Anna Ross: ‘The top riders’ tests were sublime, with power, poise and presence’


  • Anna Ross on dressage learnings from Badminton, the recent success of British young riders in Europe, and how to avoid warm-up carnage with young horses

    IT was fantastic to see our young rider team win the Nations Cup in Le Mans recently, beating the German squad. Further inroads into the seemingly invincible were made at pony level, with Mette Dahl splitting the Germans in the pony tests, and what fun we are having watching Lottie Fry’s incredible performances in Europe, including 80% recently with Glamourdale.

    A couple of weeks ago, five-star international judge Peter Storr and I provided dressage commentary at Badminton Horse Trials. The standard there was the best I’ve seen.

    I picked up several useful gems from Peter – it was illuminating to hear from one of the world’s leading judges that the horse must not use the reins “as a Zimmer frame”, and I was able to help him identify “bobbling” in both the horse and riders’ posture, although he seemed doubtful my terminology would make the FEI judges’ handbook.

    Peter was passionate that performances, not names, should be judged, which is a great sentiment.

    I can officially declare that there is no longer any such thing as “eventing dressage” – the top riders’ tests at Badminton were sublime, with power, poise and presence. The rider interviews after the tests were so engaging for the audience that I wonder whether British Dressage could do something similar at Premier Leagues – it helps bring the show to life.

    As a rider, having a microphone shoved straight at you after your test is not easy, especially if it hasn’t gone to plan, but it’s all part of making the sport more media friendly and helping maintain its social licence. On that note, it was refreshing to see the riders “own” their mistakes. I think in a subjective sport, pure dressage riders can sometimes be reluctant to do this; it’s easier to blame the judge.

    Why exposure to real life is important

    HERE at Elite Dressage, our foals are coming thick and fast. We were proud to have sold a colt to top Dutch rider, Diederik van Silfhout, who acted fast after watching a seven-second video on Facebook. It’s great fun when the foals sell to UK buyers, though; I am accumulating a team of horses bred here to cheer on in future.

    UK breeders often favour a more natural way of bringing up horses and here they benefit from all-round education and socialisation, which stands them
    in good stead at their first ridden outings. However valuable the youngster, there’s no justification for them to be bought up like Little Lord Fauntleroy and denied herd life or exposure to the great outdoors.

    Survivors reported “carnage” from the very busy warm-up area at Keysoe Premier League, as some young horses were unleashed into the show environment. Contact dressage is not a concept that will catch on any time soon, so following school rules and having a horse used to others before it goes out for the first time are useful.

    It’s unrealistic for youngsters to be ridden in a cathedral-like atmosphere at home, with everyone tip-toeing around, and then be expected to handle a competition environment.

    If, as a rider, one doesn’t quite have the bottle anymore, don’t just jump on, crossing your fingers or clutching your “holy crap strap” while shaking with trepidation. Instead, find some brave soul who gets their kicks from the death-defying stuff to ride your horse, then value and applaud them and give them a few opportunities once the white-knuckle part is over.

    To any rider who feels they may have failed in being too nervous to ride their young horse, trust me, as the owner of many, there’s plenty of joy to be had in watching with a G&T in hand. Remember, one person’s great selfie is another’s worst nightmare. See it as “creating employment” and you’ll have a much better time – as will your horse.

    • What were your thoughts on the dressage at Badminton Horse Trials? Let us know at hhletters@futurenet.com with your name, nearest town and county

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 19 May

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