London 2012 heralded a new era for dressage: gold medals won with softness, harmony and positive power. Eight years on, and our sport is divided over the spectacular versus correctness. But why can’t we have the two together? Surely Olympic-standard excellence and flowing horsemanship should not be incompatible?
If dressage is becoming a circus for freakish horses, where do we go from here? Will we end up with purpose-bred equines with exaggerated movement akin to those much maligned dogs at Crufts?
I winced at a recent prix st georges test scoring over 80%, yet the horse was dipped in the back with wildly flying front legs. It epitomised my fears. Judges, you need to get on the same page. What you choose to reward or penalise maps out dressage’s direction.
As Laura Tomlinson rightly says: “It’s important to look to the pinnacle of our sport to set the right example.” On which note, well done Charlotte Dujardin and Mount St John Freestyle. Your recent World Cup test in Amsterdam was beautiful.
Rights an wrongs
The debate over horse welfare and training methods rages on across social media. Everyone has their own idea of what is abuse. But whatever your definition, please be honest. Don’t pretend wrongs are rights by trying to justify them. Or worse, publicly preaching while privately condoning.
Everyone should do right by their own horses. Others, like me, are also driven to speak out because what they see keeps them awake at night — even when it means risking verbal, reputational and potential financial punishment. Inevitably, the result can be online disharmony between those who should be on the same side; the side of the horse.
The solution to this time-consuming, often unproductive squabbling is a robust system of reporting to the relevant authorities, who are then duty bound to report back fully and transparently on their findings and actions. If reports of alleged abuse are not addressed to the right people or are submitted in the wrong way, we need to know why so we can rectify them.
As followers of the FEI Time to Act Facebook group know, I am not afraid to say my piece. The limiting factor is the potential for being sued by naming people. That’s why it’s the authorities, our governing bodies, who must act.
When it comes to equine welfare, we all differ in how much we’re prepared to tolerate. Maybe we should instead be thinking about how much more horses can tolerate.
To benefit all
We once had sponsorship worth £75,000 a year. Wow, those were the days! Now you get a free jar of something and happily endorse it. However, it can all go horribly wrong for a sponsor if “their” rider is caught “with their pants down” or, even worse, mistreating a horse.
It’s great that equestrian companies still want to give something back. But maybe they’re better off sponsoring shows and events for the benefit of all, rather than individual riders? Hickstead needs sponsors, as does Badminton.
Meanwhile, look after those sponsors known by another name — owners. Telephone, send pictures, throw a party; communication is key.
Ref Horse & Hound; 27 February 2020