Carl Hester: Dressage is improving and ever-changing *H&H VIP*

  • British Dressage’s (BD) latest push to increase membership is already reaping rewards, with more than 1,500 new members this year. It’s due to a diverse raft of associate championships, from retrained racehorses to native ponies — even draught horses. This really is dressage for all.

    Martin Clunes brought his Clydesdale Bruce to Keysoe to contest the draught horse championship, a new addition this year. (Fact for the day, which I didn’t know: Clydesdales could be pitted against Fjord horses — both are draught horses as the Fjord have been used for hundreds of years by Norwegian farmers.)

    The native classes have been a massive success with more than 600 forward for the championship and with Lusitano, Spanish, veteran and Forces Equine for our forces and emergency services, there really is something for everyone. Pure and part-bred Arabs will join in next year.

    There has already been some negativity — including the “what next, one-legged horse classes?” — but I wholeheartedly applaud BD’s initiative. Dressage should be inclusive not exclusive — it is after all the basis of all training, and this fantastic addition to BD’s growing membership means anyone who rides will feel they have something to aim for.

    The mouth won’t bite

    Last year BD reviewed the competition structure and there was confusion (mine included). BD has responded to queries and criticisms to create hopefully a more suitable structure and level playing field.

    If you’re still confused at all BD are happy to talk you through any issues. So rather than gripe on social media and end up a frustrated keyboard puncher, do go straight to the horse’s mouth.

    At work Down Under

    I was lucky enough to be invited to host a masterclass at Melbourne’s Werribee Park this month for more than 2,500 spectators and a handful of guinea pigs. Even with the number of years I’ve been doing these demos it was nerve-racking. But thanks to the Aussie mentality, which is down-to-earth and with a thirst for knowledge, I felt appreciated and I sure appreciated them.

    Before the masterclass, in a session on dressage through the ages, I immersed myself in trivia, books and films. How far dressage has come! It has changed hugely over the years and it struck me it depends on what era you were born in as to how you perceive it.

    My first memory is from the 1988 Seoul Olympics when Rembrandt won gold; the era of horses like Corlandus and Gigolo, and of course Reiner Klimke. Not only does it seem this was the first time horses went “on the bit”, but when terms like “through” and “over the back” were introduced.

    I leafed through a book from the 1970s called Dressage Around the World, and to my eyes we’d now consider these horses hollow and above the bit. It was the US riders who were riding in a more modern-day style, on the bit, but at that time were perceived as demons and derided in the book.

    I wonder what George Morris, one of the most famous horsemen ever, would say about that! Compared to modern-day horses these were not moving with expression. There is a certain beauty in lightness, but without expression it can surely be explained as lack of impulsion?

    The truth is, many people find it difficult to achieve both lightness and power. Of the thousands who do dressage, only a tiny minority can ride power in lightness. The key to all this, surely, is balance.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 24 November 2016