Carl Hester: We must preserve our sport [H&H VIP]

  • There has been a lot under discussion in the dressage world over the past few weeks, with opinions voiced on a number of issues.

    I’m going to tackle two of the subjects, the first being the FEI’s consideration of a shorter grand prix test as one route for increasing the popularity of dressage.

    With the results of a survey undertaken by the International Dressage Riders’ Club awaited with interest at this stage, my question is simply, how popular does dressage need to be?

    We already sell out stadiums for the grand prix freestyle — the Olympics, Olympia, the World Championships, World Cup shows — the sport’s popularity is greater than ever. Any talk of shortening the grand prix to around four minutes is, in my opinion, outrageous.

    What is the deal here? Thinking about public opinion or preserving our sport?

    After all, how often is the grand prix televised, and do we need it be on TV when our trump card is the freestyle? I have yet to come across a single rider or trainer in favour of this idea.

    One of extractions from the test that is being talked about is the halt and rein-back. This is a vital element not only for showing obedience but also suppleness, attention and relaxation. Judging by the marks, it seems it is very difficult to get it right, and that’s why we must keep it.

    If this shortened test really has to come in — and history shows us these “ideas” do have a tendency to become rules — then take out one of the three piaffe/passage tours or extended trots. What is essential is that the fundamental basics of training are not ripped out.

    Riders work in partnership with their horses to get to grand prix level over many years and we do this because we love the training and the journey. I don’t think any of us start out thinking of the kür. For me, the grand prix we have already, done well, is proof of good training and I do not want to see it dumbed down.

    My fear is that sometime in the future the sport will only be about the freestyle. When the freestyle was introduced, fairly quickly, in time for the Atlanta 1996 Olympics having “aired” at the 1995 European Championships, this was the main fear. The late Dr Reiner Klimke voiced the opinion that the kür would prove the end of our sport and it was a much discussed argument at the time.

    I have to say, however, that the freestyle has indeed been the best boost for popularity. In that respect Dr Klimke was proved wrong, but if, for dressage purists, the sport itself will be lost by the loss of the classic tests, he could be proved right.

    Different viewpoints

    We have that never-ending subject of scores and judging. Should all the judges end up on the same score?

    Stephen Clarke wrote eloquently in his opinion piece on www.eurodressage.com that the focus should move away from this obsession with judges all awarding identical scores. I can see his point of view. The final result should be that the right horse wins, not which judge gave what. I’m sure judges attempt to achieve agreement, but that’s not what we should focus on.

    Bear in mind the public sees the mark but not the comment. A horse could be at C with its mouth open but have it closed by the time it gets to A. Not all judges will get the same view.

    With the bad press judges sometimes get, I sometimes wonder whether we might get some of those critics into the judges’ boxes so they can really see and hear what’s going on. At the moment the judges have no form of defence and are soft targets.

    Of course, there are discrepancies at times, and to rectify these requires facts. The so-called “code of points” is much talked about and I have yet to be convinced that this is a route we should go down, but surely, to expect the same scores from judges at different positions is unreasonable.

    50 Shades of Hay

    I managed to get dragged along to see the much-publicised film 50 Shades of Grey — or 50 Shades of Hay as it has become known in the horse world. If you get the chance to go, good luck. The cinema was filled with uncomfortable-looking men and giggling girls. I can think of 50 reasons not to go.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 26 February 2015