USEF “S” Dressage Judge Comes to Central Arkansas by Eileen Krause

Feb 5, 2018 by

USEF “S” Dressage Judge Comes to Central Arkansas by Eileen Krause

*Special thank you to ADS member Eileen Krause for sharing this wonderful article on our dressage symposium with Melonie Kessler (in December 2017).  Be sure to check out her article in Horseman’s Roundup magazine.

USEF “S” Dressage Judge Comes to Central Arkansas

By Eileen Krause

Melonie Kessler, an FEI trainer and “S” judge (the highest designation for judges in the US Equestrian Federation) conducted a very successful symposium for Arkansas Dressage Society — “On the Levels: What You Need Now and What You Need to Move Up.” The symposium took place December 2-3, 2017, at Fletcher Farms in Cabot.

Kessler began her education under cavalryman Frank Danver, who taught her both to stay soft in the horse’s mouth and to be considerate of the horse. Ms. Kessler continued her education in Training and Stable Management classes at Pleasant Hollow Farms in Pennsylvania, and then under many well-known trainers including Olympic Bronze Medalist, multiple Pan Am Gold Medalist, and six-time National Grand Prix Champion, Hilda Gurney. Kessler is a competitor and FEI trainer (FEI is Federation Equestre Internationale. The FEI regulates and judges international equine competitions such as the Olympics and the World Cup.) She is also a well-known and well-liked national judge and clinician. She has earned her own USDF Bronze, Silver and Gold medals and trained students through their levels to the USDF Gold Medals. She has also qualified horses at all levels including Grand Prix for Regional and National Championships.

At Fletcher Farms, Kessler clarified the new dressage tests’ requirements, as well as how they are judged and scored. She discussed the need for US dressage riders to step up and work harder to regain their position in international competition. She emphasized that scores are not participation awards. Competitors should earn them. A good dressage rider is a thinking rider who listens constantly to her horse, makes adjustments as she rides, and maintains respect for the horse.

Our own brave volunteer demo riders (from Training level through FEI level) were excellent at each level. Demo riders at a symposium volunteer to have their riding critiqued, judged, and sometimes scored in public. Kessler helped them recognize both their strengths and areas of needed improvement. She pointed out how a judge would view their rides and where they could readily gain or lose points. Many times very small adjustments made significant changes in the riders and their horses – both in attitude and in performance; changes that were readily apparent to the rider and very visible to the spectators.

Kessler has two constants in her symposiums, clinics, training, and lessons:

  1. Safety is always first. Dressage has made great strides by requiring helmets. Kessler believes they did not go far enough. They did not ban the whip. Most accidents in the arena involve the whip.
  2. People must understand that at no time is the horse to be compromised either physically or mentally to achieve a result, and that the horse is to be respected at all times.

Kessler emphasizes that we want the willing cooperation of the horse, not its domination, nor its submission. If she is judging and hears a whip, there is an automatic loss of a point or two. She says kicking a horse makes it suck back and again, that lowers the scores. – As a human, if someone gut punches you, they may get away with it the first time. The second time, you will protect yourself. A horse is no different. If you kick him, he braces himself. If you are in the horse’s mouth, you will not get its neck nor will it work through or over its back; long-term, you are damaging the horse — threatening its soundness.

Kessler is emphatic. “The rewards of training horses are seen at the end of each day, not at the end of the show with ribbons.”

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