Doping, over-tight nosebands, badly fitted saddles and rollkur have been some of the grislier aspects of dressage highlighted in this comment over the years.

So it was with delight that I read World Horse Welfare’s Roly Owers’ tactful yet hard-hitting presentation to the FEI Assembly.

“In dressage,” he says, “we know the beautiful and apparently effortless dances of our horses are the result of intensive training and discipline, for both horse and rider. When does this cross the line into abuse? Even ‘low, deep and round’ guidance is open to abuse if not properly monitored.”

He urges open-mindedness.

“Nosebands, bitless bridles, barefoot horses, to name but a few, may be peripheral movements to improve horse welfare, but we cannot simply ignore them.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Meanwhile, a warning: I’m told that one poppy seed dropped into the equivalent of a swimming pool can be detected, so this doping business remains an ever-present threat to all of us who compete.

Better than nothing?

Many riders who got a new hat for Christmas will be smarting if it’s one that meets (BS) EN1384. As reported in H&H, what’s known as the European standard was withdrawn last month — and will be outlawed in British Dressage competitions by January 2016.

(BS) EN1384 hats tend to be lightweight, ventilated and, depending on one’s taste, fashionable. Thus they’re a palatable offering for those who don’t normally ‘do’ hats. And surely, any up-to-standard hat is better than a beagler, top hat or bare head?

Time for a para shake-up

I once told a para rider during a lesson to “put your right leg on” only for her to respond: “But I haven’t got a right leg!”

How competitors’ disabilities are assessed and how they are then categorised makes a big difference to their winning potential. So it’s good to hear that the FEI is working on what it describes as a “fairer and more transparent” medical classification system.

The current system is based on the now outdated assumption that paras ride borrowed horses, so it tends to assess the person “on the ground”. Therefore, it sometimes only recognises what is “wrong” with a rider off a horse, rather than what’s “right” when they’re on one.

As para standards soar ever higher, it’s time for a shake-up of the competitive classifications.

Instant feedback

I trained a partnership that never competed, but could do all the moves up to grand prix.

Some of the more competitive among us might struggle to understand the appeal of having lessons for their own sake. And the person who prefers training over going to shows probably gets fed up with hearing “you ought to…”

But there’s no denying they can be considered a treat. It’s a slot when you and your horse have an expert’s undivided attention.

You probably ride for longer in a lesson than you would at home or a show, and use good facilities if hiring an arena or visiting a trainer. Lessons can be fun; groups can learn from one another while reducing the outlay too.

So how do you put a price on that lot? Show entry fees are cost effective too. The test sheet system means ours is the only equestrian discipline to provide instant feedback at every level, every time.

Maybe excellent value for money is just one reason why dressage has become so popular? Long may it continue.

Don’t judge on just riding

Judges wishing to upgrade from 3A and above should be allowed to prove themselves via their judging, followed by some training, not by riding as is currently the case.

What if an accident or loss of a horse means one doesn’t have the means to achieve 60% at prix st georges as required? Yes, one could borrow a horse from a kind lender, but even with a good horse, it can take months to become a partnership even for 60%.

Ref: Horse & Hound; 15 January 2015