Anna Ross: Trotting towards our ‘new normal’ *H&H Plus*


  • H&H’s dressage columnist on the return of shows, and online initiatives and opportunities

    Lockdown is easing a little and we are making our way up the centre line towards our “new normal” at the collected trot, with plenty of half-halts for reflection. British Dressage (BD) competitions may resume in July, but there are concerns from some competition venues that they may need more support staff for a much-reduced field. Many centres are already struggling, so I hope there is a way to compete safely and viably.

    In the interim, BD has brought in the concept of training shows, which seems to be a good step forward and a way to get back into test riding. This concept has been running in the Netherlands for many years and it is a great way to get feedback from a judge and to try out new strategies in the arena.

    The positives of lockdown

    My money has been on Dane Rawlins to come up with something fun for this summer, and I was right. His innovative team at Dressage at Hickstead are planning a Grand Prix Challenge in July, organised by Hickstead and the Rotterdam CHIO, which will be streamed online. Esteemed judges Stephen Clarke from the UK and Mariette Saunders-Van Gansewinkel from the Netherlands will give live feedback.

    The Hartpury Festival of Dressage will also be showcasing their virtual Dressage Gala Evening from prix st georges upwards, and my team and I will provide the virtual masterclass direct from Devon to sit in between the competitions.

    One of the positives to come out of lockdown has been that we have learnt more about how technology can help us grow as an industry. Video lessons are definitely here to stay with the benefit that they can fit into people’s lives, as well as benefiting the environment. For example, the early morning slots are very popular with those with small children and full-time jobs. I also hope some of the great webinars that have taken place, notably those run by David Marlin and British Breeding, will continue.

    Forward thinking is needed

    Some young professionals have thrived on social media during the lockdown period whereas others have slightly gone to ground. Joe Bright’s entrepreneurial skills stood out a country mile when he won the Young Professionals award in 2019, and he has done a particularly fine job of staying in touch with his social media followers and keeping his clients engaged.

    Lucy Pye and Jezz Palmer’s gymnastic challenges in between their schooling videos have been hilarious, bringing a much needed bit of fun in difficult times. They should have come with a health warning, though – my one attempt to follow along was enough to remind me that I’m not in young riders any more.

    Some have taken the opportunity to let their followers “get to know them”, providing insights into daily life and, depending on the content, this can create confidence in their businesses. Outstanding riding talent is only entry level to building a career in the industry.

    If I had £1 for every outstandingly talented and aspirational rider I’d ever met, I’d be very rich, but without a lot of money behind you to maintain a consistent high level of horsepower, or someone with a business brain to keep the project moving forward, dreams can start to fall apart and disillusionment can soon follow. An innovative forward-thinking approach is necessary to avoid disappearing into the crowd.

    “We need to keep pace – or do better”

    Horse sales and interest has been brisk, even during lockdown, and my policy of providing X-rays to every potential purchaser has stood us in good stead when it comes to giving buyers confidence.

    This is the norm in Europe, and if British breeders and vendors want to compete with their counterparts, we need to keep pace, if not aim to do even better. We have plenty of fantastic horses in the UK to promote, but our sales service needs to be high quality too.

    Our latest venture at Elite Dressage, the sale of embryos, has also been popular, giving breeders the opportunity to use mares that they would not usually have access to. It’s opened up a wealth of possibilities for people to be involved in breeding without having to own a herd of broodmares and gives more buyers access to the all-important mare lines. It’s fun to work with something new for dressage riders and British breeding.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 11 June 2020