The scores were up but the numbers down in the gold sections at the recent winter regionals, with the exception of Wellington where fabulous facilities attracted large fields.
Is it the “Charlotte factor”? For aspiring international combinations, regular opportunities to compete against the champion are a great opportunity to measure progress. For others, it’s an anticlimax to enter classes they feel they have no chance to win and they will look elsewhere.
Back in “Ye Olden Times”, we all competed in the same group and were allocated our regional championship in our area, which made class numbers more even. The current wild card system is better as the highest scorers get through, but seven horses in a gold section doesn’t make for an exciting atmosphere. Perhaps some international riders contesting the silver classes could budge up?
Standardise noseband checks
At the regionals, noseband pressure checks were made before each test, but we need a standardised checking tool so riders know where they stand beforehand.
From a competitor’s perspective, differing stewards’ interpretation of the rule can create confusion in an already pressured moment. I’ve seen a guidance video for national level in Holland where the presenter had the whole width of his hand between the horse’s nose and the noseband, which rendered it totally redundant. This differs to other countries’ rules, which generally require between 1.5-2cm, and to the FEI guideline, where the rule is ambiguous.
Without standardisation, the rules remain somewhat open to interpretation, which suits some, but fails to provide a level playing field for the majority. Provision can easily be made for nervous horses to be checked with a noseband taper gauge — having competed one horse internationally that was notoriously bonkers in the bit check, I can attest to the fact that the stewards are understanding to the horses.
Nosebands are a piece of equipment and, if used incorrectly, change the balance of pressures on the horse. The noseband should be able do its job without the horse being over-restricted.
Leading vet Dr Rachel Murray from the Animal Health Trust presented very interesting research at the International Dressage Trainers’ Club meeting at the end of last year, which showed that a loose noseband created more pressure on a horse’s mouth as greater rein tension was needed to create the same effect.
Horses certainly do communicate, just without words, so having plonked ourselves uninvited onto their backs, it’s our responsibility to educate ourselves and listen. The gaping noseband is usually a well intentioned gesture of kindness to the horse, but an obvious mistake to coaches who can age the horse from 20 metres away whenever the rider takes a half-halt.
But it’s a brave trainer these days who suggests doing up a flapping noseband, risking the wrath of both the rider and “Lydia from the yard”, who has come to watch the lesson and has 10,000 Facebook friends ready to wade in for welfare.
Common sense should prevail and I have no doubt that there is a group of dressage aficionados out there who wish they could do my own noseband up a bit tighter on this emotive topic.
Ref Horse & Hound; 21 March 2019