Laura Tomlinson: Grand prix should be the real deal *H&H VIP*

Opinion

Congratulations to Lara Butler and my parents’ Rubin Al Asad on their British Dressage national championship title. What made my mother even prouder, though, was Lara’s victory in the inter II championship on our home-bred Kristjan. I rode both Kristjan’s dam and sire back in my teens, so it really was special.

Meanwhile, my own breeding programme continues as my expanding bump has brought me out of denial and made me face facts — by the end of January I will be mother to a third child. Luckily, I am still able to ride at the moment and am enjoying that for as long as is comfortable.

The nationals felt a little flat this year, despite great results. The weather didn’t help but I have never seen so few people watching, and many of the trade stands were frustrated. It’s a shame as the show itself has potential but the stabling, as has been mentioned in Carl Hester’s comments previously, is under par, especially in bad weather.

A revamp seems necessary; does it work having the higher-level classes this late in the season? Should they be separate from the rest of the levels and be held as part of team selection earlier in the season? This is how most other nations do it and it makes the grand prix national title more prestigious. It would also give selectors a platform on which to put any squad riders in contention for a team place on the spot, with the same judges and conditions.

The rest of the levels could incorporate some more exciting show items perhaps, or even some riding club classes that bring in extra support. Something needs to change before the show loses its status.

The pinnacle of dressage

I am also concerned by the new, shorter grand prix being trialled at Olympia’s World Cup qualifier this year. They want to attract more spectators by making the test more concise and having live interviews with each rider in the ring straight after their test, but it’s like making the cross-country at Badminton a few miles shorter — it defeats the object!

Grand prix horses are meant to be fit and strong enough to compete at that intensity over two or three days. The interview idea is appealing, but I doubt it will bring more bums to seats. I think spectators will always chose the freestyle over the grand prix and that is OK. The first round in tennis or the heats in athletics are always less popular than the final. Rather than the interviews, I believe better commentary aimed at laymen with more statistics and facts should be the priority for generating more interest in our niche sport.

As for the shortened test itself, I am very disappointed. It will not flow; it seems to be as many tricks stuck in as few lines as possible, written with purely the clock in mind.

Key transitions are gone, such as passage to canter and passage to extended walk. These test the horses’ level of training and that their back is relaxed while switching from positive tension to total relaxation.

The absence of a canter zig-zag or rein-back, and very short half-passes, make the test seem more like an inter II, but grand prix is the pinnacle of dressage and meant to test the training and harmony through the most difficult movements. We don’t compete at this level that often with our top horses but, when we do, it should be the real deal. That’s worth watching, isn’t it?

Ref Horse & Hound; 18 October 2018

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