Opinion

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It’s generally agreed that we need to bring back real “club level” competition, as the British Dressage (BD) silver section is currently too large. But how to re-group it?

One of my keen amateur clients summed it up: “I don’t ride a gypsy cob, ex-racehorse or a veteran. I ride a dressage horse as well as I can and I’d like a section I could be competitive in and a chance to go to a championship”.

Contrary to popular opinion, the gold section is not a group of ruthless team riders on million dollar horses, intent on pursuing a rosette, fame and glory at all costs. But it is professional level and it’s where international riders should be.

A high standard makes us all ride better and this shouldn’t be underestimated — if we surround ourselves with excellence we improve, and the thrill of the chase makes a better competition.

The silver section comprises too wide a demographic, leaving it partly professional, and the successful, formerly restricted section riders feel they have lost their championship opportunities. The problem isn’t when riders don’t win classes, but when they feel they have no chance. We need more to migrate into gold.

Pushing boundaries

By definition competitions have winners and losers. Winners are often prepared to do things others aren’t to achieve their goals. This could be going to the gym five times a week, trading social occasions, relationships and holidays for training and competitions, and it’s cut-throat at the top. The winner is often the one who pushes boundaries the most. These factors inevitably reduce the top of the field to a small number of highly-motivated individuals.

Winning should not be made easy. The pride is in the hard-fought battle made up of trial, tribulation, sweat and tears.

Excitement in sport is in its stories. We enjoy the struggle and when the underdog comes through, it gives everyone hope.

Most BD members compete for fun as well as to test themselves. We need the excitement back in silver level competition by re-thinking its parameters.

However, it’s easy to complain and harder to find solutions. I feel riders should take responsibility and an element of self-declaration would help. Surely coaches must count as professional, at least at the level they are coaching at. If the Area Festivals were renamed the Amateur Championships, it might focus competitors to make decisions about how they want to be perceived.

Opportunities for all

It was better when team riders only rode in the higher-level classes at championships. It opened out the competition and provided chances for young professionals in the gold section to showcase themselves, giving more opportunities for all. The idea of grouping by average percentages is interesting and could be explored further.

Bearing in mind all the complaints on social media, it’s a pity that only a few people came and offered their solutions to the BD AGM at the nationals. Some of us put forward ideas about rider grouping, but we were all gold riders. BD was prepared to listen and I can confirm that there is plenty of wine for anyone who needs a little Dutch courage.

Ref Horse & Hound; 1 November 2018