Isabell Werth: Dressage needs a more holistic approach *H&H VIP*

Opinion

There is much discussion at the moment about how to make the sport more popular and attract spectators, but shortening the grand prix [as trialled at Olympia in 2018] is not the solution. We had a short grand prix in the World Cup series years ago, and it didn’t change anything. We need a more holistic concept.

It is fine to try to create a more attractive package as they have tried to do in London, and of course we should always be open to discussions on whether we need a rein-back — to name just one movement — or not. Discussion is always welcome.

But we must remember that our primary emphasis is, and must be, the welfare of the horse, and we, as riders, need sufficient time to present the horse in the ring properly and fairly. Dressage is definitely not about carrying out a number of exercises, trying to avoid technical mistakes, in as little time as possible. We need to be able to present the quality of the horse, and we need to let the horse have time to breathe.

Post-ride interviews and more background content to entertain spectators are a good idea. We’ve had something similar in Germany for a while, in both the Nürnberger Burg-Pokal (the national series for seven to nine-year-old small tour horses) and the Louisdor Preis (a series for developing grand prix horses).

In Stockholm, Patrik Kittel did a super job involving Saab. The Saab Top 10 Dressage final, held at the Swede International Horse Show, is now an event that delivers top sport to the spectators in an entertaining way.

There’s good prize money — the best in dressage — and an “alternative” photoshoot to show the riders in a different light. It’s a really good package, and an excellent start to make the sport more spectator-friendly.

We need a special series like that, spread over three or four shows. In showjumping, Jan Tops’ Global Champions Tour is highly successful, but in dressage we lack somebody like Jan who’s inspired and driven to create a special concept and sell it as a package to the media.

But even if we did have a dressage version of Jan Tops, we couldn’t simply import that model into our discipline — most dressage riders only have one top horse at any given time, and therefore they have to save it for the championships; they can’t do all the World Cup qualifiers, and in turn the organisers get upset because they don’t get the top combinations at their shows. If we want to attract the top riders to all of the shows, we simply cannot do it for 10 or 15 events — we need to concentrate on fewer, but bigger, shows.

A new WEG format?

As Tryon may well have been the last time the World Equestrian Games (WEG) ran in its current format, with all the disciplines held together, it will be exciting to see what happens in Rotterdam, which will host the European Championships for dressage and showjumping in August. This might prove to be the new format the FEI will want to implement for future World Championships, too.

In Germany, we have three up-and-coming combinations I am particularly excited about: Hubertus Schmidt and Escolar, Markus Hermes and Zinq Abegglen FH, and Benjamin Werndl and Famoso. It’ll be interesting to see if one of them will make the German team for the Europeans.

Ref Horse & Hound; 7 February 2019