Anna Ross, an international grand prix dressage rider who has represented Britain on numerous occasions, sharers her thoughts on the Olympic format and how to keep the championship medals coming...
IT’S championship season and the recent junior and young rider European Championships in Spain set a phenomenal standard with even the juniors’ rides presented like grand prix horses. The best had that magical combination of power and relaxation; Annabella Pidgley’s lovely Sultan Des Paluds was an example of this, and she made history winning Britain’s first junior individual silver medals.
And so over to the Olympics in Tokyo. The much-discussed new format makes for a more exciting competition with no “safety” drop score, and it gives us a more interesting order of go. The second day seemed to have a few more gremlins, with some below-par performances among the outstanding ones. Using heats, and six wild cards, to qualify individuals for the freestyle worked perfectly, too, with the top 18 highest-scorers going through.
The “three on a team” concept allows more nations to compete and there were some impressive performances from Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Portugal. Ireland’s shocking decision not to send a team was seized upon by the Belgian riders, who lived their Olympic dream and exceeded expectations.
The Dutch went “all out” in every way with the patriotic and controversial bright orange coats. I prefer the more subtle British tails with the red collar and points, but I like the concept of team colours as it is much more spectator-friendly.
The last group of the team competition – the grand prix special – ran in reverse order, which meant that the pressure came right down to
the wire and made for a more exciting competition under this new format.
Dutch rider Edward Gal’s horse Total US looked much improved, with a more harmonious way of going than in the grand prix, and the USA have found a new superstar in Sabine Schut-Kery – whose plus-81% lifted her team to silver.
But it was Germany who once again reigned supreme with a team of experienced campaigners. Meanwhile, Britain’s rather less experienced horses showed incredible promise for a brilliant bronze.
For future championship medals, we need horsepower across the board. “Normal” horses simply won’t stand up in international company, however well they are ridden – superstars are needed.
While I propose all dressage riders expecting baby girls this year should call them Charlotte, I also found myself pondering how talented riders could plan for the future without the huge resources needed to purchase trained horses.
One solution could be to invest in good-quality younger horses and go down the children-on-horses route, where we are under-represented, rather than the pony dressage route. That horse could then potentially go right through under-25s grand prix, and it would avoid the upheaval of selling a pony and starting again with a horse when the rider is 16.
We already have the riders to compete for gold, but we need to keep up supplies of great horses. The German and Dutch breeding programmes have years of data that the UK lacks at the moment.
British breeders can help gain the edge by breeding horses that can achieve marginal gains. A naturally bigger walk or more uphill frame can be the clincher when it comes to medals.
Breeding is, of course, the long game. Newton Vamouche, our daughter of double world champion Woodlander Farouche, has proved to be a team player, giving us two sets of twin embryos this year. The stallion we chose, Sandro Hit, has been referred to as “Sandro S***” in the past, but had 14 descendants in the Olympic grand prix and the entire USA silver medal-winning team relates back to him.
As the proud owner of a super Sandro Hit broodmare who has a daughter competing at the World Breeding Championships next month, I cheered them all on.
- This exclusive column is also available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 30 July
Read more of Anna’s thoughts…