There seem to be even more disgruntled affiliated dressage riders at competitions since the gold, silver and bronze sections and their eligibility rules were introduced than there were in the good old days of ‘open’ and ‘restricted’. This is a sample of thoughts gathered at recent Area Festival and Regional shows:

Oldencraig second round AF host Ian Winfield: “For me it’s wrong that we can have an Olympic rider competing at Novice level. It used to be that riders at top level couldn’t compete below Medium open. That they are now allowed to do so can, I feel, be demoralising for newer riders coming up the levels. If you are riding on a budget and cannot afford to buy top talent horses, or you are an amateur who has a different day job — you can find yourself competing in the same class as top rank riders. You know damn well you might as well put your horse on the lorry and go home!

“I think we need to listen to the vast majority or riders who are on a tight budget, who have to book a day’s holiday to compete their own horse. There are people out there who spend the equivalent of a week’s wages for the transport, the entry fee, and a pre-show training session. I say, ‘Look after them, if we don’t give them encouragement, they’re going to stop competing in affiliated competitions.” Ian suggested that perhaps there should be either a ‘professional’ or an ‘international’ rider section at important shows. This idea was echoed by another rider….

a keen amateur (asking for name to be withheld) who has three horses competing at regional/premier league small tour level, often achieving middle of the class success: “It is so difficult when you have to compete in the gold section. It’s disheartening to come to regionals and find yourself against international riders because you know you will never get through to the National Championships; you’re never going to win anything ever again; you have nothing to aim for. It’s exciting when you find yourself in warm-ups against your international idols, and being marked by the same judge, but I think there should be international and national sections so that people like me have some chance of going on to Stoneleigh.”

Rider, trainer and judge Jane Lavington (talking to Out and About last month): “The kind of horses I ride are Clydesdales, or very ordinary horses. Currently I am Medium silver with the youngsters that I ride but I have the Area Festival bronze option on my top horse Boston Deluxe. [pictured left and top.] That would have been closed to me had I achieved a score above 65% at a Premier League PSG a couple of years ago.” [Fortuitously Boston had time off a due to a keratoma when Jane was contemplating PL.]

“I can’t even ride in the draught horse championships against other people riding Shires and Clydesdales because they only go up to elementary level and only bronze and silver combinations can compete”

Jane said: “I am not convinced that I am going to bother affiliating my part-Clydesdale youngsters at Novice and Elementary. I have better options going out and doing some of the really good quality unaffiliated championship series, like the ones run by Hickstead and Oldencraig. I know that it sounds like everyone wanting something they can qualify for, but affiliating is expensive and at the end of the day you have to feel that it is worthwhile. With the structure as it is at the moment, you question whether it is.”

Professional rider and trainer Andrew Gould:
Andrew will be at this coming week’s International at Hickstead competing at small tour with Esquire III for the horse’s owner. He rides many younger horses for owners in novice classes — and, as he points out, locally he is often the only rider in the gold section. He says: “I don’t see why professionals can’t take young horses out to educate them — I don’t see what harm it does to anybody, or affects anybody but other gold riders. Novice is a tiny first step in any horse’s career but provides valuable experience.”

He adds: “I don’t have sympathy for amateurs who complain when they find themselves in the same class as professional riders at higher level. We are the only sport in the world that has amateurs and professionals competing like this and although it’s difficult for the amateurs, it’s their choice. If you want to be a hobby rider, you can be; if you want to be in the game at the top you have to become ‘professional’. The only difference with professionals is that we get up everyday and ride horses as our job but it doesn’t mean that we’re better than amateurs because we do that.”

Southern Regional Chairman Sam Osborn: “Charlotte is currently the one to beat, she’s a fabulous horse woman whom I admire hugely. However, she has been beaten and will continue to be beatable in the future. I feel strongly she should be able to compete her young horses through the levels.

“We mustn’t be afraid to come 2nd, 3rd etc to great riders. It should inspire us to be better and raise our own standards not to dumb it down and think only about the winning Red rosette.”

“Charlotte isn’t doing anything different from the way they do things on the Continent but because of her great horsemanship and supporting team she is able to train horses from start to finish achieving not only many accolades but also horses happy and confident in their work. Shouldn’t we be looking and learning from this rather than complaining that it’s unfair she’s riding at Novice?

“I think perhaps the only potential problem I see with our Team riders being eligible to compete at the lower levels is that yard riders won’t get as many opportunities to compete the better up and coming horses. However, not every Team rider wants to ride their younger horses but they should have that choice if they want it.

“Sometimes I think it would be better not to have any divisions in our classes. The eventers all seem to manage with no divisions, although I believe there are discussions about introducing Amateur/ Professional sections. Shouldn’t we be concentrating on our personal training with our horses and striving to improve personal performance?  If it’s just about ‘the winning’ does correct training risk getting over-looked and does the red rosette always reflect a personal best achievement?”

© Out and About Dressage, 22 July 2017

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