Anna Ross: We must care what the world thinks *H&H VIP*

Opinion

Telling someone you’re a dressage rider usually provokes one of the following responses: “Oh I’ve seen it on the telly — horse dancing with music”; “Why do you wear those magician’s outfits?” or, “Do you have whips and spurs? I’ve read Jilly Cooper,” the last one usually accompanied by a wink.

Immersed in the world of horses, it’s easy to forget there is a whole world out there, of which we are only a tiny part. But that other world’s view of our activities impacts on our future in the Olympics, our lottery funding and our sponsorship opportunities.

We need to be inviting, accessible and open to scrutiny and ethical questions. There will always be grumbles and human error, but the field of play should fundamentally be fair, points justifiable and quantifiable, and systems should protect our integrity, as subjective sports are more open to allegations of bias and corruption than others.

We are lucky to have excellent judges presiding at the highest levels. Some top judges have told me that they judge by “feel”, as they have become so experienced that it is instinctive for them to give the correct marks. As a global sport, we need to find ways for judges who live outside Europe to further develop their “eye” when they don’t have as many opportunities to see the top of the sport live.

Currently, international shows can decide which judges they wish to invite so long as they are the right grade. Of course they want to use the most experienced judges, which can result in the same, albeit very skilled, group being used.

For transparency reasons, sponsors and organisers — or their relatives who are competing — shouldn’t be involved in inviting judges to their shows. Perhaps the FEI could allocate a pool of judges for each show to choose from, mixing the newly upgraded with the very experienced, with championships requiring the most highly skilled group.

Keeping integrity

The proposed code of points makes dressage more easily understood for those on the outside looking in, and protects integrity from the inside out.

It’s inconvenient for our judges who are already doing a great job to use a different process, but if the best judges can analyse and capture their “feel” in this more quantifiable way, it will prove a better way forward for the sport.

On a national level we should follow the FEI’s lead and remove the collective marks. In international tests, there is just one rider mark, with the other collective scores having been dropped in 2017, and it was a good move towards fairness.

Currently a British Dressage test scoring 70% with collective marks of seven will remain at 70%. But for a 70% test with added collectives of over 7.5, the score goes up despite the two performances having already being judged as equal.

At the moment, if there is a draw and two riders achieve the same overall score, the competitor with the lower technical score for the test could win, which contradicts the judge’s original assessment.

If we remove the collective marks, the test outcomes wouldn’t be reordered after the marks for the movements have been given. After all, it’s hard enough to earn those marks in the first place.

Ref Horse & Hound; 21 February 2019