Eye-Opening Experience for Belgian Judge Jacques Van Daele
North American junior and young riders not used to the standards of a European judge might think Jacques Van Daele is a bit tough. He is.
“I’ve judged ponies and young riders back home in Europe so I know what the level is like at home. And here at this competition, I’m judging like I do at home. We have to judge with the same standard, otherwise that’s cheating,” Van Daele said.
While some young American and Canadian riders might be a bit surprised at the standard of judging they’ve faced at the North American Junior and Young Riders’ Championships, Van Daele is no less surprised by what he’s finding in his first trip to the NAJRC.
First off, he’s amazed at the quality of horses at the competition, so amazed, in fact, that he can’t stop commenting about it. “Maybe I’m repeating myself, but I must say, the quality of horses here is very good. I’ve seen some that I’d like to take home.”
Van Daele said he’s been asked to judge young horse classes at Dressage at Devon this year and based on what he’s seen at the NAJRC, he’s even more excited about the chance to see what North America has in the way of young horses. His warning to Europeans, who have long been leaders in international dressage competition, is that they’d better beware.
“The gap is getting closer and smaller. I’ve heard from my colleagues that in earlier years the gap between North America and Europe was bigger. Now it’s smaller,” Van Daele said. And much of what is closing that gap are the horses.
Quality of Horses Deserves Higher Scores
“The quality of the horses is very important and I’d say that from what I see this week, if I compare the quality of the horses here to those in Europe, it’s quite similar,” Van Daele said. “I’ve seen horses with beautiful gaits. I’ve given 8s and 9s for walks. Some 8s for canter, some 8s for trot, some 8s for riding. That’s good. That’s the level we need. I was absolutely impressed with what I’ve seen.”
The warning for the North Americans, however, is that while our horses may be on par with those in Europe, our riding is not necessarily so. It’s in the riding that Van Daele sees the difference and it explains why the best competitors at the NAJRC are scoring in the low 70s while their European counterparts score in the upper 70s.
“I’m not saying that I’m disappointed with the riding,” Van Daele said. “But I would have liked to see some higher points for the leaders. What would be good is a 75 or 76, or why not 78? It’s just a matter of working at it and if you [North Americans] improve every year, you’ll get there.”
When it comes to comparing American and Canadian riders, Van Daele said “the Canadians, in general, are better riders.” Why? He’s not quite sure, but they seem more concentrated and better able to handle the pressure of competing in a major event such as the NAJRC.
Why Canadians Have the Edge
“There was a difference in quality of riding and the Canadians were very good,” Van Daele said. “Maybe they trained more than the Americans. I don’t really know, but they were very well prepared. Their riding is perhaps better organized, or just better. Maybe Americans and Canadians should get together and talk about their training and learn from one another.”
When asked his advice for improving riders’ scores, Van Daele said it’s all in the details – and it’s psychological. “Every test is always missing some small detail. Sometimes collection, sometimes a change in the series. It’s the little things,” he said. “And, it’s a matter of concentration. I specialize in psychology and mental training and I’m sure the riders are all under mental stress, but they must manage that and work as they do at home.” That’s where the Canadians seem to have the edge.
So what’s his advice? “Work your lovely horses in the way you do at home. And, do more training toward the test. When we ask for collection, we have to see collection. When we ask for a halt, make it square. It’s in those little detail that you lose points and yet, it’s so easy to do something about it.”
PhelpsPhoto: 15 year old Jade Deter and mastermind, JR Young Rider Gold madalist and winner of all three classes at the 2007 NAJYRC
Team Spirit and Attitude a Pleasure to Experience
There is one area where Van Daele believes young European riders can learn something from their North American colleagues – attitude. “I prefer the attitude of the young riders here. In Europe, I understand all the stress coming from the parents. But here the riders are more open and I really enjoy their behavior. My colleagues have commented on that too.”
It’s the team attitude of the North American junior and young riders that Van Daele most enjoys and it’s a whole new experience for him. “Europe is more each rider for himself. It’s more about ‘my riding, my horse.’ Here, riders applaud one another and support one another. We don’t have that in Europe. The North Americans have all these colors and flags for their teams. I’ve not seen that. It’s nice. It’s like a festival, like a party.”
It’s so much like a party that Van Daele said if he’s ever invited back to the NAJYC to judge, he’ll come.