In order to grow our sport, we have to appeal more to the public. Without doubt, equestrian sport — particularly dressage — is seen by Joe public as a sport for toffs. But in reality, it isn’t. I was brought up in Brixton, south London and learned to ride there — if I can do it why can’t others?
We missed a trick after 2012 — thousands watched dressage at the London Olympics but we didn’t use the opportunity to capitalize on it. Were we asleep? Did we assume that everyone was going to come running?
We have wonderful characters in dressage — Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin both came from “normal” backgrounds and have done fantastically, but we have to get better at selling that fact. We need dressage to be featured in mainstream media such as the Daily Mail and the Mirror — it’s no good just being in The Telegraph and The Times, and not very often even then.
The great strength of our sport is that participants comprise all ages, sexes and ethnicities — we must promote this.
Too often the £10m horse is promoted at the expense of the affordable horse that most people ride. This puts potential riders off. After all, Formula 1’s Lewis Hamilton started off in go-karts!
A sense of belonging
My idea is that everyone who rides should be part of a riding club, whether that’s via a riding school or competition venue. You then join British Dressage via your riding club.
It would mean the successes of our top riders could be more widely shared to benefit the sport as a whole — when Charlotte wins a gold medal the glory would be reflected in her riding club, and it would instill greater team spirit, support and a sense of belonging. This is a model that has clearly worked in Germany and, to me, it makes so much sense.
Is Charlotte too ‘good’?
When it comes to dressage judging, we desperately need the clarity of a code of points, and I’m currently working on it with Wayne Channon, David Stickland and Kyra Kyrklund, among others.
If we want to grow our sport around the world we need to be easily understood and the result achieved in a more calculated way of marking, rather than relying on words and a system that people can interpret in different ways. To say it doesn’t need changing is madness — we shouldn’t be seeing top riders win medals when they’ve made errors in a test.
For me, dressage is comparable to gymnastics — both are very complicated sports, with many different facets. When I discussed judging with Meg Warren of British Gymnastics, she said that when a code of points was brought in to gymnastics years ago most people hated it, but now they love it. We need to evolve in a similar way.
With the current system, a score of eight means “good”, so Charlotte’s bronze medal-winning test at the World Equestrian Games, which scored 81.49%, was deemed only “good”. Is that how we should promote the best?
For me, we should start with 100% and deduct marks for explainable and agreed errors. Judging today can have little logic and is subjective. We want dressage to be a sport, and so riders, trainers and judges need to agree on a clear and more objective system.
Ref Horse & Hound; 22 November 2018