Opinion

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Everyone wants the chance to compete at the nationals. Or should the nationals simply be the best in the country at each level?

The word is that the main body of the membership want their championships to be a two-tier event, featuring both the inspirational, the gold, to watch the best of the best, and the aspirational silver classes that are within their potential reach. Our current two-tier system isn’t working as the silver section needs redefining.

The aspirational feel is being lost for our core group of members as the winner of every section at the nationals 2017, barring two, was either a self-declared professional or a World Class talent-spotted combination.

In its definition British Dressage [BD] states: “Silver sections are designed for those combinations that have achieved more ability at a level and have demonstrated that they are no longer a beginner at that level.

“Gold sections are for riders who have gained experience at higher levels and are riding a horse with less experience, or for combinations who have demonstrated that they are competent at a level.”

The definition for gold is clear. The definition of silver is blurry at best. How much “more” experience is the question. I think it worked better before when the restricted was an exciting mix of top amateurs and up-and coming young professionals who had not yet ridden up the grades.

If the rules were effective in implementing the intention, the winners of two of the silver sections in 2017 would have been in the gold as they have both ridden at considerably higher levels. The other three winners would be in the silver. It must be expected that, in competitive sport, people will uphold the letter of the rule, although some do “self-regulate”.

If the BD membership wants to maintain a true two-tier system, then the answer is in the thankless task of redefining the rules. In trying to create opportunities the floodgates have been well and truly opened for the professionals to dominate both sections and therefore the “silver spirit” has been left feeling tarnished.

Riding skill is key to longevity

The nationals also have young horse classes. It’s fun following them to see which horses make it in the end although I’d back riders over horses any day. It’s no coincidence that the same group of riders keep producing horses to grand prix as thankfully riding skill is still what defines longevity in our sport and that, in itself, is an inspiration.

Two fingers or…

I was excited to read Pammy Hutton’s suggestion of our hardworking stewards using “BD standard” dildos instead of the “oh so unscientific” two fingers to check nosebands. It’s a truly brilliant idea and could be revolutionary for the sport. Will they be available in the online shop so people can check at home, like breathalyser tests, I wonder? This could be a new source of income for BD, putting gift aid to shame.

Perhaps the ranges could be endorsed by top riders — The Carl, The Emile, The Gareth? These trainers would then surely encourage riders to fit their nosebands ever looser so as not to lose credit, pleasing all those classical enthusiasts who could buy their own to support the cause.

Ref Horse & Hound; 28 September 2017