Anna Ross: Sport should unite, not divide *H&H Plus*


  • Apart from the obvious jokes about what we will do with our redundant whips and spurs, many of our enthusiastic dressage community are wondering what we are all going to do with ourselves this summer. Knit our own haynets?

    British Dressage and the British Equestrian Federation have recommended that riders don’t ride, trainers don’t train and judges don’t judge at present, even remotely and online, which has come as a blow to riders wanting to continue and trainers who are struggling to keep their businesses afloat.

    It’s been a really difficult decision for the governing bodies, who are navigating the fine line between interpreting government guidelines and supporting their members. And it should be remembered that these societies are made up of actual people, who are neither detached from reality nor immune to criticism.

    In the absence of law, there are many interpretations of guidelines, and emotions are running high on social media regarding these recommendations. We need to work together to find a way forward if the situation continues for the long haul.

    Knowledge and experience

    Equestrian sport is classed as high risk, but the accident statistics include racing, eventing, hacking, hunting and showjumping. It would be interesting to know what percentage of incidents come from dressage riding in arenas.

    The guidelines have created quite a “subculture” of those who work with horses or keep them at home and will ride regardless, those who ride but keep it quiet and those who choose not to ride at all. For others, there is no choice as yards have locked down.

    Considering the guidelines and using knowledge and experience to assess risk could be a way forward. Riders should decide if some horses will benefit from a holiday and if they have adequate turnout to accommodate this safely.

    I decided before the “official” word that it’s not the right time to start young horses. Our “breakers” and newly backed ones have all gone back out into their herds, where they will stay for the foreseeable future. I’d also question the wisdom of starting in-hand work if you’ve never done it before with a horse that hasn’t either.

    If a considered choice is made to continue riding, risk-assess first. If it’s windy think again, check that no one has left an empty feed sack to blow around the arena and keep your sharp horses well exercised using lungeing and horse walkers wherever possible. Adding a “holy crap strap” (neck strap), as advised by Joanna Thurman-Baker in her latest H&H blog is also sensible.

    Insurance companies have adjusted freelance trainers’ policies to include remote training within certain criteria, and ongoing support is important in order to promote safe practice.

    I’ve already been sent one hilarious, but somewhat alarming, video of a young rider who decided to continue the piaffe work we’d started together and had the “brilliant” idea of her non-horsey brother deploying the piaffe whip in my absence. He appeared on the screen in the style of Hong Kong Phooey with all the energy of a teenage boy who had not played rugby for a month, and the horse showed a turn of speed that would have gained him an 11 for extended canter.

    My intervention in this case, suggesting another method (minus the brother), was necessary to prevent accidents. Telling this rider, who keeps her horses at home, not to ride and “walking away” is irresponsible, as she will ride anyway. Cutting off lines of communication at a time where people already feel isolated and worried does not sit well with me.

    Set training goals

    Another way to improve, without the access to remote judging, is by gathering your old test sheets and highlighting the most common remarks for better and worse. See where you can improve; often it’s easier to build on strengths – for example, walk is difficult to change, but there may well be half a mark available in a transition on and back from an already smart trot extension.

    Top coach Jill Day has some great goal-setting videos to help make a plan, which are worth watching on YouTube, and there are many training videos available online, so why not highlight your top three issues and look them up? Feeling you are still taking steps forward, even if you can’t ride, will help alleviate anxiety about the future when so much is out of our control.

    There will be a future, but living in the present has never been so important. None of us know what is to come, but taking the steps we can to mitigate our risks is the least we can all do.

    We have a great sport, with great people in it, and we will come through this better if we stick together. Sport should unite not divide us, and can still bring us joy in these uniquely challenging times.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 16 April 2020