Carl Hester: a tricky situation for all [H&H VIP]

  • Once again Windsor (pictured) showed us how lucky we are that dressage can be staged in such a superb atmosphere, despite the first night’s rain. The footing was brilliant and there was a full house on the Friday night. With an audience of 3,500, the organisers must be relieved to sell seats for this once not-so-popular part of the show.

    The future for international competition for British riders is very exciting, with a new international scheduled for Bury Farm this year in addition to Addington, Windsor, Hartpury, Hickstead and of course Olympia — with Somerford also planning to go international next year.

    These opportunities are great news, as horses’ travel will be reduced, yet riders can still qualify and get an international feel. Getting to shows on the continent, even the closest, entails some £2,000 in travel costs before you’ve even started, so for those starting their international careers on a budget, this is a huge bonus.

    BD needs a ballot system

    Judging from the very long discussion about Premier League entries on the British Dressage (BD) forum, there are some over-populated shows.

    It’s hard to imagine looking back to the start of my career, but we don’t have enough great venues — Somerford’s entries were full before the closing date. On the one hand it’s fantastic as shows will be able to make a profit, but the downside is obvious — more people want to compete at these shows than there are places for. BD needs to reach out to more great venues.

    Somerford in particular is educational for horses. The footing is superb, there is an international flavour, both in atmosphere and judges, and riders can watch and learn from the bigger names.

    The problem is, for some, this is an expensive show, and some riders may need to ensure cover for child or horse care, hire a lorry or groom, get time off etc, as well as ensure their horse is fit and ready. So I understand why they wait a bit longer before entering. After all, BD rule 39 states that no refund is made for withdrawals after entries close, and you only get half back if you pull out before.

    Equally clear is rule 36, which states that an organiser can close a class if it is full before close of entries, but here’s the rub — organisers can pick and choose which entries to accept. As David Pincus points out, it would be fairer if the rule were amended to make the process a “clear, verified, impartial protocol” — so a scrutinised ballot? British Eventing has balloted for years and its process is clearly set out with criteria for each level and the ballot and “super ballot” numbers system. It’s a situation that needs addressing by BD.

    At Somerford, the medium and advanced medium classes are not direct qualifiers for the nationals, while the prix st georges, inter I and grand grix classes are. Maybe a better idea would be to take these lower classes out? But giving these medium and advanced medium competitors a taste of atmosphere is important, so could we either persuade these popular shows to put on more days or persuade more quality venues to host shows?

    Either way, while it’s a tricky situation for riders who feel they are losing out, and for our busy organisers — bear in mind Somerford is run by volunteers — doesn’t that show just how much dressage has grown? That has to be good.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 28 May 2015