Carl Hester: This horse abuse must stop *H&H VIP*

Opinion

Dressage is booming; the sheer numbers taking part amaze me, especially compared to when I started competing.

I’m not into statistics but I was interested to hear that at the recent winter dressage championships 140 hours of dressage took place over three arenas, 921 tests were started, 39 titles awarded and 5586 score sheets added up.

Scorers are our unsung heroes in dressage, so please take a bow if you’ve scored and are reading this — you have our eternal thanks.

Round of applause to Winnie Murphy and her press team, who made 69 Facebook posts over the five days, which reached 597,407 people. And £32,470 in prize money was won over the championships; thank you to all the sponsors involved for the support.

But why is the gala night still not sold out? Is it the locality? Is it the content? My guess would be that we’ve got so comfortable watching action from the comfort of our own homes and so acclimatised to livestreaming, that there is a reluctance to go to events.

I’d say, however, that there is absolutely no substitute for the atmosphere, meeting up with friends old and new, and just being in the thick of the action.

This needs sorting

Anyone who has seen photos on social media of some participants in endurance, riding in bits and nosebands the Spanish Inquisition would have been hard-pushed to design, cannot fail to be horrified by these examples of blatant abuse.

The FEI dressage rules contain no fewer than seven pages on tack, and eventing and showjumping have tack rules too (don’t ask me how many pages), but there seem to be very few restrictions for endurance tack.

This disconnect is terrible for welfare but also for the FEI — it’s double standards. Of course, the FEI should not cut this sport loose; it would just fragment and give free rein to the worst practices. What the international horse sport body should be doing is ensuring there are rules and that those rules are upheld by officials with as much rigour as used in the other equestrian disciplines.

Two dressage judges were suspended for three months before Rio for nationalistic judging, after being found to have favoured their own nation’s competitor. But there are too many endurance cases of conflicts of interest, rule breaking and rules ignored, too — I’ve been made aware of them by the indomitable journalist Pippa Cuckson, who has bravely campaigned to bring abuses to light.

A working group is trying to bring about change and meetings are under way at the FEI, so let’s hope those campaigning succeed.

Roly Owers of World Horse Welfare hopes for “substantive, and in places radical, changes to better protect equine welfare”. So do I.

Talk about drama

If anyone wants to know what uphill looks like, take a peek at Helen Langehanenberg’s freestyle test at the World Cup Final, where she and Damsey FRH came down the centre line in such a powerful extended trot that they only just managed to avoid flattening Magnus Ringmark, judging at C.

They still pulled off a perfect halt before the boards were breached. Classic!

Ref Horse & Hound; 25 April 2019

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