Pammy Hutton: Gripes need a proactive response *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    Do we need a dressage ombudsman? Well, yes, according to the stream of phone calls and emails I’ve received from frustrated competitors.

    OK, consumers — which is what competitors are — like to complain. But what’s behind the current blame culture sweeping our sport? And who’s to handle it? To be fair to British Dressage (BD), they do investigate and respond to complaints. But, by then, the moment to qualify or achieve a win or a place has gone. The damage is done.

    So does the answer lie with better training and briefing of judges, stewards and show organisers? Or perhaps BD needs more people on the ground at shows instead of responding to emails from offices in Stoneleigh?

    Here’s a selection of complaints for which I can only take my correspondents’ words. Horse eliminated for lameness when it was sound. Missing qualifying when beaten by rider on a “ringer”. Awards withheld due to non-appearance at prize-giving despite permission being given by show organiser. Muddled paperwork causing rider to lose qualification…

    Then there have been a raft of riders contacting me about stewards loosening curb chains, with results from disastrous to dangerous.

    I won’t patronise by saying that our sport is supposed to be fun. When blood, sweat, tears and cash are expended, these are some of the heartfelt cries of frustration coming my way.

    “I’m a one-horse rider and pay a lot of money to be a member of an affiliated organisation. I don’t expect this type of error to be made.”

    “My BD membership has now expired and I will not renew (despite having qualified for Petplan second rounds) until they’ve taken this seriously.”

    “I felt totally humiliated.”

    “I have withdrawn from their Premier League show and won’t support a venue that treats people like that.”

    And, perhaps saddest of all: “It distressed me on what was supposed to be an exciting day I had worked so hard for.”

    Professional and amateur riders are among those protesting. Some have forwarded me polite but frankly bland responses from BD in answer to their complaints.

    When I mentioned in H&H that a pupil’s horse had been gonged out for alleged lameness, I was phoned by top judge David Trott for an opinion. I was impressed. We
    all pay the same BD subs, so I hope we all getting equal and fair governance.

    Open to lawsuits?

    In this litigious era, Richard Davison puts an interesting spin on the topic of BD stewards adjusting curb chains.

    “I was alarmed to read about this,” he told me. “I’m involved in FEI matters concerning stewarding protocols but not BD’s, so I’m unclear as to what their stewards are instructed to do.

    In the BD rule book, the only reference I can find about fitting a curb chain is that it must be fitted in a ‘conventional way’. If this is the only description, then it’s too open to personal interpretation.

    “If I were BD, or a competition organiser, I’d be very concerned about liability in the event of a personal injury claim, pursued either by a rider or a third party, who might argue that the steward’s action contributed to an accident. Surely BD has a duty to publish a clear definition of what is deemed too tight?”

    An unconventional suggestion

    One final thought from me about a suitable tool to measure the required two fingers in nosebands: it needs to be soft, tapered and comfortable. I can’t think of anything more suitable than a dildo!

    Ref Horse & Hound; 14  September 2017