Laura Tomlinson: ‘Klaus Balkenhol wanted to see the dressage warm-up scored’


  • Laura Tomlinson on competition plans and scoring the warm-up

    The Winter Dressage Championships at Addington were a fabulous opportunity for British horses to experience a bustling and atmospheric competition venue. My home-bred Full Moon certainly could do with some more practice!

    He felt fabulous at the smaller shows and in the warm-up at Addington, but I lost his focus going into the ring. He didn’t lose his head or get stressed but nothing flowed the way it should have and little mistakes crept in as I was wrestling the tradestands for his attention.

    It’s fantastic to have competitions like that across the levels to prepare our young horses for bigger occasions in the future and the experience has strengthened our partnership, even if it was not our best.

    Next for me will be Hickstead Premier League with four of my horses, two of which are home-breds. I decided to take a little more time with them before competing at international level as they’re still very much in the consolidation phase of the grand prix work and we stood to lose more by rushing them than we could gain.

    Perfect harmony

    Meanwhile, the race for Paris Olympics selection is on with a strong group of contenders making for a potential medal-winning team. Having seen what’s out there so far, my bet would certainly be on British team gold.

    What I saw from the top British riders at Hagen in Germany last week looked very impressive for their first rides of the season, with harmony at the forefront.

    Interestingly we’ve seen marks drop significantly lower in early internationals this year, including the World Cup Final, with the judges seemingly struggling to agree on how to approach some of the known combinations when presenting with tight necks or open mouths.

    During this time of reflection and adjustment in our sport, looking to refocus on scales of training rather than extravagance, it is to be expected that marks will fluctuate. I do not envy the judges at this time.

    International five-star judge Hans-Christian Matthiesen made some interesting points in his recent piece on how the competition format must change, which Anna Ross highlighted in her last column. His idea to score the warm-up was something my father and my old coach and mentor, Klaus Balkenhol, always wanted to see.

    It would be fantastic to let how we get our horses test-ready affect our final score. The ways in which we deal with different situations in the warm-up and use the trust and partnership we’ve built or are building with a horse should be celebrated. Of course, there would need to be a period of trial and error on how the guidelines for this would work.

    How would they judge the length of warm-up and how much power would the observing judge have? If a horse starts unlevel but warms up and is sound by the time it goes in the ring, does this judge have the power to deem the horse unfit to compete?

    Continue the conversation

    Hans-Christian’s idea of having in-hand, equipmentless classes also sounds interesting but could become more divisive as it would create separate competitions for those who want to perform tackless – but combining the two sports seems insurmountable.

    Could we do a grand prix test and then re-enter the ring with our horses tackless and demonstrate some natural horsemanship and partnership? It sounds wonderful but what of those competing stallions – they’d be at a disadvantage during breeding season for sure.

    There are interesting ideas out there, but some create complicated scenarios, though that’s not to say they aren’t worth exploring. For now, devising a way to mark the warm-up and maybe seeing more relaxed horses in the ring would be a good start. Judges are responsible for the marking but us riders are responsible for what we give them to mark.

    With that in mind, I believe we’ll have some fantastic horsemen and women in Paris this summer to show what a beautiful sport ours can be. But behind the scenes, the conversations must continue to work out the best way forward to keep our sport alive and our horses’ welfare at the forefront.

    ● What changes would you like to see to the current competition format? Write to us at hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and country, for the chance for your letter to appear in a forthcoming issue of the magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 9 May

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