Carl Hester: Bright ideas to boost crowds [H&H VIP]

  • Recent attendances at Reem Acra FEI World Cup qualifiers and that the final is already a sell-out proves how appealing dressage to music is to people.

    I was talking to Trond Asmyr, FEI director of dressage, at a recent World Cup show about how important it is not only for the FEI, but also for the riders to be responsible for good PR for our sport. We need to try to come up with some innovative ideas to help attendance at our normal shows.

    Thinking outside the box

    The grand prix will always be the grand prix — and quite right, too — but couldn’t we have some classes that inject a bit of drama and fun?

    The pas de deux, for example, was such a popular part of the sport. When Vicki Thompson and I won the international class, on Enfant and Gershwin, at the 1995 European Championships in Mondorf-les- Bains, it was so exciting. The crowd was more vocal for that than the initial championship classes.

    How about a dressage knockout competition, where 2 competitors ride grand prix movements head-to-head in the arena together, perhaps for 21⁄2min? The crowd’s approval decides who stays in the contest.

    The winner stays in to ride-off against the next challenger, then another knockout takes place so the crowd decides on the overall victor.

    Anyone else been grabbed by the winter Olympics? I’ve watched some of these new winter sports with absolute excitement. It got me to thinking again that you can watch a sport, enjoy it and be totally gripped by it, while not understanding every little thing about it.

    The amazing Jenny Jones won Team GBR’s first ever Olympic medal on snow, with so much flair, in the slopestyle event. Apart from that it involves a snowboard, it is pretty dramatic and it is judged, I know nothing about it and I don’t need to in order to enjoy it.

    Dressage should be cheap TV to produce, certainly cheaper than cross-country, as it all happens in one place, but it has to create that excitement right in front of the viewer. An equestrian version of Splash! — without the water, obviously — was in development for TV last year and went right to the wire.

    I wonder if dressage could have matched the success of ice-dancing à la Dancing on Ice?
    And although we need riders with personality, and people (presenters) to bring out those personalities, what about the horses? We need some special marketing to show people the wonderful and unique personalities of our top horses.

    Beware the bit

    I am amazed that any adult — let alone child — can walk into a shop or go online and buy any bit available. A bit, especially a curb, can have a very strong influence on a horse and needs a professional approach. Would you buy a saddle without a professional fitting?

    Although there are professional bit-fitters doing a good job, it seems there are not enough of them. And we are talking about a highly sensitive area — the horse’s mouth.

    There are many different types of bit and many different types of curb. A sensitive horse may prefer a thicker bit and a stronger horse might prefer a thinner bit — and not every horse will take to a double bridle.

    With such a huge variety of bits on the market, people need to know what each is for and why. There is every opportunity to ensure your horse has the ideal bit, but said bit needs to be fitted correctly in the first place [see our bit special in the magazine, 20 February].

    Horses’ mouths come in all shapes and sizes. In fairness to horses, people should be aware of the importance of professional fitting and access to professional bitters
    — we need more of them.

    Hat hair expertise?

    I was amused to read that Australian freestyle skier Lydia Lassila kept her helmet and visor on throughout the press conference after she won bronze in the event at the winter Olympics. The reason? Her hair wouldn’t look good.

    Lydia, talk to some lady riders, they’ll tell you how to manage it. Or try a baseball cap.

    Carl Hester’s column was first published in Horse & Hound (27 February, 2014)