Why is this important?
Because this is one of the first judges to openly say that the methods used by Sjef Janssen are problematic.
But you have judged through several eras of judging, you were judging in the time of Salinero, and still judging when we had the period of Carl and Charlotte – what went wrong in the Salinero era, why was a horse that was so tense able to win so much?
“But it started already with Bonfire.”
He wasn’t quite so tense as Salinero…
“I thought he was the same in a way. In some senses I quite liked Salinero, of course he was a better horse than Bonfire. She’s a very good rider, Anky and she presents the horses well, but there are problems with the whole Sjef Janssen way of training…”
That wasn’t the only perceived mark against what is happening within the sport, as Leif mentions that other judges are better at being political to gain invites to judge shows.
This is something we’ve known for a long time but never heard from another judge that they’re aware this is happening. Bold added by me.
Do you think it is important for a judge [to ride horses]?
“Yes. I have to be careful because there are some judges who don’t ride at all and they still might be very good judges because they are objective and they have a very good theory, but if you really want to be a good judge you should have the feeling when it is good or bad, and you can get that from riding. But there are still very good judges who don’t ride, and there are also judges who are housewives, and I don’t mean to be negative to housewives, but if the main thing is traveling and having nice dinners and seeing the world, if that’s the main thing and the judging is secondary, there are a few of those that aren’t good judges. Some are very good at being political and getting invites.”
He even hit against the whole “moment in time” argument that abusive Dressage riders like to throw out in defense against grotesque images showing them recklessly manipulating the horse’s neck.
I can show you so many photos from Aachen, from Olympic Games, of Anky in the ring, and it is awful, and people can say, oh, it’s just a bad moment, but good riders don’t have ‘bad moments’…
“I can assure you if you look at photos of my wife and Marzog, you cannot find one single picture that is bad, you cannot, it is not possible.”
Perhaps my favorite dig he throws out is that Anky won, not because she was so great, but because she didn’t have strong competition to beat… Bold added by me.
And the same with Charlotte… I’m sorry, I thought there was nothing nice about the era of Salinero…
“I wouldn’t go that far, but he was over-tense, and her passage was more forward going piaffe, but she also had her good moments – she made fantastic freestyles, good music, good choreography, and that was her benefit to dressage at the time when the freestyle came to the front. I think she’s a good rider and she presented well. I’ve been back stage many times, and I saw that kind of warming up and I don’t approve of that – you can see that in the way I train – but you also much remember, at that time, who was the second best? The third best? I judged Anky and Salinero in the Olympics in Hong Kong, where she won, and that is when Satchmo spun around in the ring…”
And got a silver!
“I didn’t judge the Special because we were seven judges, and I did the Grand Prix and the Freestyle. But horses like Bonaparte and Ravel were placing third and fourth and they were not on that level.”
Leif also openly acknowledges that there are lax judging standards. Bold added by me.
There is all this talk about judging in crisis and all the drastic things we have to do to change the situation, but I think if you look at it historically, judging is probably in pretty good shape…
“I think so too, and I think that is partly because we are more and more open about it, you can see the score sheets anywhere and that makes it more obvious what is going on. Wayne Channon and Kyra (Kyrklund) say the system is wrong, but I don’t think that is correct. It’s not the system that’s wrong – now we are getting into a very long discussion because I am very engaged with this issue. We can start by saying, the selection of judges is too slack. The training of judges is too slack. The exams are too slack. I have just made an exam for the first time for the FEI – I had to create all the questions myself, I had to set all the standards myself. I thought there was a general standard given by the FEI, questions of rules and regulations – no, I had to do it myself. Maybe they were lucky I was a good guy, or maybe they were unlucky and I was not good enough, but nobody controls it.”
“We’ve had good people setting exams, we’ve had Dieter Schüle, Ghislain Fourage, Mariette Withages, Volker Moritz, they were all very good people but they should have set a much firmer standard. Then when you are passed as a judge and you start going away from the standard we like, it doesn’t have any consequences, you are still selected for everything! The good thing is that now you can see that this person is five percent off the average more often than others. You can do it once or twice, you can even be right doing it, but if you are off the mark continuously, someone should look after you, take care of you. There is no somebody today. We have a Judge General, he doesn’t do it. We have the JSP, they sit at the Championships and change a little bit up and down, which is useless. They should be much more out in the field to see who is good, and who is bad, because it is not enough to have the statistics, you have to also see if they are right or wrong.”
“At the Europeans, at Aachen, there were two or three judges that were way out of line, and all of them were selected for Rio! There’s absolutely no consequences.”
Leif goes on to state his own opinion that Sjef Janssen, Edward Gal, and Hans-Peter Mindenhoud are bad trainers and riders, in what is actually a very fair way. Bold added by me.
“But you are now mentioning the Germans, if it was Sjef Janssen sitting there, or Edward Gal, or Hans-Peter Mindenhoud, they would not say the same things.”
But I don’t think they are good trainers or riders…
“That’s your definition.”
No, it is not a subjective thing, we have a standard of riding and of how horses should go, and this has been recognized since at least the 1936 Olympic Games, and riders in chair seats with ultra-tense horses, are not good dressage riders, and you can see how many of their horses break down…
“That’s your opinion, it is also my opinion, but that’s not everybody’s opinion. Next month, Edward Gal comes to Denmark to make a clinic.”
Immediately, the Dutch Equestrian Federation (KNHS) filed a complaint with the FEI against Leif Törnblad. And of course, the FEI being the FEI, they suspended Leif.
The FEI doesn’t want people, especially those within the inner circles, criticizing the abusive practices that they support and allow competitors to use.
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