Laura Graves and Verdades’ World Cup final performance was spellbinding. Here was a happy, yet powerful and fluent horse. This partnership has future championship medals written all over it. Carl Hester was a master at work to produce similar attributes from Nip Tuck and finish third behind Laura. The winners were Isabell Werth and Weihegold, but for me there were a few flaws in their rhythm. Shoot me now, but that’s what I saw, albeit not live.
While mutterings continued that the top three deserved their places, although perhaps not in that order, worse was to come.
Internet forums went into overdrive as pictures of the hitherto much-admired Edward Gal warming up an apparently over-bent, hyper-flexed Glock’s Voice did the rounds.
I’ve been pragmatic thus far, trusting that unfortunately-timed photos highlight a fleeting moment. I absolutely love Edward’s ability to bring out the best in horses, which is why this latest online assault hurts more than most.
Of course, it’s easy to tut-tut and say, “Something must be done…” But what? CCTV in every warm-up arena? Snaffles only up to championship level? Braver stewards backed up by FEI guidelines on over-bent horses? And how do we know what goes on out of public view?
A cultural shift
Fellow FBHS William Micklem — one of the few top mainstream trainers prepared to speak out — believes cultural change is needed.
“Dressage has a special importance as the core activity for every single other equestrian activity,” he told me. “Yet for a long time now there’s been a disconnect between what happens in pure dressage at higher levels and what we would like to see in terms of excellent training.
“These top riders are very important role models and without a doubt, the riding styles and use of tack — particularly crank nosebands — are putting people off our great sport.”
So what’s William’s solution?
“These things are not solved by one rule change or one single period of outrage,” he says. “It’s important that as people carefully seek solutions, they don’t show a lack of respect for individuals. And of course the core value must be respect for the horses. Carl Hester, Charlotte Dujardin, Michael Jung and William Fox-Pitt are never seen getting over-strong with a horse.
“There are thousands of people out there who could be new participants in our sport, but who are put off by a number of aspects; primarly watching horses being drilled or in uncomfortable situations,” is William’s chilling conclusion.
A decade ago, William noticed that many riders’ bridles weren’t working as well as they might. Instead of openly criticising and accusing them of equine abuse, he invented and offered an alternative, more sympathetic version.
If it’s to quell a perception of inhumane habits, perhaps dressage likewise needs to develop a means of rewarding a more sympathetic and ultimately more effective way forward?
The past and future
I can’t let another month go past without acknowledging that multi-medallist Anne Dunham has retired. I’m in a kind of mourning as I so miss the drive and hard work that kept her and her horse on the top team list.
However, all is not lost. Anne is now in my indoor school several times a week, teaching. In particular, the up-and-coming Suzanna Hext — watch this space!
My week at the Hartpury winter championships was made by an Area Festival novice competitor riding her Welsh cob: “Pammy, it’s the journey and the learning that I’m grateful for; the result is not important.”
I must remember that when I enter at A.
Ref Horse & Hound; 27 April 2017