If you’ve not experienced the Global Dressage Forum at Hooge Mierde in the Netherlands, imagine the love child of an Addington Manor lecture demo and a five-star hotel wedding reception — that’s it, you’ve got it.
Chandeliers adorn the indoor school and plush, silver chairs line the auditorium, while meals are served in a red, velvet big top marquee with a carousel theme. This year, a day of lectures and panel discussions is to be followed by dinner — which is gourmet, no generators or egg and bacon rolls here. This will be followed by a display by the Cadre Noir de Saumur — a glance back at history, to remember, “where dressage came from”. Or, to look at it another way, men in uniform with French accents. Marvellous.
My point? This is far from your average lecture demo — no Thermatex needed over your knees for a start. It’s not even reminiscent of your average national convention, where you’d have just one top trainer, one respected name; here there are a hundred and Olympians Laurens van Lieren (NED) and Emma Hindle (GB) are drawn in just to illustrate a point.
The Dutch system
The dressage cognoscenti have gathered at the Bartels’ family home for the past eight years and, this year, the forum kicked off hearing about the Dutch system that has made this nation a formidable rival to the once invincible Germans.
It was a well-earned opportunity for the Dutch to bask in their self-made glory and a chance for the rest of us, well, us Brits in particular, to go green with envy. It’s not that we’re bitter; it’s just that, listening to the simplicity of their winning formula it’s so clear why they’ve been successful, and so painful that the British haven’t followed a similar path.
This was where Laurens and Emma came in. Laurens, part of the Dutch gold medal winning team in Turin 2007, is a shining example of the Dutch talent spotting system, while Emma’s Hong Kong ride Lancet is a shining example of Dutch breeding and training — Imke Schellekens competed the stallion at Athens. The system is slick, undeniably impressive and you can read all about it in next week’s H&H.
Britain could learn a thing or two from their experience, particularly our breeding industry, but I won’t start. Maybe one day, with one umbrella breed society and one goal, we stand a chance of catching up. I know, you’ve heard it all before, I’ll change the record.
We moved on to an interrogation of the judging at the Olympics, only, it wasn’t so much of an interrogation as technical delegate at Hong Kong Mariette Withage, an Olympic judge herself, was there to defend each point before it had the opportunity to become a discussion.
It’s difficult what the forum is trying to achieve here — open debate that doesn’t offend or upset anyone — or prompt legal action. It’s all about exchanging ideas, while maintaining RESPECT. It’s a tough balance.
I’m not asking for handbags at dawn, the last thing I want to witness tomorrow is passionate debate that only dogs and bats can hear. But if nobody questions the status quo, if nobody discusses things that might prompt discussion and change, then everything will always stay the same, and then what’s the point in having this glorious forum?
Meanwhile, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to listen to some men in uniform. Au Revoir…
Read H&H’s full report from the Global Dressage Forum in H&H (6 November, ’08)