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The recent regional championships have acted like a red rag to a bull for those feeling aggrieved by British Dressage’s (BD) gold, silver and bronze structure.

The new system was supposed to give those riders with less experience a chance to shine in their own sections. Initially introduced on 1 December 2015, it was amended a month later, then completely revised on 1 December 2016.

The upshot is that everyone who’s been riding in recent regional championships had qualified under the original gold/silver/bronze system, which has since been updated.

By the time the regional championships for this summer’s nationals come round, the new cycle will be complete and everyone will have qualified under the revised system. But that’s not to say all is well…

Yes, BD consulted its members — and received 900 odd emails on the subject. However, such is the vitriol this whole debacle has created, it begs the question of whether BD should have acted sooner or with more clout.

Many of the accusations concern well-known riders appearing in silver sections where, under the spirit (if not the letter) of the rules at least, they had no right to be. Unsurprisingly, those competing against them feel at best demoralised and, at worst, tempted to give up dressage altogether — and I don’t blame them!

As far as outright cheating goes, it would perhaps be fairer to say that some riders have unsportingly taken advantage of what were — under the “old new” rules — perfectly legal loopholes. It’s also been observed that the rules are so damn complicated, they’re almost impossible to police.

A delicate balance

Whether BD should have removed suspected miscreants’ qualifications is a moot point. At least it has now revised the regulations, albeit too late for some who missed out on a qualification and/or win for which they had worked so long and so hard. Meanwhile there will be riders at next month’s winter championships who probably shouldn’t be — at least not in the sections for which they have qualified.

So where do we go from here? BD says it has closed the loopholes and is finalising some statistics to prove that the new system is finally working fairly and effectively. As I write, these are not yet available.

Longer term, I can see all the reasons for giving competitors a fresh start after a break from the sport, or a leg-up to the inexperienced. It’s harsh to put someone who once rode at prix st georges on their horse of a lifetime — before marriage, working and babies — in the same category as a semi-pro. In any case, the standard is unrecognisable 20 years on.

Eventing still allows William Fox-Pitt to ride his young horses in novice classes and Scott Brash can jump in a Foxhunter. So why shouldn’t top professional dressage riders compete their up-and coming prospects at the lower levels too?

On the other hand, how daunting to follow an Olympic rider (the likes of whom were previously restricted to young horse classes) into the arena for a novice or elementary test. Just trying to measure up is enough to make even a good amateur throw in the towel.

In a subjective sport, winning prizes and earning the chance to ride at prestigious championships are the sole rewards for dedicated training. That’s why BD should have acted faster and more decisively on this one.

Ref Horse & Hound; 30 March 2017