Carl Hester: Move forward and engage, or rot *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    With so much controversy and negativity surrounding the trialling of a new shortened grand prix, it was no surprise to hear Olympia supremo Simon Brooks-Ward say at the riders’ meeting that, of all the sports they deal with, dressage is the one that doesn’t seem to want to move forward. However, we have to move forward and engage, or stay as we are and quietly rot.

    The shortened grand prix at Olympia was only a trial. So many reports prior to the show had been written without the correct facts — it was scaremongering gone mad and, in some cases, bad journalism.

    On the night, there was a larger-than-normal attendance but it was still not sold out, and to retain a popular time slot, that is what we have to achieve — a sell-out. The freestyle sells out every year without fail, but the last time the grand prix sold out was when Valegro retired.

    Huge potential

    Charlotte Dujardin was drawn first to go on Hawtins Delicato and, having spent a week preparing them, I have to say this didn’t feel like a grand prix test. With all the riders I spoke to, it was not popular for several reasons.

    It takes years to train to this level and the test should reflect that, with correct training indicated by movements like the zig-zag and rein-back. But there didn’t seem to be any flowing lines to show off natural paces.

    That said, the format for the competition was brilliant. Although the evening needs tweaking, having riders interviewed at the end of their tests, showing emotion and personality, was a positive step. And the drumroll as the final marks came up, with the camera on each rider’s face, was fun and engaging.

    On my way out, I heard spectators talking about it being the best night, that it made dressage understandable. So while the “real” dressage audience may have been disappointed with the test, this format has huge potential. A test is easy to change.

    Not a seat to be had

    The freestyle was sensational and for those who say dressage isn’t popular, take note — there wasn’t a seat to be had in the house. How exciting to have Charlotte and Frederic Wandres on the same score, something I haven’t seen before. Frederic had a higher artistic score, and although he has a different style of riding to Charlotte’s, the degree of difficulty meant he was the rightful winner.

    My only concern was that with so many people going for the utmost degree of difficulty before they have a mature horse, in some cases tests looked chaotic. Therefore, let’s make sure difficulty doesn’t override harmony.

    On the second day, we had the annual riders’ meeting with selectors, World Class and support staff giving us a taste of what the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will look like. Although there will be just three to a team, which to me is mind-boggling in itself, the fourth rider will travel and may take part.

    So whoever the lucky four are, they should, a) get used to walking around in their socks as shoes are frowned on indoors in Japan, b) erase any tattoos, as these are not well received there, and c) learn to embrace the culture. Having seen how you spell “hello” in Japanese, I suggest you enrol in language classes if you’re keen on going. Happy New Year!

    Ref Horse & Hound; 3 January 2019