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The recent bank holiday weekend was a busy one with the Midway Championships, the Summer Music Festival and Bronze Championships, and the Hartpury Area Festival all taking place. The Midways were a roaring success, proving that the “middle group” of riders competing at the higher levels need catering for.

There were disappointing numbers at the Summer Music Festival however, with fewer than 10 competitors in some classes.

With date clashes like this, it’s inevitable that entries will suffer, but numbers provide the real championship feel. Hopefully the calendar will be re-jigged next year to iron out these small issues in the otherwise excellent initiatives.

The end game

Another new initiative this summer was the Elite Foal Registration Tour, which took a group of high-level assessors around the country to see this year’s crop of British-bred foals. The leading sales yards in Denmark and the Netherlands visited the Newton Stud day and several foals were sold. The final is to be held at Moreton Morrell on 8 September with a huge prize fund of more than £40,000. Everyone is welcome to come and watch to celebrate the best of British breeding.

After seeing so many foals, and in discussion with all the different studbooks attending, it was agreed that to assess movement it’s best to imagine the foal with a rider on board. Think of the end game — if a foal naturally carries himself with a soft neck and swinging tail, the more likely he is to retain this when ridden.

It’s frustrating to see young horses over-pushed, resulting in spectacular hindleg movement with stiff backs and their tails up, and it becomes impossible to assess its natural ability. The higher the head, the more the horse is pulling his front legs up by the neck, and when you eventually ride that horse with the neck down in a relaxed way they can completely lose that movement — at this point the breeder often blames the rider!

Good horses swing through the body. Spectacular movers who resemble starfish, with limbs spread out in four different directions, won’t last.

Is sharp essential?

It’s a myth that a good horse must have a sharp temperament. At my stables, we back 20-30 horses a year, training them through to grand prix, and I now believe the absolute reverse. Horses who are labelled “bad” characters are often the ones being asked to do things they physically can’t.

There are many top stallions who produce excellent characters, as well as some renowned for creating the “sharper” model, and quality does not need to be compromised. No breeder needs to fear breeding a dressage horse who is “too good” — there will always be a market for well-behaved horses.

We should worry more about adding low-quality horses into the gene pool. Just because we can breed doesn’t mean we should — a quick look at daytime TV is evidence of that.

The way forward

The FEI are considering using a standardised tool to check noseband tightness instead of relying on the subjective “two finger” rule. A noseband taper is a simple tool and leaves no doubt. In an already subjective sport, surely this must be the way forward.

Ref Horse & Hound; 6 September 2018