Richard Davison: Can we limit who pats our horses? *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    The recent announcement of Harry Charles’ doping case is of concern to riders at all levels. Harry’s horse Vivaldi Du Dom, owned by his Olympic gold medallist father Peter, was found to have trace levels of lidocaine, a topical anaesthetic often included in everyday human skin ointments.

    Peter believes his horse was contaminated when it was stroked by a friend who was using the drug as part of her skin cancer treatment. As both national and international competitors are subjected to the same regulations, how are we going to monitor every source of human contact with our horses? Whether it is within FEI stable compounds, livery yards or national competition stabling, there are many people who could inadvertently transfer topical medications, leaving all competitors vulnerable.

    In Harry’s case, Peter has consulted an expert who has asserted that the minute level detected could not enhance performance, yet this still amounts to an anti-doping violation. In the interests of practical horse management and fairness to riders, is it time to determine a level above which a substance is deemed to enhance performance?

    The bigger picture

    I was interested to read Isabell Werth’s views on how dressage could be made more attractive. I believe her suggestion of having fewer, bigger events would lead to greater elitism, but we do share many other ideas.

    After a training session at the recent World Cup qualifier in Amsterdam, Isabell and I chatted about these issues over breakfast, along with German team trainer Monica Theodorescu. We all agree that the holistic approach we trialled at Olympia is needed, but I believe far too much attention has been focussed — negatively — on the content of that “one-off” shorter grand prix test, at the expense of recognising the importance of the bigger picture.

    The FEI World Cup winter series is principally used to showcase freestyle to music. In Europe, qualifiers provide an opportunity to include dressage in established high profile FEI shows. Show promoters are under pressure to keep pace with changing spectator expectations, and while freestyle classes are popular, the grand prix classes are almost always under attended. Riders only win World Cup points in the freestyle, while the grand prix simply decides the freestyle starting order. But at Olympia, we believe it is the right time to try to boost spectators’ appetite for the technical side of dressage by presenting the grand prix class in a more dynamic and informative format.

    Although we have made it clear it is only part of the indoor World Cup series that needs freshening up, and not those outdoor events aimed solely at a dedicated dressage audiences, this is an example of how some of us dressage riders react negatively to change.

    Psychologist and former FEI World Cup director Joep Bartels, founder of the World Cup series, says the human brain is hard-wired to be nervous of change. He has experienced plenty of resistance to change by riders over the years — when he lobbied for the freestyle to be included in the Olympics, many warned that the sport would be ruined.

    Unfortunately, he also remembers me leading a rider protest at a World Cup final over a change to rules governing the order of starting. So let’s all learn from our mistakes of the past and embrace innovation with positivity and guts.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 14 February 2019