Can British Dressage plug a gap in the market?
Our yard competes very little during the winter. But now that the summer qualification period [which starts on 1 December] will end one month earlier, on 1 June, we’ll need to get our butts in gear. Many riders don’t start venturing out until the spring, but we may well have to review that now.
Others must feel the same, so with dressage clearly more popular than ever, why are entries so low at some venues, with some classes of just one to four entries?
One theory is that rider classification is not keeping pace with progression. For instance, anyone who’s competed at prix st georges (PSG) becomes a group three rider and can no longer enter restricted advanced medium classes.
Since competing hors concours (HC) at PSG is not allowed, this poses a dilemma for the true amateur. One’s advanced horse is probably around 17 and the only youngster one could afford is perhaps just two or three — so you may have limited time at the level with the older horse and be forced into open sections with the young horse.
So is there room for a restricted PSG — or could HC be reinstated at that level? The only other solution is to retire on the last centre line — and with more riders emerging at this level, this is happening.
There’s a real opportunity for unaffiliated classes here, so British Dressage (BD) should do something to avoid losing this piece of the market.
Weight aids — oft forgot
My mother, the late Molly Sivewright, haunts me day and night with all that’s still not done.
Top of her list was the lack of teaching of two important aids, the first being the weight aid. Too few instructors — let alone textbooks — bother with it; yet it’s fundamental.
Think about carrying a haynet. One comes under it to bear the load more easily. Likewise the horse: if the rider sits to the right, then that is where the horse will go. That’s why correct rider posture and remembering what seat bones can do is so crucial.
The second forgotten aid is the thought aid. I challenge you to find that in a book still in print! It’s about awareness, planning, telepathy and the positive direction of one’s thoughts.
For example if one thinks: “I’ll never jump this fence, my horse hates this type of fence,” then one probably won’t jump it. The art of positive, thoughtful thoughts is far too often ignored…
The ‘horrible hybrid’
Now that dressage has embraced “the happy athlete” and the freely flowing, forward horse, is it time to loosen up those nosebands?
A judge recently commented on a friend’s test sheet that the horse was “showing his teeth — needs to keep his mouth shut”.
Incidentally, he was the only one in the class wearing a plain cavesson noseband. This horse lets his lips flop when cantering, revealing his teeth. Surely that shouldn’t be penalised?
Much work has been done — not least by some bit manufacturers — to gain a better understanding of how bits work relative to the anatomy of horses’ mouths. Yet people still clamp them shut with tight flash nosebands — horrible hybrid things — or drops.
As for the bits themselves, you can pay over £100 for the latest design and still have bad hands. I bought a lovely used bit recently for £5, leaving me with plenty of change to spend on lessons to improve my hands!
Mum always maintained that a horse has a small tongue bone, a delicate thing called the hyoid that’s easily damaged. In fact, I discovered one among her things the other day.
However, at the opposite end of the scale, so many riders have their reins too long with no gentle contact. If you’re tired of being told to “shorten your reins”, try this. A tiny, subtle line of Tipp-Ex on the inside is a great help to maintaining correct rein length.
Metering out the costs
The high cost of competing has been highlighted by our year-end accounts. Discussing this with Adam Kemp, he agreed with the frightening figures — and has done some maths too.
The grand prix test is 1,081m long. So if it sets you back £2,000 to participate in a CDI, including entries, diesel, stabling etc — and you only do the grand prix test — that means it costs £1.85 per metre.
If you get to the Olympics, with say four years’ training and competing, you could easily spend around £100,000, making your grand prix test in Rio £92.50 a metre.
And if you bought your Olympic horse for £2million that would make it a grand total of £1,942 a metre.
No wonder the pressure’s on for gold medals!
Pammy’s column was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (14 November 2013 edition)