Carl Hester: Does dressage need to be more inclusive to survive? [H&H VIP]

  • When I realised that the guest editor this week was my old friend and team-mate Richard Davison, I decided, having been in the editorial hot seat, to refrain from giving him any tips.

    Instead, I decided to just look forward to some fascinating topics. These include clothing for riders — that raging debate about what we’re going to look like in the ring in the future — and a really interesting training article.

    The topic that will interest all of us is the question ‘is elite dressage in peril?’ The basis for this is a paper written by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that can be read on the FEI website. From 2020, the IOC is looking at the Olympics having its own TV channel. It is all a work in progress, but you can imagine the size of sponsor involved if this comes off.

    Although, as discussed previously, the objective is to keep dressage pure and classical, we will have to look at dressing it up, whether that means clothing, music or whatever. Each event will have to meet certain criteria to appeal to the TV audience.

    Fascinating times, but the sport has been under threat before. I recall my Olympic team debut in Barcelona, when there was much talk about removing equestrian sport from the Olympics. The move came from Dick Pound, who is now the chairman of the board of Olympic Broadcasting Services! In 1992, he argued that equestrian sport was too expensive, and predicted that it would be off the Olympic agenda by 2000. He was wrong, but as competitors we have to keep looking at ways to make our sport more appealing.

    We might consider more amateur classes at international shows. There are almost 1,000 horses jumping on the various tours in Spain. Compare that to the 120 due at the new (as from last year) Can Alzina dressage show in Barcelona. Maybe it’s about making our sport more inclusive?

    While jumping grows in stature and numbers, dressage is unable to keep up. One way to swell the numbers would be to include amateur classes at international shows, like the jumpers do.

    Dressage in the desert

    What a fabulous opportunity it was to be invited to the CHI Al Shaqab show in Doha, Qatar.

    The facilities were amazing at this very futuristic venue, with showjumping on one side, dressage on the other and all the disciplines including vaulting and paras (well done the Brits), which made it feel like a mini World Equestrian Games. The show paid a lot of money to entice many top riders to compete, with the aim of raising the profile of equestrian sport in the Middle East.

    It was sad that the stands were not even half full. However, apparently there were about half as many people again than watched last year, so that kept the organisers happy. It was a luxury to be in a fantastic hotel — not only for the riders but the grooms too — which made for a great experience for all involved. If the Arabs continue to promote it to this extent, over the coming years this venue will become a major one for equestrian sport. I’d highly recommend a visit.

    The new craze?

    With just one horse at the show I had some time on my hands, so Nip Tuck’s owner Jane de la Mare and I decided to try the latest craze for dressage riders — the gym.

    Arriving at 8am, I took my place on a treadmill. On my left was Spanish rider Beatriz Ferrer-Salat, who is as slender as a cocktail stick. On my right was the up-and-coming young Morgan Barbançon, again from Spain, who at 22 is one of the supermodels of the dressage world.

    Refusing to look right or left, I put my head down and ran flat out for five minutes until I was overwhelmed by a feeling of nausea, so I scurried off for a full breakfast in order to restore my body’s equilibrium. I think this “new craze” is marvellous, however, I am not sure it’s one in which I will be partaking.

    H&H 26 March 2015