After the joys of Christmas and New Year celebrations it’s back to work and on the road to Rio. Olympic year is such an important one for so many reasons — keeping the sport’s profile high and maintaining the momentum built up after London and the way it filters down through all levels. An Olympic Games means so much to so many: it’s much bigger than the Europeans or the World Equestrian Games.
Looking ahead at team chances, we have three riders in the top 25 of the FEI dressage rankings: Charlotte Dujardin in the number one slot, me at number nine and Fiona Bigwood at 24 after a stunning debut year at grand prix with Atterupgaards Orthilia. But beyond the three of us we have a far larger than usual pool of talented international horses. With the next five in a group scoring 70-73% and beyond that a group currently scoring 68-70%, our position looks very healthy.
I do feel, however, that some new riders to the World Class programme are somewhat lacking in direction as to what is expected and what is needed to succeed at top level. The dilemma, as it always has been, is that shows want to attract the riders with the highest rankings, which makes it hard for up-and-coming riders to get into the top shows. The chances are these riders will need to contest at least three internationals, up to a maximum of seven, before selection takes place, generating a lot of pressure and little margin for error.
I would like to see the selectors take these riders in hand and give them direction: where to go, what shows would be best, and to point them in the direction of getting mileage in the grand prix special. The Olympic team competition is run over both the grand prix and the special, and I would urge all potential riders to take part in the special as this has to be an added bonus if they do well.
It is very easy for an up-and-coming combination to fade into the background, but the selectors can help ensure this does not happen and that talent is nurtured by getting these pairs to the right shows with funding behind them. If each of the three groups I have identified could add another 1-2% to their scores between now and Rio, how exciting that would be.
The Olympic competition is in August, so there’s not a lot of time. Some of us — Laura Tomlinson, Richard Davison, Charlotte, Gareth Hughes, Michael Eilberg, Fiona and I — have been part of a team at top level and represented Britain at European, World and Olympic level.
My plea is that selectors get behind the riders in the groups who haven’t done this and, instead of leaving the onus on them to prove themselves, send them out on Nations Cup teams to gain that experience.
Charlotte and I will start an outdoor campaign in April at some major shows in order to hit form at the right time for Rio. We’ve done it before so we’ll do it again.
A home plea
To anyone who hosts winter regional finals — please provide hook-ups for those staying in their lorries. And to those with flooded stables? Free shavings please, or fix those leaks!
Finally big congratulations to Susie Cumine, the new Chair for British Dressage South-West. As well as having a wealth of experience at all levels, Susie’s a lovely person who I’m sure will achieve her aims for the region. After all, among her many achievements is skiing to the South Pole — Susie surely has vision!
Ref: Horse & Hound; 14 January 2016