Carl Hester: Freestyle’s yet to reach her peak *H&H VIP*


  • The grand prix at the Hartpury Festival of Dressage drew close to a full complement of potential horses for the European Championships, bar those of Susan Pape, Lottie Fry and Emma Hindle. Blessed with fine weather and crowds, this show was wonderful for us and para dressage, too.

    The show does, however, feel over-policed at times, with an endless stream of stewards practising before the Tokyo Olympics next year — there were almost as many stewards as competitors!

    Charlotte Dujardin rode her new freestyle on Mount St John Freestyle and, with 87.6%, we were very satisfied. There is still tweaking to be done and we don’t want to over-complicate it for a 10-year-old; it could be another year yet before we see this mare’s full potential.

    There was a beautiful class of small tour horses, which is very exciting for the future. For the Europeans, it looks as though the top three team spots are fairly secure for Freestyle, Hawtins Delicato and Classic Briolinca, but the race for the fourth place is very exciting for Richard Davison, as well as Susan Pape and Lottie Fry who have it all to play for in Aachen.

    A goldmine of data

    Having encouraged members to take part in the British Dressage (BD) membership survey, it was good to see some 23% of the membership taking time to put their views.

    Talking to BD’s Winnie Murphy revealed the immediate value of the survey; information has already been utilised, such as the new judges’ exam system and the calendar review.

    I did find it strange that some 60% of respondents felt there are too many championships on offer. I love the inclusivity such a range of championships gives, and if you don’t want to take part in such variety you don’t have to!

    Winne tells me that drilling down the responses, from full members to club members to youth members, reveals very different pictures, and therefore gives BD a goldmine of data to inform the future.

    BD has a solid platform to build on with good retention of membership and a financial footing of £2m in reserve, even if new membership is somewhat static. It will be exciting to see how the committees and board members, who are already busy with all this new information, use it to build the next 20 years of British dressage.

    It is heartening that the youth membership is not only increasing, but took time to participate in the survey with an overwhelming response — a far cry from the disengagement that used to exist.

    Charlotte, myself and others can inspire, and we love to, but having the right framework for the young to achieve and attain is vital. That the rebranding and new initiatives for younger members are paying off is so positive, and I gather lots more activities will be revealed later in the year.

    The 4% growth in competition days and number of starters is also really positive, and great considering the tough economic climate.

    Of course there is some disquiet, of that BD is under no illusion, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. And, with the intention to renew membership high, the survey has done a great job in showing that people want BD to carry on, and have bought in to the idea that they’re being listened to.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 18 July 2019