Through the Judge's Eyes
Spotlight on consultant DTM judge Jenny Johnson
As part of the Pegasus series of interviews with specialist DTM judges, we caught up with the lovely Jenny Johnson to find out about her journey to judging Freestyle. Keep an eye out for her interview on DTM judging, coming soon!
"I’ve been riding horses for over 50 years. My initial interests were show jumping and cross country. I began by working at a riding school, then running the college riding club and team whilst I was at York. My first horse had a desire for speed and fences and showing so, of course, working hunter and hunter trials were his forte.
In his later years, however, I took an interest in dressage, particularly that involving music. The way music was put together then was very basic: it was a case of tape deck and an LP (with quick reactions at stopping at the right place!), blending happened if you were lucky and as for matching the BPMs, I did it just through feel. So there certainly wasn’t the technology that exists now.
I have always kept my horses for their lifetimes. Sadly, at 22 years, my first horse had his leg broken by a new horse in the field. I continued to play with my son’s little Welsh pony. He had a real natural flair for dressage (especially extended trots!) and I produced him to Medium level. My mare then arrived at the doorstep, initially a project for me to work with, as by that time I was exercising and training other horses on the yard, but I ended up buying her. It was a steep but valuable learning curve! She was a thoroughbred mare, so willing to please but tight backed and her athletic build came with a very anxious nature. However, we worked our way up to PSG, mainly in Freestyle as it seemed to relax both of us.
My journey to becoming a judge was slowly developing at this point as I spent hours scribing for numerous judges, especially at high level Freestyle competitions. My mare then unfortunately suffered from serious colic and had to have an operation, so I decided to give her a good year to recover. I needed a project, so I began to focus on my judge’s training. I maintained my riding by schooling other people’s horses and going for schoolmaster lessons to further my knowledge, getting the opportunity to school at Grand Prix level. I had lessons at Oldencraig, Talland, with John Lassetter and Laura Fry. Lunge lessons were also an integral part of keeping riding fit.
Juggling my work as a teacher and looking after family, I continued judging and giving dressage lessons. My success with the Freestyles led me down a new path of designing freestyles and, along with Helen Bradley, we did clinics and talks for B.D. We ran clinics throughout the British Isles, working with a variety of competitors including riding clubs, pony team riders and Para riders. However, as is often the way, family commitments took over and I only did Freestyles by request. My knowledge of music stems from playing the piano, singing and playing the church organ and I still do the odd Freestyle, just to keep my eye in!
I have had every intention to upgrade from list 5 with the judging, but this has been difficult to pursue until now so upgrading to List 4 is the current goal. Like most of us, I have to admit that 2020 hasn’t been the easiest time to achieve goals! My experiences allow me to judge with an open mind, trying to establish the needs of the competitor and making constructive comments that will guide them to better riding and a happier partnership with their horse. I understand the hard work, frustrations and need for the right encouragement and direction. That really is the beauty of dressage judging – the opportunity to help and guide a riding partnership, as well as rewarding and acknowledging their strengths."