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The die is cast: the Olympic team final is today. But in anticipation of a possible silver or bronze medal potentially reducing future funding available, planning for the Tokyo Games must start now.

A great move in this direction is the British Olympic Association’s (BOA) Ambition Programme. It enables upcoming athletes and coaches from various sports to go to Rio to observe and help them prepare for 2020.

Dressage riders Alice Oppenheimer and Hayley Watson-Greaves are among the contingent, with counterparts from eventing and showjumping there, too. But I’m intrigued by the “coaches” who
also got a trip to Rio under the Ambition Programme. Eventing and showjumping sent established trainers Sarah-Jane Verney and Fredrik Bergendorff; while dressage has Caroline Griffith, who’s noted for her logistical and management experience rather than coaching.

My enquiries to the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) about the strategy behind this decision have gone unanswered, but they admitted that the choice of dressage coach was “a good question”.

Not long ago our local Pony Club branch, the VWH, fielded three dressage and three eventing championship teams. And even so, there was strong competition among the members to get a place.
This year, we’re sending just one individual and the number participating in area teams has quartered. It’s so sad.

Children seem to be deserting the Pony Club in favour of BE80 and British Young Riders Dressage Scheme (BYRDS) — or rather their parents are rerouting them. And it’s not just in Gloucestershire, my part of the world, that this August institution is dying.

A friend in the north tells me numbers coming forward for Pony Club teams are dwindling up there too. Why? Well, the fact is BE offers support more suited to my friend’s competitive 14-year-old daughter’s needs.

Apparently the rally system, with compulsory attendance for would-be team members, is also considered outdated by today’s teenagers. A symptom of growing up more quickly, perhaps? What’s the solution? I still maintain that it’s a mistake to specialise too early; but no parent wants to stifle an eager child’s enthusiasm or talent.

Perhaps some sort of pathway co-ordinated by the Pony Club with the co-operation of the various disciplines is the answer? Yet again, it has to be said that closer harmony between our various equestrian bodies might prove fruitful.

Examining the exams

It’s good to hear that plans are under way for a revival of British Horse Society (BHS) exams. I’d suggest studying the German system, which has usurped ours to become the best in the world.

Currently, UKCC (UK Coaching Certificate) appears to be taking over from BHS qualifications, at least in terms of popularity and profile. But as someone who has both the BHS fellowship and UKCC Level 3, here’s a word of warning.

Yes, UKCC is a great initiative, but its curriculum is not as well-rounded as the BHS exams’. It’s a coaching qualification — not a measure of horsemanship.

A good coach can tell a rider when they’re failing to perform a correct shoulder-in. But only a well-educated horseman can identify the reason — such as a pinching girth — and therefore establish a solution.

Stable management is easily 50% of competition results. Yet UKCC qualifications don’t even touch on it. Take the brilliant young maths student: if he can’t grasp times tables, his algebra lacks solid foundation. So well done, BHS, for recognising that your mostly excellent exam system needs some renewal.

Ballot blues

At the Hartpury Premier League, 32 partnerships were balloted out of the inter I. I’m the last to want to see these shows become elitist, but perhaps the time has come for some sort of entry qualification. Maybe asking for two scores of plus-65% at prix st georges and inter I is about right?

Meanwhile, I had to smile at the show organiser’s reaction to one balloted out competitor’s disappointment. She soothed the pain with an assurance that it definitely wouldn’t happen again next year!

Ref Horse & Hound; 11 August 2016