for being such gracious hosts, and to the demo riders, without whom we would not have been able to see the theory in action.

If you were unable to attend Session A, HDS plans to add a video of the weekend to its library. For more information on Session C, which will be held March 20th and 21st, contact Nancy Kempe at 281-242-6329 or


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