Opinion

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Winter is here and all over the UK we are throwing our carefully planned fashion choices to the wind.

The winter equestrian is a strange beast, with no recognisable features in the morning as their woolly hat and scarf practically join in the middle, while they creep around the yard and blind those in their wake with a head torch.

Motivation can be a challenge for even the most dedicated. While professionals tend to be applauded for their dedication, there’s no doubt that some of the most committed riders are those with full-time jobs, often mucking out before work and coming back afterwards. You wouldn’t catch many top professionals putting their gin and tonics down to ride after 9pm.

It’s not an easy time to ride young horses. I’m very lucky to have a team of young professionals and the luxury of an indoor arena so we can keep training our many youngsters. For young horses, confidence, dexterity and quick reactions are needed, and sometimes the courage to ride through what has been started. Horse walkers can be useful, but can also just supple up horses’ backs for what lies ahead!

I believe it’s forgivable to abandon one’s classical principles from time to time on the three-year-olds in winter — don’t worry, Father Christmas will still come if you do. I find the art of keeping the horse between oneself and the ground on a windy day generally more productive than practising the art of classical dressage.

Other risks include deep vein thrombosis from stuffing multiple designer socks into boots. And it’s wise to take off long coats before getting on young horses so you don’t end up using them as a parachute.

It’s a good time to practise one-handed for your freestyles on older horses, as you can keep the other in your coat to maintain feeling in your fingers. Riding one-handed often improves your contact, anyway.

It is so acceptable to drink mulled wine at lunchtime when you are on the yard that it is practically in the British Dressage (BD) rulebook.

Talking of rules, BD has introduced a very sensible new one that says if you are riding with a rug on, it must be specially designed for riding. I’ve seen too many people doing an impression of Aladdin on the flying carpet with the ones invented for stable use.

‘I favour innovation’

On the up side, lots of fun things happen in winter for dressage fans — the BD convention, the stallion shows and Olympia are looming. I’m a supporter of the new short grand prix initiative and will be watching with interest.

Things cannot improve if they remain the same, so I’m all in favour of innovation over tradition. I don’t believe everything in dressage was better “back in the day”.

Maybe we won’t like it, but at least we’ll have something to talk about afterwards. Some of the criticisms have been that the test is too easy, but it’s also easier on the horses the day before the freestyle, which is good from a welfare perspective.

Championship dressage could be compared to a marathon with three tests over five or six days. The World Cup series is more like a series of sprints, held more frequently, and has been a great success; it’s popular, fast-paced and fun. It’s the ideal place to test new concepts.

Ref Horse & Hound; 29 November 2018