Carl Hester questions a rule change and pays tribute to a great character
Under the current lockdown, thinking about shows seems unworldly to say the least, but this year’s FEI World Cup Dressage Final, scheduled for early April in Gothenburg, risks becoming less of a world and more of a European cup, based on the FEI’s late changes to the rules.
The FEI dressage committee chair Frank Kemperman insists the decision to reallocate the places for a non-league rider, a home athlete and one extra pair based on world rankings to riders of the Western European League is down to Covid.
For Charlotte Dujardin and I, the Brexit uncertainty and the number of border crossings required means it’s debatable whether a trip to Gothenburg would be in the best interests of the horses, but there are other riders who have had this final in their sights and for whom this rule change is devastating.
Some 20 years ago on the Sunshine Tour, I shared a house with a complete stranger. Yvonne Losos de Muñiz became a great friend and, over the years, I have watched her work hard and become a consummate professional.
Yvonne rides for the Dominican Republic, her husband’s country. Born in Nigeria, she lived in Kenya, moved to Canada and then to the Dominican Republic, and has trained in Germany, Spain, Florida and here in Gloucestershire. My nickname for her is Miss World. Currently based in Florida, Yvonne had hoped to get the non-league slot at the final that has just evaporated.
It is not so much not being able to go to Gothenburg that hurts, but that the FEI has taken away the slot for the minority group of non-league riders. And this is despite organisers being committed to paying for the competitors’ travel, even though some riders had indicated they would pay their own way.
The FEI’s statement includes this: “It was agreed that every angle needed to be explored to ensure a top-quality starting field at the finals in Gothenburg.”
The inference that a non-league rider like Yvonne is not good enough is not only galling and hurtful, but plain wrong. Having won the Wellington qualifier just before Christmas, she and her mare Aquamarijn were a whisker shy of 80% in the January freestyle to finish second.
So my plea to the FEI is, give Yvonne a place. With no spectators at the final, everyone will want to watch it on livestream, so what better way to put into practice the ethos of universality the Olympic movement is so keen to see?
I remember Mariette Withages’ mission when she was chair of the FEI dressage committee was to increase participation and help new countries into the sport. As admirable as it was, there was not then the level of quality – but there is now.
Farewell Barry Marshall
Dressage has lost one of the sport’s great characters. Barry Marshall was the first male rider to receive the British flag for dressage. He also became an international judge, was a much-loved coach, wrote books and, thanks to his wife Leonie’s interest in the sport, became a skilled carriage driver, too. He died in January, having borne his cancer diagnosis with fortitude, never losing his terrific sense of humour.
Barry was our chef d’equipe at my first Olympic Games, Barcelona in 1992, and he made us laugh until we had tears streaming down our faces.
There was actually a bar, can you believe it, in the Olympic village where Barry would take us “for a small G&T”, and I’ll never forget when he accidentally filled up the British team minibus with petrol instead of diesel. We had to get our shoulders behind it while Barry steered, cigarette in hand.
Barry, whom I nicknamed Muttley, was a beloved husband, father, grandfather and friend to many. His granddaughter Lauren has set up a GoFundMe page in aid of the Hospice in the Weald that looked after Barry: uk.gofundme.com/f/fundraiser-in-loving-memory-of-barry-marshall
Rest in peace, dear Muttley. I will never forget your laugh.
Ref: 28 January 2021
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