Anna Ross: ‘Radical new thoughts for dressage’s future’


  • British grand prix dressage rider and trainer Anna Ross shares her thoughts on the recent winter championships and suggestions for changes to the sport

    Addington was a roaring success for the NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships. The excellent organisation from Show Direct carried the championships seamlessly over from Hartpury, with more space to ride and a stunning feature arena.

    A bonus this year was the combination of live scoring and expert commentary by Judy Harvey, which brought the championships alive and were super-educational for those tuning in.

    There has been some negative press about dressage recently. However there was a lot to be positive about at these championships: the beautiful riding, and seeing riders supporting one another in person and online, for example.

    The number of successful British-bred champions – including Dannie Morgan’s Fever Tree (pictured top), bred by David Stone, and Sadie Smith’s Swanmore Dantina, bred by Ben St John James – was great to see.

    A rule revamp

    To criticise is the easiest job in the world, so it’s good to see solutions coming forward, however controversial they may be – it gets the conversation going past the naysayers.

    Top international five-star judge and vet Hans-Christian Matthiesen has thrown his hat in the ring and suggested some radical new thoughts for the international level of the sport.

    He thinks that some horses are showing stress in the arena such as excessive sweating and tail swishing and that this should be more reflected in his score. However, he doesn’t feel he has an adequate place to reflect this on the score sheet.

    He suggests new rules where equipment (or lack thereof) should be up to the rider with voluntary use of bits and even saddles. Perhaps a start would be making it optional to use a snaffle or bitless bridle? As a competitor, I find it frustrating that I’m compelled to ride my grand prix mare Holly (Habouche) in a double bridle when she doesn’t need one.

    We already have the voluntary use of spurs in place and I recently saw a video of a rider doing a grand prix without spurs that received much praise but I beg to differ. I didn’t enjoy the footage, as the rider used heavy leg aids instead, with the horse booted every stride in the piaffe. I didn’t see that as a move forward for the sport – the horse certainly wasn’t forward anyway!

    Hans-Christian also suggested a score given for the warm-up to be added to the final marks. I like this idea as it would encourage the emphasis on how the end result was achieved but its practical implementation requires a whole new rulebook. A nice middle ground is already in place as some shows have a harmony prize for the warm-up. In Lier it was won by British-based Aussie Jayden Brown.

    Most radical of the ideas Hans put forward was the horses coming back into the arena after the grand prix to do some moves and grooves on a halter in-hand. While I love the principle – as it focuses on the relationship between horse and rider – I wonder how this would be practically achieved, especially with the many breeding stallions that are used for sport.

    Doing it our way

    Our stallion Sezuan’s Donnerhall (or Suzi as he’s known to his friends) and I could be contenders for the future in this. We’ve been having a lot of fun with him and our younger stallion Galaxico, who are learning to do it our way – which means regular hacking out, trips to the beach and turnout in a proper nine-acre field. We are determined that they live happy lives alongside the serious business of their breeding work.

    We’ve been rotating stallions for a few years now but I can reveal that Elite Stallions have purchased Sezuan’s Donnerhall, who won his 50-day test in Germany, so he’s here to stay for sport as well as breeding. I’m so in love with him – there’s no way he’s going back! I have betrothed him to Holly – who’s unconcerned by his hundreds of former wives in Europe.

    Some championship team riders have already used the stallions so we’re excited to see the next generation of British-bred stars – will they become winter champions of the future?

    ● How was your experience riding or watching at Addington? Let us know by emailing hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and country, for the chance for your letter to appear in a forthcoming issue of the magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 25 April

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