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A trip to the Dressage Ireland national championships never fails to raise the spirits. Things were more organised than in 2014. The standard was better too, albeit with room for improvement, while participation has doubled — 840 tests is going some.

OK, not all surfaces were great and the music judges may have suffered earache. There was still a slight gradient — dubbed “the hill”. But three 20x60m arenas indoors and an excellent atmosphere compensated.

We’re lucky to have Area Festivals, but Ireland had Trond Asmyr — former FEI director of dressage no less — judging. Mark Ruddock, another top judge officiating here, wasn’t sure when he last judged a prelim. Mr Asmyr had surely not judged at novice level for years. How fabulous for those lucky competitors.

Winter shopping

The British Dressage nationals have become my annual happy hunting ground for a new winter coat. Horses were changing theirs too. As I hid under my umbrella, I could only wish they’d move the blasted thing to a warmer month.

Nevertheless, it appeared to run like clockwork. Dividing the working-in into two was spot-on, judges were mostly in agreement and stewards on the ball.

The ubiquitous sidelines conversation was about how it was now almost impossible to beat Charlotte Dujardin in any class on any horse. My reply when asked was, “Here’s to a winter’s hard work!”.

The grand prix grabbed attention as those at the top scored well — maybe not enough to gain medals at the next Olympics, but a much higher standard than usual. Not all the frontrunners were there, but five combinations over 70%, and higher marks still in the freestyle, bodes well.

The other winners at the nationals were the tradestand holders. The dressage crowd are by far and away “the best shoppers” one told me as I took cover in their tent.

Harmony’s the way

Just as I thought a little peace was descending on the bits, tight nosebands and hyperflexion front, someone sent me pictures from Blenheim of partnerships well resisting the contact as they travelled cross-country.

How awful, was my first thought, swiftly followed by a memory jolt of my first cross-country horse pulling like a train and going in a gag.

How do we compete, or don’t we? And how do we bridge that gap with the no shoes, no bridles, no connection, no competitions, let’s hug a tree lot? I’m working hard through social media with William Micklem FBHS and classical trainer Heather Moffett to a) gain understanding, b) appreciate both sides of the coin and c) move forward to a better competition future.

Sven Rothenberger, whose son Sönke won double individual silver in Gothenburg, says the key is to work on harmony, which was rightly rewarded at the last Olympics.

“Times have changed,” he adds. “The judges want to see a full package of suppleness, with good submission and a good frame. That’s the solution.”

Winning with harmony — and thus bringing happiness to all factions — is so difficult for us mere mortals to get right. There’s no doubt that the “hug a tree” lot have a point, sometimes. But come on guys, all animals will say “no” at times. As with all things, it’s the balance that counts. And, most of all, keeping an open mind to receiving and interpreting each other’s point of view.

However, I still maintain it’s impossible to gallop around Aintree or Blenheim with a quiet, relaxed contact. Or is it?

Ref Horse & Hound; 12 October 2017