Anna Ross: New-look Nationals are ‘a bigger, brighter showcase for our sport’


  • H&H’s dressage columnist Anna Ross discusses the rejuvenated national championships at Somerford

    THE new-look National Dressage Championships at Somerford Park were a great success, providing competitors and horses with hugely improved facilities across the board. Unlike other leading dressage nations, the British Dressage national championships are unique in their commitment to having all levels represented across the board.

    Having three separate arenas worked well, with each having their own atmosphere and warm-up. The Nationals Pavilion was a hit, with more space directly overlooking the arenas, and the fan zone was a great idea, providing more entertainment across the bar area and on social media.

    General exercise was rather a long way away from the showground. Our horses hack out on the Devon hills so took it all in their stride, but there were some hair-raising moments on the rollercoaster ride through the woods to the arena, with a steep drop focusing the rider on keeping the horse between themselves and the ground at all times. It was good practice to find the perfect balance.

    Online programmes were a great idea, but some struggled with the signal, and I must admit to being a bit old-fashioned and liking a physical programme to jot down my notes on and refer back to in later years.

    There was controversy regarding the absence of a livestream. It’s become commonplace for major events to have one, and members were disappointed it was not available. National championships have always been a great social occasion and are so much more than just a competition – you can meet friends, identify talent, do business and shop. Nothing can replace seeing the show live; you can’t see the top riders warm up on a livestream or catch up with friends over a coffee, but streaming is also great if you can’t get there.

    The flip side is that ticket sales create both income and atmosphere, and championships cost a fortune to hold – but no one wants the membership fees to increase. One suggestion was an extra £1 on every entry fee across the calendar, and the extra income raised used to bolster funds to improve members’ experience – such as providing livestreams for future events.

    It appeared on social media that there was a general acceptance that a decent contribution would be necessary to watch the show, and I’m sure it will be discussed further.

    The show made a great spectacle of the young horse finals. International grand prix rider Tom Goode did a beautiful job riding the young horses with great sensitivity to provide feedback for the judges. Breeding details displayed up on the scoreboard for the four-, five- and six-year-olds would have been a nice extra touch, though.

    My team had a great time. Our home-bred Newton Tiger, freshly back from the World Breeding Championships for young horses, won the five-year-old championship with Beth Bainbridge and also finished second with Alex Baker in the novice gold.

    It was a dream come true to breed a winner at the nationals and especially nice as I rode Tiger’s mother into third place in the young horse final many years ago. I was also over the moon with my own ride, Newton Domino, who was reserve champion in the inter II and fourth in the grand prix freestyle. And it was great fun, too, to watch her brother, Newton Freezeframe, placed at prelim with Jessica Ralton.

    Tiger and Domino perfectly illustrate the concept of using high-performing mares in our embryo transfer programme. Other British breeders who embody this concept, such as Headmore, Mount St John and Hawtins studs, also had great results.

    The abundance of quality horsepower available in this country, following the new post-Brexit taxation on imported horses, will be a great comfort to those looking for their next superstar close to home.

    Emile Faurie was a worthy national champion and a crowd favorite in the freestyle. The more intimate feel of the LeMieux Arena heightened the atmosphere and made it even more exciting.

    This new venue does our national championships justice, making the event a bigger, brighter showcase for our sport, with more chances across the board for both our superstars and new talents to shine.

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