Dressage needs more of the F word — fun. There are enough woes in the world without them swamping our sport, too. “Elitist” and “judgemental” are words too often bandied about, so perhaps it’s time to remember that lovely saying: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”, vocally or online.
I’ve had a blast making my own competitive comeback, plus I’ve left 6lb of fat at X and feel so much fitter, physically and mentally. But I’ve also seen and heard how unwelcoming our sport can be.
Once upon a time, a rider sat alone on the grass at his first nationals, eating a burger, and no one talked to him. He’s now top judge Mark Ruddock, so thank goodness he overcame that experience.
Another subsequently successful rider recalls hearing wisecracks as she had trouble with her old lorry parked among the smart ones. More recently, there has been gunning for competing cobs and Friesian horses, but how brilliant when their performances mean the last laugh is on the snipers. Well done too, British Dressage, for giving Wallace the mule eligibility to compete and a chance to shine.
I’m not immune. I’m of a certain age (66 if you must know), but as I warmed up recently, someone overheard: “Come on, let’s go and see if she can still ride.”
Of course, I don’t ride as I once did. Nor do I expect to beat riders who weren’t even born when I was on team short-lists. But even so, why did hardly anyone speak to me until I began to get placed?
A second and third in inter IIs, a 9% improvement across four Premier League shows, a sprinkling of eights and some “really good moments” later, and people are seeking me out!
I really don’t care what anyone thinks — it’s one advantage of age. And I’m having a ball on my dressage days out. I loved the judge who really helped my test riding with take-home tips and I especially loved the marks of five and six for a movement not performed; the one from the other judge was more on the button.
But I feel for those younger up-and-coming competitors who may be racked with nerves, their confidence draining away and in need of a friendly word. Seeing dressage from the inside out again is reminding me to smile.
Riding school revival
Having met a partnership for their first “live” lesson recently, I did fear that riding schools could go the same way as our favourite high-street stores. This particular combination was in fact quite good, despite being self-taught via the internet.
Thankfully, life is returning to riding schools — where many a star started — due to the rebirth of British Horse Society (BHS) examinations, now called assessments (I hate that word).
I’m impressed by and grateful for the work led by Alex Copeland, BHS director of education, as without riding schools and with only the internet, we’d all become so isolated and insular.
From “FEI Time To Act” to “Clean Endurance”, online conversations abound on equine abuse, rules and sanctions.
The trouble is, each discipline is increasingly viewed only through its own prism. If all equestrian sports got together to lobby the FEI, something might actually change.
Ref Horse & Hound; 26 July 2018