I fully support the sentiments of Carl Hester and Laura Tomlinson in their recent columns regarding online bullying. Real horse welfare concerns should be reported to British Dressage, but it should be remembered that some people feel simply riding a horse is abuse, some adamantly argue that the use of bits is cruel, while to others, riding a horse 1cm behind the vertical is tantamount to assault. There are many viewpoints.
Riders and trainers can best prevent unintentional horse abuse via education. Alienating riders by “naming and shaming” leaves the impression that this tactic is used to emphasise a person’s own virtue, rather than trusting their own performance to highlight the effectiveness of their training philosophy.
The recent Addington Premier League show had a huge grand prix class with more combinations than ever before coming forward. Sadie Smith impressed with her lovely British-bred Keystone Dynamite, and at small tour Dannie Morgan was a class act with the gorgeous Knoxx’s Figaro, gliding through the trot work.
It was great to see former young rider team members out in force and impressing. Alex Harrison rode with great feel in the grand prix, asking just enough of his young horse, while Anna Jesty came second to Charlotte Dujardin at prix st georges (PSG).
There was plenty of action in the warm-up, too — my right-hand woman Beth Bainbridge was dispatched very efficiently by an over-fresh Habouche, before going on to achieve a top-four PSG placing.
I enjoyed watching the developing horses in the grand prix, but had another sharp reminder of how differently people view our sport. My friends and I were treated to a loud and uncomplimentary commentary from an onlooker sitting behind us in the stands. The details of each rider’s test were dissected and a strong critique administered; even our double gold Olympic medallist was not spared the rod.
I watched rider after rider gamely go down the centre line, blissfully unaware that our eagle-eyed evaluator was apparently spotting details that even our highly qualified judges had failed to pick up on, and that she felt duty-bound to relay these to all those around her. Such was her dedication to excellence that our top critic didn’t waste time in the class break.
“I need to learn my test, I’m competing tomorrow,” she declared, and asked one of her disciples: “Could you get my copy of intro C from the boot?”
A united front
Few in dressage want to raise their heads above the parapet for fear of repercussions either on social media or via their results, but as we are asked to justify our sport’s place in the Olympics, our practices will come under scrutiny. Therefore, we should present a united, positive sport with our love of the horses at the centre.
The benefits to mental health of spending time outdoors in nature are becoming widely known — let’s not waste our opportunity to make the most of this by in-fighting and bullying.
Ref Horse & Hound; 20 February 2020