International Dressage Trainers’ Club chairman David Hunt opened the 2006 Global Dressage Forum at Academy, Holland by declaring that the health of competition dressage had never been better. Almost 50,000 spectators watched the grand prix special and 60,000 the kür at the summer’s World Equestrian Games (WEG).

“We saw unknown combinations [including Mexico’s Bernadette Pujals and Vincent] jump in to the top bracket. Three different horses won a class and they were not all trained on the same system. The judges are to be thanked for rewarding the best performances on the day,” he said. “But there is one key thing — the welfare of the horse — we must never move away from that.”

As well as debates on various training methods for horse and rider, including the use of the controversial “deep and round” technique, the forum hosted a lively session analysing the judging at WEG, where the delegates were invited to score the grand prix specials of Andreas Helgstrand (Blue Hors Matine); Bernadette Pujals (Vincent) and Isabell Werth (Satchmo) with the aid of DVD playback.

The audience pointed out that Vincent’s changes were the best of the three horses. The scoring sheets showed that in both the two-times Vincent achieved the same score as the other two horses (four eights and a seven) and in the one-tempis Vincent scored four eights and one nine, compared to Satchmo and Matine who each gained three sevens and two eights.

There was some discussion of Matine’s piaffe and passage — which has been widely praised as incredibly expressive. German journalist Birgit Popp said Matine’s scores for piaffe and passage surprised her, as the horse’s elasticity was not good enough.

“She showed wonderful potential, but it is not exactly what we want to see,” said Birgit.

Mariette Withages, judge and dressage committee chair, countered: “When I say spectacular, that doesn’t mean ideal or free of tension. If the horse gets a stronger back that will improve elasticity. Andreas even said in the press conference that once back at home he would be concentrating on the basics. You have to bear in mind that she is still very young and was a last-minute substitute for his top ride, Blue Hors Don Schufro.”

Stephen Clarke added: “We have to be a bit careful not to talk just about the technical aspects of a performance. We judges appreciated the mental side, too. Matine was the most willing horse and always smiling. It has to be worth something that she so much wants to do the work and was never working against the rider.”

Belgian journalist Astrid Appels asked why Debbie MacDonald’s ride Brentina scored more than 70% in the grand prix when the mare was “obviously lame”.

Stephen Clarke replied: “It’s really unfair to say that. The mare had some slight irregularities in the extended trot. To say she was lame is unfair. Her weaknesses were scored lower and there were elements of the test that were very high-scoring. But we admit, sometimes we make mistakes.”

Astrid went on to ask that if Brentina were only slightly irregular why was she pulled out of the competition after the grand prix.

“The rider felt the mare was uncomfortable in extended trot, so she decided not to take the risk any more,” added Stephen.

Read Horse & Hound’s full report from the Global Dressage Forum, including the use of “deep and round” as a training tool and the dressage world’s reaction to Monty Roberts, in tomorrow’s magazine (9 November, ’06)