Dressage as a sport has historically been spared from all kinds of undue utilisation of the athletes, the four-legged partners in the game. What is undue utilisation? The habit of making the competition horses go for full throttle in no-drill-environment like the jumpers do several times every two weeks, sometimes four weekends in a row. This year however, several combinations has changed the pattern of competing once a month to chase points and percent in hot pursuit of better results. All in search of the holy grail this year – an individual qualifying spot for Rio. The combinations have made the saddle cloths glow, mostly without the intended result, better percent.
In the wake of this Olympic fever more new names in the judges’ department have surfaced, most of them never heard of before. A necessity by all means, with that many new CDI3*-CDI5* competitions during the same weekends across Europe and beyond, no doubt you need all men on deck. Not a bad thing in general, at least not in theory, everyone wants the sport to grow. In reality the far from flawless judging system seems to have left all movements free for interpretation on many competitions. A sort of – “choose-your-own-scale”. If you looked at the result from the World Cup Qualifier in Neumunster it would have been too easy to assume that the participating combinations were rookies on a try-out with a few exceptions. Nothing could be further from the truth but the judges’ skewered verdict from competition to competition has been painfully obvious during this “silly season part II”, the intense competition period building up to 6th of march as the end of the qualifying period. Since New Years there has been three sensational world cup qualifiers although the Gothenburg world cup final is stricken with “Thanks, but no thanks”. In the mean time, the race for Rio has turned into a lottery or plainly “bought” tickets at a fictive box office?
The odd dance of judging in combination with the predictability of dressage poses the overall biggest threat to the sport. There is no excitement in following a competition where the draw has such an impact and correlation to the final result – regardless on what the final riders put on display. Last year I wrote a column about how 90 percent is more of an attitude in the judges’ booth rather than a certain überlevel of the riding at that specific time. When the judges’ team is “in the mood” the really nice scores comes like pearls on a string.
It would have been wonderful if a six to eight percent improvement of a Grand Prix Result made us dressage enthusiasts say; huge congrats, well done, good job. Instead, such improvements recognised on the course are so rare that Inessa Merkulovas scores in Moscow immediately makes us rise if not both eye brows, certainly one. It is quite natural given the state of things but it is, to say the least, tragic for the sport, how on earth did we end up here?
The Dutch scientist Inga Wolframm showed several years ago with her research how impossible the judges’ task is with the current system. FEI held the baton but has lost momentum in the current situation. If the dressage community could gather around a new and better judging system – instead of constantly falling back into fetal position and arguing about neck position – we would have been able to create increased understanding and transparency within the sport. IDRC has an embryo, Inga Wolframm has several suggestions so let’s keep our fingers crossed for the EI to roll up the sleeves and start shovelling in the ditch. There is nothing else left to do as we are so far gone already from the right route.
PS. Congrats to our neighbours Denmark to qualify a composite team thanks to individual efforts. A wonderful achievement after being left out of the the fun after the EC in Aachen, not reaching a team place guaranteeing a place in Deodoro stadium in August. Now it is time for a neighbourly quarrel again