Janet Horswill: It’s now time for a fresh approach *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    I read Anna Ross’ comments on why our juniors and young riders are not in the medal zone (9 March) with interest. I agree that continuity is essential for a smooth transition between each level. Factors including funding, horse power and competitive opportunities impact outcomes.

    The standard of riding over the past decade has risen dramatically as the British Young Rider Dressage Scheme (BYRDS) has developed. There is now a logical pathway for young riders that facilitates not just competitive development, but also understanding of the correct way of going and the scales of training. Regional activities demonstrate that progression is about all-round development.

    Riders aiming for squad training are invited to a viewing day based on their scores. Squad training happens over three weekends in the autumn; it’s here that a fresh approach is needed.

    One of my most used expressions is, “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got”. These sessions are performance-driven, including test riding under top judges, and riders are encouraged to compete at certain shows to gain the necessary results for international selection.

    But it’s not enough to just be the best in Britain, or of the Brits. This presents a ceiling approach; we need to widen the perspective.

    Pony riders, in particular, and younger junior riders are in physical development; they need a framework for individualised sport-science support. During a growth spurt, bones grow first, then the muscles develop.

    To retain performance through these changing times, coaches must work with other specialists, pooling expertise. For example, input from physios and strength and conditioning coaches can help core stability.

    As a coach I’m acutely aware of the impact this period has on confidence, necessitating support from sport psychologists. Advice on their own nutritional requirements is also essential. We need to develop collaborations and working alliances.

    I read a post by Nicklas Pyrdol the performance psychologist about how the Danes create champions. He emphasised the focus on creating a talent development culture.

    Mental attitude is of utmost importance if an athlete is to be successful: it doesn’t matter how gifted they are in the saddle if the mindset is wrong. Riders are currently reaching the end of their time on ponies and are lost to the system, or not prepared to make the step up to juniors.

    The wrong metric

    Is it time that we adopted a transitional approach where riders have a supported structure to move off ponies, dictated not by age but by physical development? Are we developing the next set of riders if we keep children on ponies in pursuit of medals at the cost of their own physical development?

    Children-on-horses is designed to facilitate this, but we need a clear transition structure, where children and parents are supported. It’s not as easy as buying a young horse to see you through this phase.

    If we’re to become truly competitive against the best, we have to look seriously at overhauling the format of squad training to adopt a holistic approach that balances performance and development, and ensures optimal experience.

    Another area that should be looked at is setting up a register of owners, breeders and riders, to try to form partnerships. Some of our top riders are already giving opportunities to up-and-coming international riders — Carl being a shining example. Perhaps British Dressage could look at implementing this?

    Ref Horse & Hound; 18 May 2017