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The 2017 dressage season has kicked off with full force, with shows galore, the new British Dressage young horse forums and regionals looming. There was also a stallion show at Bury Farm that lit up social media for all the wrong reasons.

The event is for breeders to showcase their stallions to potential clients and to promote UK breeding.

If you’re not a stallion or broodmare owner this event might ordinarily pass you by. Not so this year. For those of you unaware of the commotion, I’ll recap: Woodlander Stud’s Lynne Crowden showcased some of her rising three-year-olds under saddle. One of them, Double Bubble, was ridden very sympathetically by Lynne’s long-time in-house rider Carsten Sandrock. The video of him showing off his paces was posted on the Horse & Hound: Dressage Facebook page, and all hell broke loose.

For those of you wondering why, the horse is rising three, so may not actually turn three for some time yet and is, in effect, still two-and-a-half years old.

The passion and love Lynne has for her horses and the sport can’t be questioned. She has worked tirelessly with her husband Dave for as long as I can remember to promote and encourage British breeding.

She was responsible for the thunderbolt that Woodlander Farouche and Michael Eilberg gave the dressage world when the combination won the World Breeding championships back-to-back, not to mention the countless Woodlander-prefixed horses we’ve seen winning at all levels in the pages of H&H for many years. The lady deserves some respect.

I was horrified at the way some people responded on social media. The venom, aggression and cruelty that was directed personally at Lynne was unforgivable.

It’s incredibly uncomfortable to see criticism of any sort in black and white right under your nose; I’ve been on the receiving end of it and it’s not pleasant. My life has been discussed and criticised on various forums and it can be hurtful and distressing.

Unfortunately the world we live in, and the technology we have lends itself to some individuals using it in the wrong way to the detriment of, and with a complete disrespect for, their victims’ personal feelings.

One wrong move spells disaster

Our young horses’ happiness, confidence and longevity has to be the number one priority. Great responsibility lies in our hands when deciding their path. When should we back them? When to do the first show? Should we campaign the young horse classes?

It’s a minefield — one wrong move and we could be leaving a long-term mental or physical gremlin for years to come.

All horses are individuals. Some are born with an old head on young shoulders and an in-built confidence about the situations we put them in. But most of them need to see and experience different situations to build confidence in themselves and also — crucially — in their rider.

For most professional producers, it’s pretty obvious which ones fall into which category. Physically, if a young horse finds something easy, I don’t believe that by doing it you’re going to damage them.

It’s the ones that look and feel weak or aren’t built for the job who, if pushed too early and not given time to mature, are heading for short-lived careers.

In the stallion show fallout, passions ran high. People piled in, ramming their opinions down our throats. Posts were removed from forums, complaints were made and the debate raged. The video was watched well over 100,000 times. I hope Lynne’s inner strength carried her through.

I can remember seeing a small, dark two-and-a-half-year old, very confident little colt being prepared for stallion grading in Holland. He didn’t grade; he got castrated, sold and came to England. He won lots of young horse classes from four upwards, and many more through the levels. Last year, he successfully defended his individual gold at the Rio Olympics at the age of 14. The system can work.

Ref Horse & Hound; 26 January 2017