Sandy Phillips: Get rid of walk pirouettes in eventing dressage *H&H VIP*

  • Much has been written and many ideas put forward about what we should or shouldn’t do to try to keep equestrian sports in the Olympics. We’re in the entertainment business and, as such, should be looking to produce a harmonious picture and elicit positive emotions to make spectators hungry for more, whatever the discipline.

    A good jumping coursedesigner is one who can develop a course as it progresses and ask questions in a way that encourages the flow, thereby producing a pleasing picture. Perhaps we need the same mind-set in producing dressage tests?

    I will have my judging hat on in Rio and I have seen a lot of eventing tests this year. The present set of eventing dressage tests are not helping riders produce the picture we want. The first thing to go should be walk pirouettes. I can count on one hand the number of eights I’ve given!

    But even more distressing is the effect the pirouette has on the walk, going in and coming out, which is another 10-point mark. Too many horses show a lack of self-carriage with tense steps or an unclear rhythm.

    The first two building blocks on the training scale, rhythm and relaxation, are being compromised. We should not be asking three- and four-star eventers to be on a par with FEI dressage horses.

    There has been a newly proposed four-star test for next year, which has two walk pirouettes and a medium canter across the diagonal with a flying change at X. This has no place in an eventing test — it was taken out of the grand prix test many years ago! It was not popular with riders or judges and hopefully will remain in the archives.

    I have had a stab at writing a new four-star test with the idea of promoting forward collection and improving relaxation. Let’s see some horses working from behind in an uphill, balanced frame with suppleness and relaxation. Horses will be happy, judges will be happy, and riders will be happy.

    We have a responsibility to our public. Let’s entertain and produce a show you would be happy to go and watch again and again.

    A new perspective

    I was honoured to be at Tattersalls last month when event rider Hannah Francis, who is suffering from an aggressive form of terminal cancer, fulfilled one of her bucket list wishes by being test rider there. She did an amazing job and took courage to another dimension. It put a whole new perspective on having a bad day. Let’s make sure Willberry Wonder Pony isn’t forgotten.

    For now or the future?

    Breeding in Britain has grown beyond recognition in recent years, but has our understanding of whether we are showcasing flashy young horses to win age classes, or producing future team horses also developed? The art is in knowing which is which.

    The flamboyance required to win young horse classes is often detrimental to future health. It takes careful management and a lot of patience to develop an extravagant young horse into a mature athlete with carrying power. Statistics show that not many of the young horse winners are making it into the grand prix arena. But we have a choice.

    Equally we need to be careful that the “college” education gaining momentum does not supersede the practical education that will produce the horse people that we need. We have a wealth of talent in our up-and-coming riders, but there is no shortcut to becoming a horseman.

    Whether one wants to ride or run a stable it takes time, not just three or four years. It starts on the shop floor and wellies will be required for more than a month!