British pony European dressage teams have been consistently successful since the 1990s, winning nine medals between 1997 and 2005 under team trainer Ian Woodhead. With Peter Storr at the helm between 2007 and 2016, our pony riders have achieved five team and several individual medals.
The lack of conversion of those successes into junior or young rider medals is therefore disappointing. Junior bronze in 1998 and young rider bronze in 2004 and 2005 are modest and the presence of Maria Eilberg and Laura Tomlinson (née Bechtolsheimer) in the latter teams is an indication that successful medal winners at senior team level had already showed such promise as under-21s.
Why are we not able to achieve more junior and young rider medals? A consideration must be that horses are not “big ponies”. Horses demand a different mindset to learn to ride them and understand their training.
The pony Manitu N won medals with four different riders at eight European Championships, Gigolo took five riders to six Europeans while Daphne and DHI Langar gave three and four different riders European medal opportunities respectively. How many horses have a similar record?
Eventing and showjumping ponies show similar statistics. The concept of children-on-horses, for 12-14-year-old riders, has been successfully developed by British Showjumping under the guidance of Corinne Bracken. The FEI is keen to promote this competition to encourage lesser European nations to develop dressage effectively.
Ponies and horses of European championship level command huge prices, beyond the reach of many. Ponies may soon be outgrown, whereas an investment in a young horse, with structured support and training, could yield a horse that takes a rider through the progression of children-on-horses to juniors, young riders and under-25s.
Lily Payne and Emily Pugh have already experienced international success for Britain in children-on-horses classes. Let’s hope we can develop enthusiasm for a team in 2017, thus providing a stepping stone to junior level and bridging the gap for riders adapting to horses.
Striving for better
To drive legally in the UK we have to pass a driving test. This does not automatically imply someone drives well, it just means they’ve fulfilled the dictated criteria of safety, control of the vehicle and road legislation. With luck, one then develops into a competent driver.
In the English language we complicate things by having several words for those who teach a skill: instructor, coach, trainer, teacher — all of which are used in equestrian sport. But it’s not the title that is important, it’s what you deliver.
Striving to be better, whether as a competitor or educator, is what gets me up in the morning. The passion to impart my love of the horse to anyone with a shared enthusiasm is my motivator.
If you can develop a sound reputation to support that status, then a qualification gains depth and merit. A certificate on its own is just a piece of paper and will never beat hands-on competence. But it does ensure that the holder understands the process of how to educate a variety of individuals who have less natural flair, but are motivated to ride like Carl or Charlotte.
These individuals are the backbone of our industry and one of them, if they have the right support, encouragement and education, may just turn out to be a superstar.
Ref Horse & Hound; 17 November 2016