Pammy Hutton: Making dressage fun for all is key *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    Now that Joe Bloggs and family enjoy watching horses “dancing” it’s vital we maintain dressage’s appeal to the general public. More TV coverage and sponsorship will only happen if we can keep equestrian sports in the Olympic Games, and clean from dope and horse abuse.

    Beyond that, making horse sports attractive, spectacular, interesting and fun is key. Dressage needs to up its game.

    Take the Bloggs family for a day out at HOYS or Olympia and they’ll be swept along by the excitedly clapping crowds, the clear way in which showjumping finds its winners and the show-biz atmosphere. Or they might like Badminton with dogs, picnics, Pimm’s, people-spotting and exclusive shopping — that’s before they even see a competitor!

    Then they go to our national championships, sneeze at the wrong moment or put up an umbrella, and get glared at by some terribly serious aficionados. What’s that all about, they wonder?

    Sure, it’s tricky to make dressage instantly tasty to the uninitiated. Colourful clothes are advocated by some… maybe I shouldn’t have turned down those red boots? And while Mr and Mrs Bloggs may lack sufficient understanding to explain hyperflexion to their offspring, they know what cruelty to animals is — and they don’t like it.

    The present FEI rule allows for horses to be worked deep for 10 minutes. But how deep is deep? And 10 minutes is too long. At what point do we ask British Dressage (BD) to take a stand and lead a deputation to the FEI? It would be helpful if British Eventing, British Showjumping and the British Horse Society (BHS) joined in.

    We need to lobby for CCTV in collecting rings. And applaud stewards like those at Hartpury International who insisted there was enough room to fit a cat inside every noseband.

    Yes, we must do all we can to make our sport presentable to everyone — from the experts to the Bloggs family.

    Turning cameras

    One day, there may be cameras on judges to check they’re watching properly, with action replays to monitor their marks.

    If that sounds far-fetched, consider this: a pair I train were eliminated four movements into an advanced medium regional final by a judge who claimed the horse was lame.

    The three stewards on duty, plus many in the audience, were outraged because they disagreed. Meanwhile the rider was devastated that anyone would think she’d compete an unsound horse.

    So, considering the time, effort and money involved in getting to a regional final, should a vet be consulted if a judge gongs a horse out?

    The test was recorded and will be looked at by BD “if time allows”. I don’t hold out much hope, though. It seems BD has had awful muddles over records, with many competitors asked to send in test sheets as proof of qualification.

    Our yard’s regional entries were late as we waited the longest time ever for our qualifying results.

    Judging improvements?

    I heard from Aachen that Britain has signed a petition against the FEI’s proposed new judging system of removing the highest and lowest mark for each movement.

    With disparity of marks widespread internationally, the current regime of being able to adjust only final totals doesn’t work. Who signed this on our behalf — what is an eminently sensible damage limitation exercise? And who will be shot if one stray mark costs GB a medal and/or an Olympic qualifying place?

    Backing the BHS

    Those considering an equestrian career should be sure to go for recognised qualifications. Experience is great, but long-term you’ll need those pieces of paper.

    The revamped BHS examination system appears brilliant. Now let’s give it our best shot — and see.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 17 August 2017