Olympic riders say dressage needs new ideas to pull in crowds [H&H VIP]

  • Leading dressage riders Carl Hester and Richard Davison have called on the sport to look for new ideas to broaden its appeal and encourage bigger crowds at competitions.

    There is concern that, while freestyle continues to be popular and attract sell-out crowds, the grand prix only brings in small audiences.

    Dressage will return to Royal Windsor this year with an international grand prix and freestyle classes.

    Simon Brooks-Ward, show director of Olympia and Windsor, admits that it is a challenge to try to increase ticket interest for the grand prix.

    “It’s a tale of 2 competitions,” Simon told H&H. “We had a sell-out crowd again at Olympia again for the freestyle this year. But dressage needs to pack out more than 1 night.”

    Olympic gold medallist Carl Hester would like to see fun warm-up classes introduced — such as a movement ride-off between two riders.

    “I think a ride-off would allow the untrained eye to see which movement is better,” he said. “We need to try and introduce a fun factor. The situation at the moment does not bring new people into the sport.”

    Fellow Olympian Richard believes that dressage needs to look to showjumping for ideas on how to increase audience numbers.

    “While showjumping has the same challenges of attracting audiences, they benefit from having a range of other supporting classes that provide an entertainment factor, such a speed class or puissance,” he pointed out. “They are great for warming up the crowd and are important to show promoters.

    “I have long believed that we need the equivalent type for dressage, which could act as supporting classes to the big ones. If we found the right formula, then these classes could benefit everyone and take dressage to a wider audience.”

    Don’t miss next week’s dressage special, guest edited by Carl Hester (27 March)