Opinion

Some may I feel I should shut up and smile, but I’m afraid I care too much about dressage…

British Dressage (BD) as an organisation is not the love of my life at present. Is the board really hearing its membership? Not if the apparent lack of action on angsts such as the gold, silver, bronze debacle is any indication.

Letters to H&H are well answered; CEO Jason Brautigam is a master of words and pacification. But is he a good listener?

BD’s charitable status has been highlighted by some letter-writers, as has its healthy financial surplus. So why the huge price hikes across membership fees, judges’ seminars and training days?

Still the rumblings about personnel continue. Will the appointment of Peter Storr as judges’ director bring changes for the better? Let’s hope so. We still miss Karen Ryder (BD’s long-time head of the British Young Riders Dressage Scheme, who was made redundant last year). Even brilliant appointees need many months to replace all that experience and respect.

This year marks BD’s 20th birthday. But much as the development of a national dressage federation is admirable, I don’t think the depth of knowledge of those holding the reins is as it was.

Thick skin required

If one competes in public — which these days means the whole world can watch — then, I’m sorry, but you’ve got to be prepared to take the flack.

I’ve never seen such appalling riding as in “that American test” which went viral. Anyone who saw the confused horse trying his heart out to understand 640 conflicting messages from yanked bits, whipping and kicking couldn’t fail to be angry.

I never condone personal vitriol, but the outcry wasn’t so much bullying as public outrage. Long may that continue!

Millions have read Black Beauty in which Anna Sewell highlighted the agony of carriage horses in bearing reins. Thousands viewed images of endurance horse Splitters Creek Bundy on his stumps of broken legs. Is mental torment of a horse any less a welfare issue? It’s only by exposing these realities that anything changes. Communication tools are now faster and more accessible. But the speed of action should match the speed of criticism.

Through the FEI Time To Act group, we’ve occasionally named and shamed. But it’s not individuals we’re hounding, it’s those apathetic sporting governing bodies, national and international, who shouldn’t be turning a blind eye to the Tennessee walking horses forced into exaggerated gait by the “big lick”, or to overly tight nosebands and bad riding. Thank you, British Horse Society in Britain and Scotland, for your support.

We want action, not reaction. The powers-that-be should be honing ways to police rollkur — so as not to wrongly accuse riders of nicely rounded horses — not pretending it doesn’t exist. If we are to keep dressage as a world-recognised sport, we must take care of it. Roly Owers of World Horse Welfare (letters, 15 February) says of endurance riding that “what hurts the horse hurts the sport”. Dressage, be warned.

Ours is now a global sport, so should have global rules. A single standard across the FEI and all national federations would avoid riders being allowed to take a hand off the reins to beat a horse who didn’t realise he was supposed to piaffe!

While I can still draw breath, nothing will stop me standing up for the horse.

How’s that fair?

Please, BD, don’t follow BE and strip the national flag from some riders’ jackets. Every international appearance takes blood, sweat and tears: where’s the fairness in allowing only seniors to keep theirs for longer than two years?

My flag, from a senior British team, would be safe. It’ll look good in a silver section when I downgrade in a year or two, as I am within my rights to do in this confusing system.

Ref: Horse & Hound; 1 March 2018