Dressage Judges travel. As competitors, we see them at the end of the arena doing their jobs, imparting their educated comments about how we are doing at a certain level. We have no idea how they prepared to be there, how they live from one weekend to the next, or the lessons they've learned over the years. So, we caught up with three judges who travel nearly every weekend to a show somewhere in the world and asked them how they arrange, assemble, adapt to the weekly traveling. Janet Foy, Natalie Lamping and MerriLynn Griffin all said the same thing: they have a similar simple routine in how to prepare to leave for a judging assignment. One bag is nearly always ready to go, filled with the same important essential items. Once the weather has been checked for the new destination, a color coordination of several outfits must be made with comfortable and stylish shoes. For judges the saying for dress used to be, “Skirt and pearls” but it has eased up a bit over the last several years. Today, it’s most important for judges to be dressed neat and clean, and appropriate for the weather, be that wind, heat, rain or freezing.
All three say they use a Carry-On Bag
Janet Foy, a native of Colorado Springs and a current FEI 4* judge, USEF “S” Dressage Judge and an USEF Sport horse “R” Breeding Judge said, "With the advent of regional jets, and the fact that your carry-on is taken at the door and thrown down a chute, I have had one or two nice roller bags destroyed. So I now have a Brighton Bag that comes with a plastic cover. This cover can be replaced, (and I have done so many times) and keeps the bag clean, protected, and also acts like a rain coat when they leave the bags out in the weather.”
Natalie Lamping, who travels from Ocala, Florida throughout the world and a current FEI 4* judge, USEF “S” Dressage, Young Horse, and Equitation Dressage Judge said, “I travel with a carry-on, if there are travel problems like a plane change, then I am fine.”
MerriLynn Griffin who lives in Wellington, Florida and a “r” Dressage Judge and USEA - Eventing - YEH/FEH Judge said, "My top priorities are carry-on baggage, flights get canceled and we get rerouted.” First rule of thumb for judges: a carry-on bag is a must.
Shoes are Important
Janet said, “When I pack the carry on, I try to stay in the same color group to limit the shoes I will need. I always travel in tennis shoes in case I have a chance to get to the gym. I have become a fan of patent leather shoes by J Crew, as they easily wash off (arena dirt can destroy shoes) and look shiny with not much effort. I used to have to polish the shoes I was going to pack prior to packing, but these shoes make packing tidy.”
Natalie said, “When I pack my bag, I pick a color scheme with two or three outfits with nice shoes to match all, while I like to wear Mules, a type of shoe that is easy on and easy off through security at the airport.”
MerriLynn said, “I have a pair of lovely water resistant LLBean skimmers that are fitting for any outfit dredging across the wet grass, footing, or light puddles. They were such a great find.” The second rule of thumb for judges is the thought on good shoes.
Things they have learned over the years
Janet Foy: “The best advice to someone who is going to travel a lot (I am on my second million miles with United, and am what they call a 1 K - meaning I fly 100,000 miles a year) - is to stick to one airline with a good awards program. First they will rebook you while you are in the air and send you a message, so when you land, you know right away where to go for your next flight. Second, United is great about upgrading top fliers for free. Third, you can join the airline club and if there is a glitch, the lines there to rebook are very short compared to the long lines I see in O Hare sometimes when things are going wrong.” She continued, “I have to say the smart phone and the United App is my new best friend. I remember before cell phones when you could not call from the plane, or text about your delay to your pick up etc.
One time Hilda and I were left at the airport all night and the phone number we had was the manager's home number, and she wasn't there, as she was at the show. It was a real mess. I have learned to always have a cell phone number of the person who is to pick me up AND the address and phone number of the hotel where the judges will be staying. I give the pick-up person 30 minutes and then I take a taxi to the hotel.”
Remember judges are sitting long hours and it tends to be cool where the judges box is placed. Wind is always on the mind of the judge. Natalie said, “I bring a reversible cape. I can use it for a lap blanket on the plane or in the judges’ box. It’s easy to carry, stylish by being one nice color on one side and another on the other, and it fits over everything.” She continued, “I take a visor or nice sturdy hair clips for the wind and sun.” Finally she shared, “A few weeks ago I traveled from my home in Ocala, Florida to Del Mar, California. It was so cold in Del Mar. I wore my cape the whole time, especially to keep out of the wind.”
MerriLynn Griffin “Another 'must' for me is light weight long leg and sleeved PJs. Sleeping in hotels, and commercial beds...you never can tell what else is evident. So coverage is a mandate. It may be just me, but ...,” continued, “In an effort to be self-sufficient, I bring my own sugar free sweetener for my coffee [my favorite is not always available], and as I was taught, I carry thank you note cards to make the simple polite gesture of a personal note to thank you to the show management for having given me the honor of their invitation to judge for them.”
To Conclude: Judges travel week in and week out to help competitors improve, and to check on the work on the current dressage test level. The dressage judge is always on the go, even if we only see them at the end of the arena all day. They contend with the wind and the weather including the hot sun and freezing rain. They must be prepared. A special thanks to the three top judges who shared with us some of the things they have learned over the years contending with airports, airplanes and overall travel.
Photos: Betsy LaBelle