Opinion

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A new broom is sweeping the room for younger riders and there have been controversial proposals by British Dressage (BD), provoking strong reactions from members and parents. The main changes are the name switch from British Young Riders Dressage Scheme (BYRDS) to BD Youth, and the proposal that it should be mandatory for these “Youth” members to take stable management exams via the Pony Club in order to be considered for squads.

I am a passionate believer in stable management education. If we are going to take horses out of their natural environment, shut them in stables for a considerable part of their day and ask them to perform for the benefit of our own enjoyment, the very least we can do is learn how to care for their welfare.

One of the best things I ever did was choose to take my British Horse Society (BHS) exams to BHSI stable manager level. Of course, many people have never taken an exam and have a wealth of knowledge to be respected, but the process proved invaluable for me. So, incorporating stable management into the Youth system is a terrific idea.

The proposal to “force” BD Youth members to join the Pony Club and take exams through its system in order to be considered for future squads has not gone down well, though. I don’t believe the way forward for any organisation is to hold members and parents to ransom.

Under pressure

The Pony Club is viewed by some, but not all, as a fantastic organisation and has an infrastructure that supports stable management. One of the reasons for this proposal is that it is the most cost-effective way to educate BD Youth members.

Enthusiasm for this will be based on whether a member and their family have had a positive or negative experience and concerns about extra costs and time, particularly when many members are taking their school exams. I teach many young people who are really stressed about these exams and, when they ride, they are “getting away” from that pressure, giving them much-needed time out.

It’s not always much fun being young. Pressure of social media, money, status, friends (and frenemies) and coping with jealousy are all right there waiting for young riders in increasing amounts, if they wish to progress through the sport to the highest levels. To survive at  top level sport, it’s important to learn to get “comfortable with feeling uncomfortable” and handle those challenges. But not all BYRDS members are aiming for the top of the sport.

Should we introduce another mandatory layer of pressure for those who want to enjoy their horses, have fun and feel part of a supportive team, or is there a practical option to enthuse them to learn more about horse care by means of relevant education as part of the organisation they have chosen?

I’m in wholehearted support of the sentiment, but think the feelings of the members have been underestimated, the method of delivery needs revisiting and more of the members’ and their parents’ thoughts should be considered.

As for the name, it works in Europe, but in the UK “youth’’ tends to be used as a derogatory term. Why not have a competition to find a new name, if needed, and have young riders feel they “own” it?

Ref Horse & Hound; 26 October 2017