Meet the Judges

One of the things that Dressage @ Home & International really focuses on  is our judges. These are the back-bone of any show. Competing locally certainly has its drawbacks as we come face to face with the same judges, likes, dislikes, comments and marks, over and over again. (We have all been there. It’s sometimes in our favour; sometimes not.)
However, this is something, as a fellow rider and competitor, I’m only to aware off and so, as a company, we invest our time into ensuring our riders have the very best, the most qualified and biggest range of judges from all over the UK!  
This is such a strength of Dressage @ Home & International.  It’s something that other online platforms don’t offer. But, we do! 
All of the competitors will know, after competing with us, that the marks they receive will be reflective of those if they were competing across the water. And, that is something that riders can never get at local shows.
We are delighted to announce that we have a selection of world renowned, wonderful judges for you to get to know.

Riding Lessons
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Jenny Johnson

1. How did you get into horses?

I have always had an interest in horses. When I was 3 I used to spend my time drawing horses. There were two horses in the fields next to the cottages where I lived. I spent lots of time watching them and when I went walking with my Mum, I was drawn to any horses that I could see in the fields. I would put pillows on chairs and steal my Dad’s ties for reins. I was good at pretending, the back of a new settee proved even better than the chairs! However, it was an interest that my parents didn’t want to encourage, due to the cost and instead I took piano lessons, which in the end proved very useful. I still spent time watching my friends ride and visiting the local riding school, watching from dawn till dusk, even when it rained, I huddled under my big yellow bicycle cape and watched. My parents hoped that I would grow out of this infatuation, but in the end, realised that it wouldn’t go away, so at the age of sixteen, they didn’t grumble when I spent all my money on riding lessons and went to work at the local riding school part time. I quickly progressed on to taking the owner’s hunters out for exercise.

At school there was a riding centre situated next to the athletics track, I was the school record holder for 800m so I often went up to the track at lunchtimes, my friend at the time knew the owner of the riding centre, so we frequently sneaked across in out PE kit of bottle green knickers and white top!

Whilst at college in York, I ran the riding club and saved every penny I had to go to my horse fund-- that meant that a night out in the college bar was just one rum and blackcurrant that lasted all evening!

I broke every rule in buying my first horse. My sister was also a partner in crime, we had seen a beautiful grey that was being sold by the riding centre that I visited near my school, the lady who owned the place was reducing her horse numbers and not doing as many riding lessons. However, after raiding my post office account of all my money, we arrived to find that someone had the first option on buying that horse. I felt disappointed, I had prepared a stable at a farm near us and the plan was to buy and take home-- no vetting, no try out! Then this cheeky ginger horse came charging into the yard and stood facing us, snorting with an air of arrogance. He had escaped from a field, his usual trick. We both were mesmerised by him and enquired as to whether he was for sale. Nora, the owner of the centre, couldn’t believe her luck, she offered to even take him to the farm where we would stable him. Little did we know that he was going to go to an unwarranted sale due to the fact that he had thrown everyone who had tried him out, he had a neat trick of rearing, spinning round, then bucking. We took him home with no knowledge of this, equipped with only a bridle for riding, we ventured out bareback, he tried his trick, but my sister wasn’t fooled, she clobbered him on the head with her crop-- he never did it again and he turned out to be a fantastic friend, winning numerous cross country events, working hunter classes and showing a good aptitude for dressage. He was a character and the tales I could tell about our years of taming the dragon are numerous.

2. Have you ever done any dressage yourself?

I always had an interest in dressage, but my first venture was an embarrassing disaster. We decided to hold our own yard competition, I knew that we had an exceptionally good chance of winning, Talisman was a good learner and we could even do tempi changes, but never really had enough money to venture out and start competing at dressage competitions, by then I was married with children, but this was a fun event, more so I was eager to show his abilities--- big mistake, the October morning heralded the feel of cross country time. Tally was his restless self in the stable, eager to get going. At the time of my test we completed it quickly, up the centre line----- rather quick, turned left at C--- losing control, then sped off at 100mph, yelling to someone to open the gate otherwise we would jump it into a crowd of people-- lost control!!

I could write a book about this horse, sadly at the age of 22 yrs we had to have him put down, a new horse in the field had kicked him and broke his leg.

I rode my sons’ welsh pony for a while, even competing locally in dressage, he got upto playing at medium level and even won the senior equitation championship with me and junior dressage championship with my eldest son. He was another character, we had him right upto the grand old age of 37 years, he would follow me like a dog, no lead rope or halter and he was the star turn at the start of a showing championships, happily being let into the arena whilst I narrated the horse’s prayer, having a roll and then walking up to me and nuzzling me in the back.

My mare turned up unexpectedly, a friend said she needed to home this horse as a project, since an injury had meant that the aim of producing a showing champion wasn’t going to happen. I briefly said I was interested, then when I went to the yard to do my usual jobs with the pony, I was told that a horse was there for me. Eventually I bought her and she taught me so much. I trained her beyond PSG, but competed upto PSG, mainly freestyle.Competitions were few, she was easily stressed so I brought the competitions to her and ran them from the centre where we were based. She had an operational colic when she was 10 yrs old,I gave her a very long time to recover, it was then that I began my judge training. I continued riding and training other horses and I went for numerous schoolmaster lessons to further my education and knowledge of all the grand prix movements.Lea lived to a good age of 28yrs and had a long retirement, due to some hock injuries acquired in the field I stopped competing when she was 18 years old

3. Tell us a bit about your background and qualifications.

My profession was as a trained school teacher, but I spent a great deal of time doing supply work or different types of jobs, such as civil service, post woman, avon representative to name just a few. I spent time working at the equestrian yard, but, although I enjoyed this, it gave me very little time to spend with my horse, I was riding other horses as well as the stable jobs and teaching riding plus doing dressage clinics. I returned to teaching within schools as the pay was higher, my time was still taxed, but I could afford more. I then branched out doing freestyle work along with Helen Bradley for BD, then working for some time on my own but gradually kept my involvement to just a few as family commitments took over. As my Mother’s Parkinson’s disease worsened, I eventually took her place as church organist and choir director.

Lockdown opened another door for me-- online dressage. It has kept me in touch with judging and brought me a wealth of friendships.

4. What are the most common mistakes you notice when judging dressage?

The most common mistakes I see in judging is the over-strong action of the hand, holding the head in and pushing the horse on without allowing the energy through, consequently the back hollows and the legs push out behind instead of through and under. Then there is the opposite where the contact is spasmodic and insecure, so the horse hasn’t a confident link to seek. Most are contact based and then impact on the suppleness through the back and neck.

5. Dressage used to be the Equestrian sport reserved for those at the higher levels. Why do you think it has gained so much popularity with riders of all levels over the years?

Dressage, from my point of view, has gained popularity because recently the doors have opened more for all riders to take part, secondly in theory it is safer than jumping and eventing. However, in competition, many say the scoring isn’t always understood and at least in jumping you either, clear, knock down , or refuse. In my days of competing, local clubs had begun to run dressage, affiliated still felt as though you needed to be part of a special group, it was often a mystery and the only way that you began to get the idea was to get a good dressage trainer, then the magical word of “suppleness” suddenly began to make sense.

6. In your opinion, how can Dressage improve the horse’s way of going?

Dressage is the correct form of training the horse, therefore, all horses should be trained in the correct way, following the guidelines to develop a relaxed , confident supple horse.

7. What would be your favourite school exercise and why?

My favourite schooling exercises are stretching long and low in small figures of 8s and also transition work involving lateral movements as well.

8. How have you and your yard coped with a year of lockdowns? What has been the biggest drawback?

Lockdown has made most of us take a stepback. Competition is good, but from a horse’s point of view, it can often be a pressure that they can’t understand. To me it should be a time to spend consolidating training, reflecting on each aspect of our schooling and a time to read plenty and watch as many horse youtube guides as possible.

9. What do you think are the benefits of competing with an online platform like ‘Dressage at Home & International?’

Online dressage is fabulous, it allows people that find travelling their horses stressful a way to still compete, for those that haven’t got transport an opportunity to take part. Videoing is more versatile, if something goes wrong, it can be done another day. From the judging aspect , it gives us more time to watch in detail and give productive feedback.

10. What has been your career / riding highlight?

As concerns highlights in my career with horses, there are many moments that I treasure. I haven’t stood on a podium or won some prestigious event, but I value the little occasions, winning the equitation on a riding school horse and hearing the clapping. Demonstrating a freestyle on my mare with perfect 3 time changes with the arena seats full and a wonderful applause. Then, finally, being with each one of them when it was their time to go over the rainbow bridge.

Now, in reflection, I am learning from my mistakes, how I approached training and competition and how I should have and could have done better and changed my approach. The worst thing is getting too competitive and letting it take over, we need to take that moment to consider how our feelings affect our horses, how aiming to be the best and coping with disappointments can have a negative effect on our animals and families, unless we handle these emotions well. I am a person who happily shrugs off things going wrong, but I did have a very determined competitive nature. Looking back I would have done many things differently. Judging has provided me with so much more knowledge on how horses should be moving and connecting to our riding. I have learnt to take a very open and wide view on ways in which we can learn and help our horses. Although I have always watched videos of good trainers, I never really analysed and only took in what I felt was necessary. Now I read many horse books and watch as much as I can in depth, learning will never cease for me.


Coreen Abernethy

1. How did you get into horses?

My dad had a horse from just after I was born so I went up with him regularly to see his horse and my passion for horses developed right from there.  By the age of 6, I had started lessons at Lessans Riding Stables and when I was 11, I was fortunate enough to get my own pony.  The rest is history!

2. Have you ever done any dressage yourself?

Yes, very low level during my riding school years - I think I managed to win a couple of novice classes at Pony Camp ha!  I then got back into competing in 2012 and was heading up towards Novice level when my horse was found to have sacroiliac issues so that put an end to his dressage journey.  Unfortunately, life and work and weight has got in the way of competing over the last few years but it's definitely something I want to get back into.

3. Tell us about your background and qualifications

I'm a list 6 Dressage Ireland judge and also a trainee British Dressage judge.  I've no other formal equine qualifications but have had horses for over 40 years and have had the privilege and honour to have learned many valuable lessons (good, bad and painful!) from all of them.

4. What are the most common mistakes you notice when judging dressage?

Inaccuracy is the most common one.  Square or triangular 20m circles are very common.  Cutting corners and not riding from marker to marker.  Starting a movement early which can affect the score of the current movement that a rider is in but also negatively impact the score of the next movement.

5. Dressage used to be the equestrian sport reserved for those at the higher levels. Why do you think it has gained so much popularity with riders if all levels over the years?

Dressage, when I was young, always gave the impression that it was only wealthy people or elite people who could compete.  Nowadays it's much more for ALL riders at ALL levels.  There's much more support for low level dressage and much more support for those who want to have a bash at it.  It's encouraged through unaffiliated venues and through Pony Clubs so that even the youngest of children can have a go and this then carries on through their riding careers, where they learn that dressage helps how the horse goes and how beneficial the flatwork is to cross country and show jumping (which most children and young people find much more exciting!).  Dressage nowadays is much more promoted as an overall sport to help develop the horse and the relationship between horse and rider, rather than an elitist sport.

6. In your opinion, how can dressage improve the horse’s way of going?

For me, primarily it's a great way to develop a rider's relationship with their horse.  Dressage is team work - if it's rider versus horse, neither do well.  The rider/horse team need to work together and to understand each other.  On a physical basis, for the horse to work correctly through dressage training not only improves the dressage test but keeps the horse healthy by using and conditioning the muscles correctly and helping minimise damage to the soft tissue structures such as ligaments and tendons.  Strength in the horse's core and hindquarters also helps with other disciplines like SJ and XC.  It's a good basis for keeping working horses mobile and supple.

7. How have you and your yard coped with a year of lockdowns? What has been the biggest drawback?

I've been incredibly blessed that it has not affected my yard.  There is only me at the yard so there were no issues about the yard closing or only being allowed up at certain times.  I have sole responsibility for the care of my horses so it was business as usual for me!  I really felt for the horse owners whose yards closed and they haven't been able to see their horses for some time.  Horses are an integral part of keeping us sane (and broke!) and do so much for our mental health and I've been very blessed to have had a normal horsey life during lockdowns - although I'm quite sure my horses wouldn't have minded a few days off from me ha!

8. What online services do you offer?

I offer a test riding service whereby riders can send me their test and I will review it and give them feedback as to exactly what the judges are looking for.  I provide written feedback, going through the test and all the scales of training and recommendations that the riders can then take to their instructors to help them on their dressage journey.  I can also judge the test if the rider wishes.  I can also chat with them about what the comments on their score sheets mean.

9. What would be your favourite school exercise and why?

Anything on long lines.  Long lining is absolutely invaluable to horses of all ages and levels and soundness.  It's a fantastic basis to teach your horse any movement without the added stress of a rider.  Once the groundwork is established, then the horse has more of an awareness of what the rider is asking once aboard.

10. Any advice for keeping motivated during lockdown?

Just keep going.  One day at a time.  If you don't feel like riding, don't beat yourself up but at the same time, try not to abandon your routine completely.  Keep your horse in some kind of work - one that benefits you and that benefits the horse so that when lockdown ends and shows start again, it's not a mad dash to build up fitness and suppleness.  Most importantly, just enjoy your horse/s and the time you spend with them.

11.  What are you most looking forward to at the end of lockdown?

Getting back out to shows

12. What has been your career / riding highlight?

Winning my first red rosette with my own horse is my riding highlight.  I'm honoured to have won a few red rosettes over the years but to win my first red with my own horse was something incredibly special.  My career highlight so far was passing my judging exam in 2019.  Although I had been judging as a trainee since 2016, to actually pass and know that I had met the standard of judging required was both a shock (self-doubt is a terrible thing) and a delight!

13. What do you think are the benefits of competing with an online dressage platform like Dressage @ Home & International?

It's fabulous for riders who have no transport or for those riders whose nerves play havoc with them on show day.  It's also great for developing ringcraft without the pressure of other horses and riders being all around.  And it gives riders something to look forward to during the lockdowns and something to aim towards, should they want to get out to actual shows when they restart.  It's also great fun with no stress and no pressure but with the added benefits of a test judged by listed judges with constructive feedback and of course, lovely rosettes!


Zara Pawley

Zara is a BD list 4 and FEI Eventing Level 2 Judge. She has judged FEI Eventing here in the UK, Europe and even in Indonesia! She is on various showing panels for Horses and Ponies, having judged at RHIS and HOYS South Africa. Back in 2018 Zara was asked to lead the judges seminar for the indigenous Horse Society of India, in India. Zara has competed Eventing and Show Jumping to a high standard. She teaches to pass on her knowledge.

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Norma Ridi

1. How did you get into horses?

Hard to say... I was born in Florence, Italy, and horses were not a part of the environment. As a 5 year old child, I was lifted onto the saddle of a Carabiniere on the Armed Forced Day and I felt incredible. Since then I went riding (well, sort of) in country places and much later joined a place for equestrian tourism, in Maremma. There I learned how to guide and cut cattle (yes, “butteri” are italian cowboys) and to guide people in the hills. Later I joined a proper riding school and did some show jumping. Even later I started doing some dressage, did a few competitions, and then... I started asking myself questions about the marks I got. I joined a course for dressage judges and a whole world was open: I choose almost immediately what to do the foremost of my equestrian life.

2. Have you ever done any dressage yourself? 

Yes, a few shows as I mentioned above, and since then I have always practiced home dressage. 

3. Tell us about your background and qualifications. 

I earned my first dressage qualification during my thirties, then started slowly to grow. Our system requires two years experience before attempting any new level course & exam, so the whole process requires a strict minimum of 10/11 years before attempting the Grand Prix level, which I earned in 2010. I have being training students since for quite a few years and I also own a title of Dressage Instructor in SIEC (Italian Society for Classical Equitation)

4. What are the most common mistakes you notice when judging dressage? 

That very much depends on the level. It seems any level has specific problems, but what I see most often is a lack of understanding of the basics and what is actually expected from the horse/rider. That is something that ends often up lacking in high levels. 

5. Dressage used to be the equestrian sport reserved for those at the higher levels. Why do you think it has gained so much popularity with riders if all levels over the years?

Well, I would like to say that it is popular in my Country as well. But I am optimistic in the idea of having people interested in how to build a relationship with horses which goes beyond taking risks and using force. Time seems proper for a grown-up dressage, which must first of all cover the old masters, getting rid of some excesses – and join that knowledge with some modern “feeling” and tack allowances, in my opinion.

6. In your opinion, how can dressage improve the horse’s way of going? 

A proper dressage? Quite a lot. The same as proper gymnastics and physiotherapy help any of us to feel better, grow better, and ultimately, getting old in a healthy way.

7. How have you and your yard coped with a year of lockdowns? What has been the biggest drawback? 

Not much, really. The first lockdown was strict and none of us could reach the stable. So we resorted to each other's help. But horses thrived, actually, and lived that period as a wonderful holiday... the second one instead, we were allowed to go to our horses provided we had with us a document attesting our property of them, and a filled-in authorization form.

8. What online services do you offer? 

Most of my students attend regular coaching sessions but I can evaluate videos and follow people at distance using cameras (like Pixio, for example)

9. What would be your favourite school exercise and why? 

Again, any level has a different school exercise which I favour: depends on where the “couple” is in training. I feel though that never enough attention is given to the seat and use of the aids, and many students do have to work on the most neglected gait: the walk. 

10. Any advice for keeping motivated during lockdown? 

Just ride for yourself & your horse. What you are doing is to improve your relationship and to become evermore healthy and beautiful. Shows will come later on, but they are not supposed to be your main goal.

11. What are you most looking forward to at the end of lockdown? 

Actually, that has only partially have to do with horses: I look forward to a new equilibrium in health system and economical activities, as the former is overloaded, and the latter much suffering.

12. What has been your career / riding highlight? 

I believe my appointment in 2020 as a member of a three judges panel to select our Junior and Young Rider team to sent to Hungary for the European Championships. It was a bunch of a responsibility, but I was glad to take part in ground jury.

13. What do you think are the benefits of competing with an online dressage platform like Dressage @ Home & International? 

A lot. First, you can “compete” with people all across the globe, virtually. Second, for those who are quite emotional, it is an easier way to enter this world. Third, this works perfectly during lockdown as it overcomes it, allowing people to “feel in touch”. Fourth, it is surely much more “pocket friendly”, as transportation and standard costs for shows end up in (at least in Italy) something between 100 and 300 euros, so really not for everybody... So, I believe this idea is great, people-friendly, and deserving attention.