Anna Ross: ‘Ditch collectives to create fair sport?’ *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    Mid-season madness is upon us with regionals, internationals, and Area Festival first rounds. It’s good to see so many more combinations achieving international qualifying scores. However I don’t think the silver section has worked itself out yet with the odd international rider still in the mix, and the Area Festival first rounds at higher levels appear to be unnecessary with only a few competitors coming forward at prix st georges (PSG) and above.

    Perhaps the first rounds would be better used just for medium level and below where the numbers are greater. Conversely, the PSG has historically been one of the biggest classes at the summer nationals, yet at these regionals only one combination goes forward to the final. Many of those who just miss out despite scoring highly are young professionals, thus leaving many talented combinations “on the shelf” at exactly the time they need exposure.

    Former British Young Riders Dressage Scheme (BYRDS) director Janet Horswill and I were discussing this and came up with the idea of a “young professionals” championship at small tour level. This would be a great way for more of our up-and-coming stars to showcase their skills and for potential owners and breeders to take an interest in matching them with some up-and-coming horses.

    Maybe this could be incorporated into one of the gala evenings at a championship. In Germany, they have classes where either the rider has to be below 25 or the horse has to be nine or younger. Of course we have under-25 grand prix, but not every horse can (or should) be trained to grand prix, whereas most can be trained to small tour.

    Aiming for a 10

    The FEI is looking at adopting the code of points, which aims to quantify the scores. One of the reasons for this is to try to increase objectivity. There has been much discussion about whether points should be “positive” — working up from zero — or “negative”— working down from a 10.

    All judges should judge with fresh eyes (not easy!) and should believe that any combination entering the arena “could” score a 10.

    Not every horse can score a 10 for every movement but every horse can score a 10 for a halt marked on its own, or a rein-back. If judges apply a mental ceiling to horses and riders based on their pre-conceptions, then it will add to the feeling of bias towards certain riders, which isn’t good for the sport. With this reasoning and hope for objective judging, I think it’s OK that the code of points works backwards from 10.

    Abolish collectives

    At the Global Dressage Forum a couple of years ago, data was collected from top international competitions — and the “halo” effect, whereby some riders’ collective scores were consistantly higher than the points on their sheets, was discussed. I don’t believe this is through any sinister sub-plot in the minds of judges, just apprecication of consistently good performances, but the application of these “bonus” points catapults these riders’ scores into the untouchable zone.

    This creates a greater disparity between the “halo” rider and Jonny Nobody. It would be better sport if these collective marks were removed and each test judged simply on its own merit. For the sport to flourish it is imperative that every competitor believes they have a chance to win on as level a playing field as possible in an already subjective sport.

    H&H, 27 July 2017