RUMOURS about the continued existence of various BD Southern venues abound and with the fall in numbers of riders attending dressage competitions in Kent, Surrey and Sussex, fewer venues might be no bad thing.

We need a financially viable local competition circuit
While we have so many venues, many organisers have to severely limit their expectations of a return for their efforts and therefore provide service and facilities compatible with a tight budget. For this reason venues often support BD entries by running unaffiliated sections in the same classes. Higher-level BD classes for tiny numbers frequently run at a loss. This means there is no financial inducement for show centres to offer such classes or, based on overall BD show income, to improve service and surfaces.

High profile ambitions?
Unsurprisingly, BD has not identified a proprietor or organiser willing to offer a ‘bad-weather-proof’ High Profile venue within the Southern Region.

Competitors are very demanding in terms of value for their entry fees. They invest a lot in their horses. So a High Profile year-round venue should ideally offer top class surfaces (which nowadays means high-end, regularly renovated wax-coated sand/fibre or rubber mix), under-cover riding facilities, two competition arenas with sufficient warm-up to serve both safely, and a show that runs across a number of days. Another must-have is easy motorway access, local planning approval for a large number of lorry movements and hard standing for lorry parking. If nothing approaching these standards exists or can be provided within region, then more and more High Profile aspiring and better-financed riders will burn the diesel and a lot more of their time to reach venues that offer something more nearly matching that ideal — where they will also require over-night stabling.

Under current market conditions ‘High Profile’ for Southern means identifying a halo-wearing benefactor with ‘Monopoly money’ sums to invest, or with access to the public purse, or support from a charity — or be a business entity that accepts a ‘tax loss’ within a larger enterprise.

But if Southern continues to lack a High Profile destination its ability to attract plum competitions and top riders will continue to wane while more distant, better-endowed regions will benefit. We have already lost the Para Summer National Championships, for example.

Talking of monopolies (and charity), while BD constantly reminds us of its charitable status, it also enjoys a business monopoly in terms of providing access to a regulated competition environment served by a panel of trained and tested judges. At the pinnacle it runs high status national competitions and controls access to the international circuit. At local level it also determines what type of classes/shows BD approved venues can or must run.

Everyone gets a rosette
With classes so small everyone can end up with a rosette. We need top locally-based riders to contribute to the local competition scene by supporting local show centres. This means if you’re Southern Region you should compete at the Southern Regionals — not wherever you prefer the judges, the venue’s surfaces or the dates nearer to the championships. (Where professional riders have a large number to compete, they could be offered a second choice for some of their rides.)

We seem to have drifted into a situation where our local show centres operate at narrow margins while the best or most financially secure riders opt to compete out of the region. They thereby deny the local dressage community the opportunity of learning by watching higher levels of skill and making a show a real competition with decent-sized classes.

Recognising real rider achievements
On a slightly different but related note, no-one in Britain who wants to compete BD needs to achieve a defined standard of riding proficiency first. We now have the Quest competitions for the ability to ride Walk and Trot — but the UK’s your oyster — pay your BD sub and compete at Bronze, Silver or Gold at any level you choose up to PSG — anywhere you choose, providing they offer those classes.

Do we want to promote good standards of riding (and horse welfare) — or just hand out pretty pieces of ribbon? If standards are a worthwhile priority rider ‘Grouping’ needs to be extended to carry with it eligibility to compete at a certain dressage level or at certain status shows. Premier League should mean Premier League or the term loses meaning.

A rider’s reward for improving their riding and demonstrating their horse’s level of education acceptably — possibly, say, to three different judges —should be the award of a higher rider grade (Group) and corresponding eligibility — and why not recognise upgrading (upGrouping) with a gilded certificate or a medal? A tested achievement to be very proud of. And all competitions, I suggest, would more equitable to a far larger proportion of BD subscription payers if we returned to the old Open and Restricted system.

Celia Cadwallader
© Out and About Dressage, 6 October 2017

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