Harry Meade: time for a revamp of familiarisation rules *H&H VIP*

  • The current system for arena familiarisation provides an hour-long window the evening before the dressage in which riders can walk their horses on a loose rein in the main arena. But the events with all-weather arenas, such as Luhmühlen, adopt the same familiarisation as the dressage shows, enabling riders to school their horses in the main arena at a set time.

    It would be great if we could do the same at all CCI4* events. This could work if the technical delegate (TD) were to decide if the going is “good” or “soft” — or terms to that effect. If it is good then competitors can go into the arena in blocks of, say, six, and spend ten minutes working in there — not within the actual dressage boards but in the rest of the main arena. Or, if the TD decides that the going is soft then everyone would revert to the old system of walking only.

    Working horses in the environment, even for a short time when the grandstand is empty, is invaluable; it allows them to settle ahead of the following day; walking a horse on a loose rein is beneficial but doesn’t have the same effect.

    Dressage should be a demonstration of correct training, and obedience is part of this. But at peak fitness some horses struggle in a big atmosphere and it is a shame when a combination is unable to show any semblance of the work of which they are capable.

    While a calm horse will always have an advantage over a hotter one, we want to be fair to horses and give them a chance to settle. No one wants to see horses working all day long in preparation for a test, or being filled with a mountain of calming supplements.

    Having spoken to several dressage riders, they said if they could only walk their grand prix horses on a loose rein in the familiarisation at top shows they would have no hope of keeping a lid on some in the test.

    Of course the downside is that the arena will see an hour of work, but not within the actual boards. The ground staff do an excellent job to prepare the site and naturally want to keep it immaculate for when the action starts, but so long as the going is good then it shouldn’t look any different.

    At one-, two- and three-star events there are often many classes using one arena — it would be logistically impractical to make a change at these levels, and as these events have less atmosphere in the main arena it is not as much of an issue.

    Losses to the sport

    It’s a great shame to lose long-standing events from the calendar. Somerley Park and Salperton are among those which will not run again — they have been very successful fixtures; after decades of work by organisers, volunteers and the teams behind each event, it is sad to see them come to an end. Weston Park has also announced it will no longer host a three-day event.

    Hopefully measures can be taken to support other events that are under threat before they fold, helping them to secure local sponsorship or larger entries — or whatever is limiting their success.

    Wishing William well

    We were all shocked by the news of William Fox-Pitt’s fall at Le Lion. The eventing community is wonderfully supportive; everyone is thinking of William and his wife Alice and wishing him a full and speedy recovery.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 22 October 2015