Opinion

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The recent Bolesworth CDI was fantastic. Congratulations to Nina Barbour and her team. The arena was challenging but friendly to the horses, and spectacular for the spectators. The grand prix and small tour classes were great to watch, with many new stars coming through. Having the young horse selection trials for the World Championships was a terrific idea and, although some horses were a little overawed by the circumstances, it was great experience for them.

Young horse classes are a bit like dressage’s version of a beauty pageant. If you put five different grand prix riders in the arena to judge, we would probably all pick a different horse as the winner. Sometimes the horses that are too slow in the hindleg “hot up” in the atmosphere, while the naturally sharper horses can boil over at that stage and don’t show their best swing through the body.

In the Bolesworth warm-up one young horse struck me: without a hammer and chisel and a rocket up its arse it should have no chance of making grand prix. But in the ring it lit up and looked relaxed and therefore supple instead of lazy. Without the assistance of a crystal ball it’s impossible for judges to tell.

The rider is vital. Without correct guidance the horse can’t reach grand prix. Horses that are overproduced at a young age risk soundness issues, but schooling on the forehand under the guise of being “brought on slowly” can invite just as many long-term issues because the horse has the rider and his own weight unevenly distributed over the front legs and not rebalanced over the hind. I’m becoming ever more convinced that being ridden out of balance is a major contributor to lameness.

Sellers: put the bag whips down!

Knowledge of conformation and managment is key. Some conformation issues can be overcome with correct shoeing, emphasis on musculature and a close relationship with the vet.

Horsemanship and addressing weaknesses at an early stage is crucial. I did my BHS exams, which closely study anatomy to stable manager level, and I am grateful for it to this day. I don’t think the many certificates and courses cover these elements comprehensively enough. How can we train horses if we can’t keep them sound?

We now need such purity in the basic gaits that even when the horse is a little tense he maintains the correct sequence and cadence. Until horses are seasoned campaigners, there is likely to be a little tension. Some horses’ gaits — especially the walks — can “go off”, and the canters become “tranters”. The correct mover will be more successful at international level even if they are not flashy as young horses and good riding will make the trot swing.

I look at a lot of horses for potential purchase and plead with many vendors to “put the bin bag down” when they are showing the horse off. On videos, off camera there’s often an umbrella behind and a quad bike with a flag racing along in front. Cue a 5k horse that looks like the next Valegro (watch for shadows, people!).

Horses that are spectacular only when they are tense in the back are not high scorers at international level any more. There is greater emphasis on relaxation now — quite right too in the interest of welfare. Riders need to keep communicating with breeders to make sure they emphasise the most desirable traits and that we have the right horses — quite literally — going forwards.

Ref Horse & Hound; 29 June 2017