Harry Meade: Please make it easy for owners *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    I travelled to Le Lion d’Angers with Mary and Emily King, plus Mary’s 81-year-old lorry-driving mother Jill Thomson. It’s a lovely event, with huge crowds and an end-of-season feel, and we had a really fun week.

    As usual, there was a high-class field of the best six- and seven-year-olds in the world.

    It was, though, disappointing that the seven-year-olds didn’t have to jump a single ditch across country.

    This omission is a shame in terms of preparing these horses to go up the levels and it seems odd to award a title of such gravitas without testing that skill. Being able to jump a ditch is fundamental to an event horse crossing the country — a course without one is like a dressage test without any canter!

    Early draws, please

    Le Lion is among the Continental events that don’t publish the drawn order until late, in this case after the trot-up on Wednesday afternoon.

    This can be tough on horses’owners — they often either waste days off work and money on hotel nights if they arrive on Wednesday or Thursday and their horse is allocated a Friday dressage, or they miss their horse’s test if they gamble on a later draw with travel plans.

    Badminton and Burghley do their draws nearly a month in advance. Events running lots of classes have a tougher logistical challenge, but a week’s notice would be preferable to a day.

    There will always be ambiguity if your horse is in the middle of the field, but the first or last 40% know which day they will be on.

    As a side point, knowing their dressage day allows riders to work their horses appropriately to produce the best possible result. If you have a Friday test you might hack or jump on Wednesday to avoid three days of dressage in a row. But most importantly the advanced draw is to benefit owners — we need eventing to be fun, easy and as accessible as possible for them.

    Feedback for judges

    Dressage judging will always be a point of discussion as it comes down to subjective opinions. But the biggest imperfection in our system is some judges’ subconscious tendency to become more generous as the two days roll on.

    After Burghley last year data analytics experts EquiRatings showed that horses in the final judging block scored on average 3.6 marks better than their own average mark from their previous 2016 tests, while those in the first block scored 4.2 worse. The range of 7.8 penalties between Thursday morning and Friday afternoon is equivalent to two showjumping poles —  a handicap too big to ignore.

    We can’t blame judges for being human but we could improve feedback. After every international event each judge could be sent their average mark for each of the four half-day sessions so they could see whether they were trending progressively higher or lower.

    This automated feedback would help judges remain level in the future by giving them an idea of their usual trend. Of course, this relies on there being a true draw so the best horses are not all running at the end.

    A similar system could look at national bias, as occasionally judges over-reward their compatriots, or even become stricter in an attempt to remain fair. Each judge could be sent their average mark for their fellow countrymen versus other riders, alongside the other judges’ averages for those groups.

    This would be private feedback to help judges remain impartial, rather than a public “name and shame” tool.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 26 October 2017