Anna Ross: ‘By competing we sign up for the truth’


  • International grand prix dressage rider and trainer Anna Ross on the highs and lows of the Winter Dressage Championships...

    HOW fabulous to be back with a full crowd for the Winter Dressage Championships, with the range of classes demonstrating the variety of our membership. The new lighting arrangements make the main arena even more special with its intimate atmosphere, and it was a great social occasion.

    My new puppy Brian was delighted to meet so many new friends, and I was touched by so many people’s kind wishes after the recent loss of my very naughty Westie, Benjy.

    I’m sure we saw some future British team horses in Becky Moody’s Jagerbomb, who achieved a hat-trick at small tour, and Charlotte Dujardin’s double winner Times Kismet. British-bred horses took the first three places in the inter I, so there’s no doubt we’re creating the horsepower needed on home soil.

    Judges, be brave!

    THE diversity makes these championships unique, with all breeds, shapes and sizes competing, but it cannot make judging an easy task and there were some discrepancies in points. Some difference is to be expected of course, with judges in different positions – it is why we have more than one.

    But one substantial difference came when two judges had a tall young horse first and the third judge had him 15th, resulting in a second place for the combination overall, in between two ponies.

    It seems two judges appreciated the scope of the horse and one very much preferred the consistency of the ponies. You could make a case for either and it’s ironic that nobody complains when the judge who appears out of line gives the highest points. Further up the levels, scores seemed more in tune with each other.

    But I found myself wondering whether, considering the diversity of the classes and differing levels of experience across the field, we would have expected a bigger spread in the top marks across the classes. Is the standard similar or are the judges being cautious – and if so, should we explore why?

    All the winners across the gold and silver winter championships scored within 8% of each other, from the least experienced silver combination up to our double Olympic champion.

    It left me wondering: had all the combinations competing at the same level been in one class, would the marks have been as close?

    Personally, I’d rather have a brave judge with the courage of their convictions than one who sits on the fence going more beige by the second, and only marking between a five and seven. Before we compete, we must decide if we are ready to hear someone’s truth; after all, it’s what we sign up for.

    If we want judges to use the range of marks, then “kicking off” if we don’t like the result only encourages future caution, and there are systems in place for genuine concerns.

    End of a dream

    THERE was one heartbreaking incident where a competitor’s mother had flown from Australia to watch her daughter compete in the freestyle. But her two CDs seemed incompatible with the system and her daughter was eliminated.

    Perhaps it’s time to look into a different means of playing freestyle soundtracks, rather than CDs? Although with the number of competitors it would present a considerable challenge to our already busy organisers. Just to compete at the championships represents such a proud moment in any dressage enthusiast’s life, so it’s sad to see the dream end in this way.

    Stars of the future

    ANY sport gets boring if the same people win all the time, however brilliant the performances. However, we saw some true future stars in the under-21 classes, which were great exposure for our younger members.

    The classes were quite girl heavy, but I watched 11-year-old Rocky Leahy come fifth at his first championship, and role models Dannie Morgan and Jezz Palmer both took the time to discuss his prelim test afterwards.

    Meanwhile, 12-year-old Violet Hawkins who won the prelim silver title was definitely a mini Charlotte Dujardin in the making, although her mum is going to need to tumble-dry that winners’ rug a few times to shrink it to fit her diminutive DZL Royal Sunrise.

    • This column is also available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 21 April

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