H&H’s dressage editor’s blog: why Wallace the mule is the best thing for British dressage since Valegro

  • If you’re not sure who Wallace The Great is, where have you been?

    For anyone who may have been living under a rock for the past six weeks, Wallace is the rescue mule turned dressage diva who has taken the world — horsey and otherwise — by storm in his quest for the right to compete in British Dressage (BD) competitions.

    The 11-year-old, whose dam is a mare and sire a rather intrepid donkey, is ridden by Christie McLean, who was originally denied permission to register Wallace with BD. However, after the story reached the national media, BD changed its stance, in line with FEI rules, with ‘horses’ referring to all equines born from a mare. Wallace was therefore free to embark on his affiliated career.

    For dressage, inclusivity and, importantly, perceived inclusivity, is vital if we want to continue opening the sport to a wider audience. So many people still regard dressage as elitist, even in comparison to other horse sports, and this is something we should all be working to change — dressage isn’t only piaffe, passage and eye-wateringly expensive warmbloods after all. Cobs, hairy ponies and heavy horses have been proving in their hordes that dressage is for every horse and every rider, and now Wallace — and other dressage-loving mules following in his footsteps — has taken this trend an important step further.

    It’s one thing convincing the horsey population that dressage is for everyone, but it’s quite another getting the message across to those outside the equestrian bubble. Carl, Charlotte and Valegro have become household names, and have done huge amounts to thrust dressage, or ‘dancing horses’, into the public eye. But, wonderful and valuable the Carls and Charlottes of our world are, it’s the rest of us, the normal, everyday riders, who form the bulk of British dressage and keep the sport going, and anyone interested in getting involved should be encouraged and supported, no matter what their situation — Carl learnt to ride on a donkey after all.

    With Wallace’s story having spread like wildfire across national, mainstream media – including the BBC, The Telegraph and The Daily Mail, just to name just a few — grassroots dressage has been brought to many, many people’s attention and, with this outcome, hopefully shone a positive light on the sport and those who run it. I have had several non-horsey friends, including those who have been known to poke gentle, Notting Hill-related fun at the fact I work for H&H, asking about Wallace and admitting they never realised that ‘ordinary’ people did dressage, let along ‘ordinary’ people with rescued mules.

    Christie herself told H&H: “It’s good that we’re at the bottom level. My lower leg doesn’t stay in one place and I haven’t got the best core, but people will be able to see that it’s not all prancy ponies — British Dressage is also for everyday people. And alongside the novelty of Wallace, I hope it will show that you don’t have to have the physique of a grand prix combination; mums and people who work in offices and don’t have access to the gym can do it too.”

    And do it this pair certainly can – I admit I was pleasantly surprised at how soft and rhythmical Wallace’s first BD performance was, and the judges rewarded him for it. He’s compact and short-coupled, but works in a pleasing, mostly consistent frame and is fully focused on his rider — exactly what judges want to see at intro and prelim level. Christie admitted she worried he might fall foul of the critics, though: “He’s really flexible; if there’s a fly on his chest, he can literally swipe it off with his chin as he’s got such a long face and I was thinking, please don’t do that in the warm-up as it would look like rollkur!”

    Continues below…

    It’s a laughable concept, but with any luck, Wallace’s influence can stretch as far as the armchair critics and prove that dressage looks a little different on every horse — and that’s ok.

    Wallace has now accumulated a sizeable fan club from all over the world, but other riders of mules have been quick to make the most of the rules and register with BD, including Fergus and his rider Laura Jones, and this can only be a good thing. Maybe one day we’ll even see a BD associated championship for mules?

    For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday.

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