In Japan, before a rider is allowed to move up in training or at competition, they are required to pass a written, practical and ridden test at that level. These tests are given at a licensing event and are sometimes held in conjunction with a competition. The written test consists of questions on equine care, farm management and health. The practical tests are judged on a riders ability to bridle, saddle, groom, mount/dismount and perform other tasks with their horse. These requirements vary by level. The ridden portion is a dressage style test and/or jumping course judged mainly on the riders position and execution of the movements. The levels begin at the “5th Grade”, which is a walk-trot test, very similar to a longer version of our USDF Intro tests A and B. The next level is the “4th Grade”. This test includes walk, trot and canter and is ridden by two horse and rider combinations at the same time. The “3rd Grade” test is a Prix Carpilli style test done in walk, trot and canter with the addition of four ground poles on one of the quarter lines. The 2nd and 1st Grade tests are equivalent to our USEF Second Level tests and although they both include the same required movements, the 1st Grade test is longer and more technically difficult.
There are very few horses on Okinawa, but Japan offers the licensing events in all regions in order to give all riders interested in testing the opportunity to do so. Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting the managers of one the farms on Okinawa. During this meeting, I found out that the Mihara Horse Club was hosting one of these licensing events and they asked if I would be willing to come and judge. I was thrilled and of course said yes! They also had Mr. Haraguchi, an FEI judge, flying in from mainland Japan for the event. I was very excited to meet him and be a part of such a unique experience.
I arrived at the barn first thing the morning of the event and the riders had begun taking their written tests. The instructors were busy organizing the schedule and preparing the horses for the practical portion of the morning. I had been to the farm twice before, but had never seen it this electric! The ring was beautifully raked with a dressage arena and letters set up. They even had a rolled centerline! There were two tables set on the short side near C and an American and Japanese flag raised in the background. I had an umbrella with me and as soon as Mihara’s Japanese instructor Yama saw me with it, he told me that I should put it back in my car. I asked him what I should do if it starts raining and he promised me that it wouldn’t rain on our licensing day…. and it didn’t! He must know something I don’t….
I was introduced to Mr. Haraguchi and we had a lovely chat via his very talented translator. I found out that there are many dressage terms that don’t exactly translate directly into the Japanese language. I am familiar with this though, as many German and Dutch terms take an English paragraph to explain the meaning behind. The translator did a wonderful job! She is a dressage rider herself and also acted as Mr Haraguchi’s scribe for the day. Stephanie Deming, the American instructor at Mihara, was acting as my scribe for the day.
I was able to watch the riders take the practical portion of the testing and then we all met near the entrance of the arena. Once everyone was there, we all stood facing the flags and our National Anthems were played over the loud speaker. It was a beautiful moment standing there in a freshly disked dressage arena with our National Anthem playing and the ocean waves crashing in the background. A moment I will never forget.
Next, Mr. Haraguchi and I were both asked to say a few words to the competitors about the things we were going to be looking for while judging their dressage tests. So many things come to mind when thinking about riding a good dressage test, but I tried to keep it simple as there were horses tacked and waiting. There is also something about knowing your words are about to get translated that keeps even the most talkative in check ;)
After the pow wow, all of the riders headed back to the barn and we made our way to the judges tables. Thankfully, I was provided with an English translation of all of the tests to judge by and just a few moments later, the first rider entered the arena. As the riders rode their tests, Yama read the following movements over the loud speaker, so everyone watching could stay involved. It would be too much for most competitions in the US, but at an event this size, it was really nice to have! During the 4th Grade tests, two horse and rider combinations ride at the same time. The test starts out with both horses halting at different points on the centerline and tracking to the same direction at C, but after that, they begin breaking off from one another. I looked over the tests that morning and had an idea of what I was to expect, but I will admit it was a bit of a challenge keeping up with two different riders on two completely different types of horses riding different movements in different areas of the arena.
God bless my scribe…
The riders did very well and the horses were all exceptionally well behaved. The passing score was 60% and not only was this the biggest licensing event Okinawa has hosted, but all of the riders received their certification! It was such a wonderful day and I am so thrilled that I was able to be a part of it. Thank you Yamashita, Mr. Nakahara, Erina Nakahara, Mr. Haraguchi, Stephanie Deming and Erin Rodriguez for putting together such a lovely day.