Global Dressage Forum blog: journos, stewards, and other villains

  • The Global Dressage Forum (a Star Trek convention for dressage folk) got under way today in this its 10th year. I’ve only been to the past three, but I’d like to think that these were the best, the ones that did what a forum is supposed to do – create discussion that prompts change.

    Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but in the past two years things have actually Happened in dressageville. Things that were discussed here at the forum first, I mean. So kudos to organiser Joep Bartels. The sport that nobody thought could ever embrace revolution has done just that. (Don’t go getting complacent, mind, there’s still a long way to go.)

    For example, Frank Kempermann, organiser of still the greatest equestrian event in the world, CHIO Aachen, was here three years ago waxing lyrical about the need for a media-friendly sport and shorter tests to appeal to television. And here he stands now, chairman of the new FEI dressage committee, explaining how that is actually going to happen. He’s got the Olympic format he wanted, and he’s snuck it past the riders (such as Kyra Kyrklund, who was here objecting), who don’t want shorter tests, whether it helps sell the sport or not.

    The forum’s had a bit of a redesign and is looking posher than ever. How they stick a marquee on the side of an indoor school and create a space that feels like a trendy continental drinking hole combined with quite a smart wedding, really, I’ve no idea. But they do. “It’s cold,” says the journo to my right. Well, as indoor schools go, I’d say it’s pretty toasty, but of course we don’t feel like we’re in an indoor school, Joep et al have fooled us into thinking we’re in a real theatre.

    We’re getting quite slick at this Forum malarkey, too, most of us feel like regulars, we know the drill. Moderator Richard Davison makes the same (bad) jokes he always has, and we still chuckle like we always do. (Hello, Richard).

    If you ever feel sorry for the judges getting a bashing for the discrepancies in their marks, spare a thought for the new villains of the piece, the stewards, who were under discussion here. Stewards truly can’t win. They’ve been given guidelines to work with to stop images that we do not want to see in the warm-up at dressage internationals. Truth is, unless they get the riders off the horses altogether, they will never please the uber-anti-rollkur folk out there. You know, the ones that post videos on you-tube that feature Bono crooning “One life, we get to, carry each other, carry each otherrr”, over images of “cruelty” where ponies on the beach are tucking their noses in to their chests on completely loose reins.

    The stewards have these guys in their right ear, and the riders in their left, saying, “well, if you keep going down that road riders will be too scared to even pick up their reins”. There’s got to be a middle ground, right?

    The discussion following steward Jacques van Daele’s presentation was pretty juicy for this early on in the forum (ordinarily, we start out being terribly polite and things don’t kick off untill the second day). And somehow, in that discussion, the media ended up being held responsible for everything from the rollkur crisis to horses’ nosebands being cranked up too tight. What noise do goats make? But more of that and all the forum news and views in next week’s H&H.

    Meanwhile, we’re waiting for Jean Francois Pignon to come on to explain how he gets horses to follow him around Paris without headcollars. Someone’s given Spanish team trainer Jean Bemelmans a microphone after his glass of champagne and he’s spilling the beans on World Games sensation Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz…he’s talking about thin walls in hotels… But more of that tomorrow, too.

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