Since my last column there has been another semi-final of the young horse classes at Port Royal with different judges.
This led to several of the same horses that did not qualify at Hartpury competing again, with quite a turnaround in the results. In one case, a combination scored 10% — or an entire mark higher — than at Hartpury. This horse did not have issues in its test at Hartpury, but was judged to be of completely different quality a week later. Time will tell which judges were correct, but would it be sensible to have the same judges at both semi-finals each year to try to maintain a “line”?
Many grand prix riders gleefully recount their stars’ terrible marks in young horse classes. Although there are success stories — Valegro being the most famous — the results haven’t been a great indicator of which horses will actually end up at grand prix, especially considering the high number of entries.
In the end, the key to which ones make it is always the rider. Some riders consistently produce horse after horse to the highest levels and know how to keep them sound. The best mover “on the bit” can win at lower levels, but to compete at higher levels, good stable management and riding are vital. Young riders would do well to notice how these riders manage their stables, as too many talented young horses are lost along the way.
It’s easy to criticise a less-able horse, but my motto is “don’t knock it until you’ve sat on it”, as it might not be so easy to put one’s own bum in the saddle and improve it. I see some talented riders going relatively unnoticed, creating minor miracles at high levels from ordinary horses. If they were given the opportunity of better horse power, they could excel. These riders could be introduced to our passionate British breeders, who are creating world-class horses. We need an equine Tinder…
A friend of mine, Fred Hodges, a BHSI from Hertfordshire who has qualified a horse for the young horse championships, has done the maths. In the FEI grand prix test, the walk accounts for less than 10%, the trot around 22% (including the rein-back, which is in diagonals), the piaffe and passage tour 35%, the canter around 30% and the collectives about 4%. So the trot and the work in diagonal pairs are worth over 50% of the mark. Happily, trot is also the easiest gait to improve, the walk being the hardest.
In discussion with the mathematically minded and highly successful Oppenheimer family, we came up with a revolutionary concept. Currently in the young horse class, each gait is weighted with 20% of the score. Would it be worth considering making the score reflect more accurately the demands of the grand prix? Maybe this would give a better forecast of which horses will make it to the top.
Failing that, we could all save ourselves the diesel and owners could just fill in a horse’s “life plan” as to which rider, trainer, vet and farrier the horse is going to have, because those vital ingredients are probably the most accurate predictor of all!
Ref Horse & Hound; 8 August 2019