Opinion

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OK, call me a grumpy old woman. But having been a member of British Dressage (BD) for around 50 years, I’ve seen it grow, thrive and win medals. Right now, however, I’m concerned for its members on many fronts.

Yes, rows on social media and internet forums can be damaging. But to summarise: “Hello, I’m a BD member. Is anyone in management listening?” is the general gist.

Well, there was some serious listening done by the powers that be at a meeting attended by over 200 members during the BD National Convention (25-26 November). Many left with renewed hope that action will follow some positive words from our sport’s hierarchy.

For the benefit of the thousands of BD members not at that meeting, chief among the main complaints was a lack of communication — and that an improved job could be done by the organisation.

Constantly I hear about telephones never answered at BD HQ, horses’ points incorrect or missing, qualification cock-ups and a competition structure that defies explanation. And the rule book is too complicated.

BD should be run for its members and competitions, because without either there is no BD. “I was so affronted, it was better to put the phone down; my words are unprintable,” one organiser told me after a call with BD.

Outside the BD box

Here’s my experience. For some time, I’ve run BD’s Young Professionals scheme, originally my mother Molly Sivewright and Domini Morgan’s idea to unearth talent. Carl Hester didn’t win the year he entered, but it has given a leg-up to so many others.

On the day I hosted this year’s finals, I was told by a BD official: “It’s become bigger and better than you can cope with…” While I wasn’t expecting a fanfare, nor did I foresee getting the sack quite so ignominiously. Maybe I’ll run a new X Factor-style competition instead.

I’m not the only one thinking outside the BD box… I love my sport and will do anything for it, even if that means saying what others are too wet to do so. As Sport England sets new accountability guidelines for all sports, the time has come to sort it out — before they do it for us.

This BD board has had more issues in three years than the previous 50. “The only thing that makes good government is good opposition,” goes the saying. Too often, as the unaffiliated market grows, I hear, “It’s not worth joining BD.”

As for opinions voiced in this comment, I’ve been “spoken to” and told to shut up. Sometimes I’ve been warned off by the same people who tell me privately, “You’re right, of course.”

Who will join me?

What well and truly lit the fuse last month was Karen Ryder’s redundancy. The popular British Young Riders Dressage Scheme and under-21s manager is (or was) BD. Members were furiously upset.

Some BD members may feel remote from these politics. But the knock-on effect is clearly hurting with views vented on a breakaway forum.

BD ruled that real names must be used on its members’ forum. Tricky in a subjective sport… It also decreed that social media bullying is a no-no, while declining to say what happens when non-members verbally “murder” members, yet said members have to curb their replies.

So who will join me in shouldering the backlash from speaking out? Or should I just keep quiet and carry on having a lovely time training my five-year-old?

Ref Horse & Hound; 7 December 2017