With British dressage seeing a massive increase in participation, double Olympic gold in the bag and the world’s top combination in Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, all in the garden is looking rosy. Or is it?

Compared with enormous uptake of our sport at the lower levels, there remains only a select few competing at grand prix. You could argue that it doesn’t matter if everyone is happy doing what they do. But to produce consistent championship wins — the very thing that attracts new members — it needs strength in depth.

Talking of which, there are four impressive candidates forward for the voluntary role of British Dressage (BD) marketing director. They are ex-RAF wing commander and management training expert Julie Frizzell, businesswoman and social media specialist Christina Jones, sports promoter and Burghley’s new press officer Carole Pendle, and Anne Somers (no, not that one), holder of high-powered financial sector roles.

They’re all dressage fans as well as marketing gurus, so it’s what they intend for BD’s membership profile that interests me. For a start, how would they close the burgeoning gap between the masses at the lower levels and the few at the top?

Many will see sponsorship at the top of the new incumbent’s agenda. Perhaps the new director could also use her marketing skills to hone prelim and novice competitors’ drive and ambition? BD is fortunate to have such an experienced quartet prepared to give their time to our sport. Do check them out and do vote by 5 September.

Still got it

It was great to see so many Irish riders competing — and well placed — in the Masters Championship classes at Hickstead Premier League.

The whole show was a great success, with smiles abounding on all days. The background music was, to my ears, a little intrusive but that could be my age.

Well done Dane Rawlins and his team. But please note: the loos ran out of flush stuff and paper.

Abira and I had a ball. When judge Peter Storr gave me an eight for our first centre line, I nearly stopped, got off and kissed him! To read on my test sheet “well done, you still have it” from one judge and “you got all the marks you could” from another was so uplifting. However, it was the “you could give a lesson to the youngsters in test riding” that chuffed me most.

So why is the art of test riding so rarely taught? Or perhaps it’s a good job it’s not, or my placing would have been lower…

I left Hickstead feeling younger. That’s what having fun is all about. The icing on the cake was my daughter-in-law Abi Hutton qualifying for her first international at Hartpury — on my horse.

A whip rule alternative

One cannot carry a whip at Premier Leagues, so how about a rule revision that if one is used, the result doesn’t count towards qualification? To have positive grand prix horses for the future, most international riders want to carry a whip for some tests. Rules sometimes need review. And this is a case in point. I make no apology for repeating another plea. When a winner at prix st georges or inter I has their qualification, the second-placed horse should qualify if their score is more than 72%.

Riders want to take their good horses to Premier Leagues, not least to please owners. But when one horse wins a few qualifiers, other riders just want to pack up and go home. One top rider is particularly fed up of the stick they’re getting over this — and nearly attacked me when I broached the subject. It’s time for a change.

All the fun of the fayre

From September, one can be fined up to £1,000 for driving a horsebox without a certificate of professional competence (CPC). I’m told the solution is either to take the course or ensure driving is not work-related. So hide your rosettes as they count as earnings/prizes. Apparently circuses are exempt. So keep an eye out for my newly painted lorry with designer elephants front and back.


This column was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (24 July, 2014)