British Dressage’s new young horse forum initiative kicked off on Monday (16 January) at Matt Hicks’ Hampshire base, Hurstbourne Equestrian Centre.

Hosted by Paul Hayler, Paul Fielder and Isobel Wessels, the day featured young horses from four years old showcasing the new four-year-old test, right up to a demonstration of the tricky new test for seven-year-olds.

Spectacular versus functional

The presenters explained that it’s not the flashiest of paces that they’re looking for in these classes, and discussed the age-old debate of young horses being behind the vertical.

“I personally don’t mind if the horse sometimes drops the poll and drops behind the vertical,” explained Isobel. “But of course it’s horrid to see a horse stuck behind the vertical with force.

“And what we don’t want to see in the medium trot is running — you sometimes see people going flat out — and that’s got no future. It’s the adjustability we’re looking for.”

Paul Fielder concurred: “Every other rider might be going round with a big auction trot, but you don’t need to get involved with that. When your eye is taken to something extreme, then you must caution that, because it’s not sustainable.”

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Isobel — who has judged at the World young horse championships — added: “Spectacular isn’t isn’t really what we’re looking for, because spectacular doesn’t last. We need to discourage it in judging, because both clinically and mentally, those horses won’t survive.

“The high mark earners in Ermelo at the world championships were the natural movers who blossomed in front of us. It was easy on the eye and the top horses coped naturally with the tasks in the test. As soon as you’re on the edge of your seat, there might be something going wrong.”

Paul Hayler concluded: “I don’t want to see these horses looking like mini grand prix horses.”