Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I realize part of my job is to interview interesting people who are influential in the equestrian world. Recently I had such an experience. I had the pleasure of having lunch with Brenda Minor, 4 Star FEI Dressage Judge, and asking her about her experience as a Dressage Judge and what she loves about it.
Brenda is passionate about riding and she is very appreciative of what all of her horses have taught her through the years. There are 3 horses that are especially memorable for Brenda. The first was Salamon (barn name Alex), he was a 15.3 Hanoverian. He was initially a very difficult mount especially at the canter. After some intense training with “the best trainer of riders AND horses” (AKA Ashley Holzer), he went on to be a very good horse. The next horse was Pacifica. This Trakehener was only 3 when Brenda got him. He competed at the Grand Prix level. She had him until he was 15. Her current horse, Ronan, is a Hanoverian gelding by the stallion Rotspon. While he doesn’t have the talent of her previous horses, he does have a great temperament and Brenda adores him. She said that she couldn’t imagine a time in her life when she doesn’t have a horse.
To the un-trained eye, dressage appears to be very predictable. The tests are basically a choreographed series of gaits and movements ridden in a pre-determined pattern. The question I was really eager to ask Brenda was: “are you ever surprised while judging a dressage test?” Brenda’s response: “Of course!” The first example she gave was the “unassuming looking” horse and rider that enter and begin what appears to be quite a regular performance and then it all comes together in beautiful harmony, rhythm and accuracy. This is always a very pleasant surprise. After all, it is really all about harmony. Another wonderful surprise are the “goose-bumps” caused when a Freestyle performance is just so beautiful. Sometimes, the surprises are not so positive. She has been shocked to see poorly turned-out horses and riders at very high level shows and she has also seen riders being very rough with their horses.
Brenda’s primary pet peeve is rough treatment of the horses by the riders. Sometimes riders try to compete at a level beyond their ability and take it out on the horses by yanking and pulling on their mouths. To quote Brenda: “Just because your horse can do flying lead changes does not mean you should be competing at 3rd or 4th level.” Again, the one word that describes Dressage is “Harmony” and this is not achieved with roughness.
When asked to share a rewarding experience that Brenda had while judging, she told me about an amateur rider at a National Gold show. On the first day, the rider was using a bridle with a cavesson noseband. Brenda felt that the performance could improve with a drop noseband so she made this comment on the score sheet. The next day, she saw the same horse and rider enter the ring for their next dressage test. The horse was wearing the recommended drop noseband. They had a much better ride. It is nice to know that as a judge, you are also a teacher. Brenda feels that riding is really all about learning. Horses keep teaching us new things. “Your passion always allows you to keep on learning.”
In 2009, Joanna Wiseberg interviewed Brenda Minor for the Red Scarf Equestrian blog. Joanna asked about "the top 5 questions riders ask regarding judging." At that point, Brenda responded that typically riders do not ask questions as they feel it would impact their future competitions. Brenda felt this was unfortunate as it is educational for riders to talk to the judges. I wanted to know if this had changed so I asked. Brenda believes there has been an improvement in communication between riders and judges. The professional riders are especially interested in learning why certain marks are awarded so that they can improve. Provided that the correct procedures are followed and the request is made through the steward or technical delegate, Brenda encourages riders to communicate with the judges. Cool heads need to prevail, and the conversation needs to be kept positive.
Brenda’s nurturing approach to judging encourages the riders to always keep learning and improving.