Sue Baxter: Both ends of the dressage spectrum at Burghley *H&H VIP*

  • We had both ends of the dressage spectrum — judges are meant to use the range of marks and zero was the only one we missed. Chris Burton and Tim Price were notable for their harmony with their horses, which gives riders the security to ride in the arena, rather than being defensive.

    The top riders also have supple secure positions, regardless of body type. The arms have to be part of the movement, not to look like they are water-skiing. Some of the leading horses have conformation challenges. Bettina Hoy’s Designer 10 is not the easiest to get through and round, but she produced quality work.

    Leader Chris Burton had a super connection with Nobilis 18, who is talented, particularly in the walk and trot. The canter has more to come — we gave him 80% and it isn’t the finished article, so people should watch out!

    I picked out three up-and-coming Brits who are on the right track to improve the horses they rode here and train others in the future: Ibby Macpherson, Gubby Leech and Kirsty Johnston.

    The common problems

    Lateral work was a repeated issue. If I had been teaching, I would have said: “Not leg-yield, half-pass — come again.” There was wrong flexion and head-tilting, with a lack of suppleness through the body.

    The Kiwis have nailed the halts and half-pirouettes, in which the hindlegs need to be actually articulating and lifting off the ground. Riders need a response to the outside aids to ride a good pirouette.

    Competitors also have to gauge the pirouette size. It’s better to keep the beat and a degree of suppleness in a turn that is less on the spot, and score six. If you aim too small and end up planting and pivoting, it’ll be a four or lower.

    We’ve seen poor canters for a long time at three-star. When horses learn flying changes, their canter quality can deteriorate and the beat is lost, with tightness and stiffness over the back. This affects the ability to keep the inside hindleg athletic. Too many canters verged on four-beat, with tension and hollowness.

    There are always variations in marks depending on the judges’ positions. For example, in the half-pirouette the judge at B can be too far away to see if the feet picked up clearly off the ground. A horse can get away with a quick pivot, which I would spot from C. Only one horse did the pirouette exactly at C and I couldn’t see the hindlegs behind the arena marker. In that case, you give the benefit of the doubt.

    Unusual elimination

    Dressage eliminations are unusual. But it was clear to us Rodolphe Scherer’s Makara De Montiege wasn’t right, and under the rules we have a responsibility to eliminate a lame horse at any time during the competition.

    I was in communication by radio with the other two ground jury members and the vet before we rang the bell and again before the final decision having talked to Rodolphe. With the benefit of video review, I’m still sure we did the right thing. But it’s always a difficult decision and never taken lightly.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 8 September 2016