Carl Hester: We risk dressage being replaced *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    The trial of a new, shorter grand prix at the Olympia World Cup qualifier next month needs to be put into context. Richard Davison and Simon Brooks-Ward attended the FEI World Cup organisers’ meeting in Lausanne and ascertained from the FEI that the sole purpose of the grand prix at World Cup shows is to influence the draw in the grand prix freestyle — who starts where.

    All at the meeting said the grand prix held little appeal for spectators, hence many shows relegating it to early morning in order to allocate peak arena times to jumping, driving and disciplines prepared to be flexible about their format.

    Richard and Simon believe the grand prix can be made more attractive, and they want to see what appeals to spectators. The reasons behind it are clear and deserve closer examination, not dismissal.

    First, the concept of the World Cup is a winter series with a spring final. For most top riders with only one top horse, the commitment is to the summer championships — it always is for me — so while many may compete at their home World Cup show, the series isn’t always attractive.

    Laura Tomlinson said, in her H&H comment, that we don’t compete that often with our top horses so why shorten the grand prix? But the point missed here is that for World Cup qualification, combinations aiming for the final will be out every few weeks collecting points, so why not?

    The rationale behind the Olympia grand prix test is that if the FEI wants riders to commit to the World Cup series on the same horse, then a review of what’s being asked of horses and minimising workload can only be an advantage.

    Another question to consider is this: if the World Cup series is having problems and there is no overall sponsor, do we need a grand prix? We could just go and do the music.

    The World Cup is a fantastic chance to showcase dressage at inner city venues and London is the best. It’s not cheap to put on nor an inexpensive family outing. We must not lose these opportunities by thinking statically — we must move with the times.

    Give it a chance

    As riders, we need to listen to the paying spectators. They are the ones who enable us to ride at these shows. To have dressage at events like Olympia is too good an opportunity not to capitalise on, but we have to be competitive to stay included in the fast-moving and fun environment these shows provide, as these are the shows that grow the sport. People’s attention spans and expectations are very different now compared to years ago.

    The outdoor shows and championships can cope with the long “pure dressage” classes but indoors, in inner cities, where we have the chance to showcase our sport to new audiences, dressage risks being replaced by invitational classes or displays if we do nothing.

    The Olympia grand prix trial is exactly that — a trial. The FEI has given Simon Brooks-Ward two years to pilot ideas and survey spectators to see what they enjoyed. It’s an experiment, so I hope riders will give it a chance as we need dressage to stay at these shows.

    Whether you’re a hardened dressage fan or a pure horse fan, why not come and see what you think?

    Ref Horse & Hound; 8 November 2018