Attending an international competition such as the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy always makes for some unexpected and interesting meetings. In my case, they started when I deplaned in Paris this morning, and -- after fighting my way through legions of travelers at Aeroport Charles de Gaulle, many more than I would have anticipated on a Saturday morning -- was thankful to spot a young woman holding a sign for the media shuttle to Caen.
Celine apologized and asked if I would be willing to wait a few minutes for another party. We chatted until they arrived: 2014 WEG reining judge and 2013 National Reining Horse Association Hall of Fame inductee Rick Weaver and his wife, April. (It wasn't hard to spot them in the crowd, as not too many men sport cowboy hats in these parts.)
Rick and April are lovely people, and we were enjoying comparing equestrian-discipline notes when up came another shuttle-bus passenger: an admittedly weary Elizabeth McMullen, Canadian dressage judge and a member of the ground jury for the WEG dressage competition.
No, I didn't get any juicy inside dressage-judging scoop -- although Elizabeth said this year's WEG judges are being required to evaluate about 50 horses a day, which is more than usual per the rules and something of a challenge to the judges, who will be asked to focus and concentrate and give potentially medal-changing opinions for, well, a really long time. She added wryly that, when the inevitable judging controversy arises, they'll have something -- fatigue -- to blame it on.
Nodding off myself during the 3.5-hour drive from Paris to Caen, I noticed Rick and Elizabeth, eyes closed, all of us tired from the long overnight flights from North America.
"And they wonder why we do this," Elizabeth had quipped of the life of an FEI judge, as she relayed tales of various travel woes. I think I know why -- why she and Rick and others, including America's own Lilo Fore, put themselves to the trouble. It's because they are dedicated and committed to their respective equestrian disciplines, and this is their way of giving back. But they're only human, and they get weary like everyone else. When I'm the one saluting at X, of course, I have a right to expect a rigorous, objective standard of judging. But it sometimes helps to remember that a certain amount of subjectivity is inevitable in dressage, and if I'm going to compete I need to accept that.