Reflections on the Olympics – Dressage

I count myself extremely lucky that this year I was able to watch every horse in every equestrian discipline during the 2012 Olympics live.  For once I was in the right place at the right time!!  As a result of many hours in front of the tv screen, I have some feelings about the horses, riders and outcomes, which I am about to share.

First, with respect to the horses.  It is undeniable that the quality of the horses at the top levels of competition, regardless of the discipline, is unsurpassed.  The horses being bred today have beauty, conformation and athleticism as well as a good work ethic.  While there are certain “types” I prefer, I cannot deny their natural inbred abilities.  Clearly the Olympics was a showplace of the best in the world.  For me, the unfortunate part of this is how much they have become “merchandise”, quickly trained and competed to be “on the market”.  And on the market they are, making millionaires out of people who could not become so any other way, and adding millions to the pockets of millionaires.  And who can buy these horses?  Obviously not many people.  It is sad to me to realize that many of the horses we witnessed in London were being marketed even before the competition.  We will see where they end up in the future.

Regarding the riders, I have been noticing some changes.  With all of the efforts to place the well being of the horse ahead of profit/ego, with rules about how long one can ride in a state of hyperflextion, to additional judges and a supervisory panel, and the introduction of the blood rule, I believe there is some effect.  There has been a trend, witnessed at the Olympics, toward rewarding riders who demonstrate a more harmonious ride, lighter in the hand with more self-carriage, more fluid therefore apparently more effortless, and expression without extreme tension, not so mechanical.  Those riders with the poll at the highest point seem to be rewarded, though the rolled down neck is still prevalent.  But it bodes well for the future, I hope.   However, in spite of the new rule about tongues out, one rider’s horse had his tongue out, I saw it, the French commentator saw it, but out of seven judges, if it was seen, it was ignored.  I guess there is still room for improvement

While I have always disdained the politics in dressage, it goes without saying that any subjective sport is the easiest to manipulate, and therefore always will be questionable.   But this year, I think overall the “range” of standings was for the most part fair.  I think the placements for the team competition could not have been any other way.  While all three German riders have outstanding rides, and I  might add, all were fluid and sympathetic rides by exciting young riders and horses, the British also had good rides which were light ( except for Bechtolsheimer), flowing rides, calm but with expression.  As for the Dutch, (I cannot believe I am saying this), Anky had the lighter, least hectic ride.  But, in spite of the strong contact, mechanical presentation, and obvious tension of Gal and Cornelisson, there is no denying their abilities as “show riders”, able to ride an accurate and mistake free (for the most part) test.  Therefore, they earned the Bronze.

Individually, I am less enthusiastic.  I think the top ten riders overall were the better overall, but I would argue with the placing.  This is where for me dressage has lost it’s interest.  The copious use of “10’s” (we are informed that now 10 equals excellent, not perfect) has inflated scores and makes me wonder where we can go from here.  For me, dressage training was about always striving for excellence (even perfection) knowing full well it was not achievable.  Silly me.  I guess the only thing left for those who achieve 10’s is to move on to another horse, since there is no progress needed.  At any rate, I believe a rider who has a gross error, and a lower technical score, but wins because of fantastic music and great interpretation, has somehow lost sight of the fact we are supposed to be about training horses.  And I find it hard to believe that most judges are really qualified to judge musical interpretation.   And on a final note, not that I do not like Charlotte Dujardin, because I do appreciate very much what she has accomplished, and I like her riding style overall, but I cannot believe that a ride that was with an obvious rider error could result in a rider score of over 9, making her the best rider in the Olympics (considering she rode a very conservative Kur and was a little behind her music).  Sorry, that grated a little on my nerves.  I believe she is among the best, but there were on that day, riders who did a better job.

Overall, I am happy that they are supervising the conduct of riders at the shows, even though they do what they will at home.  Considering that Patrick Kittel is the most supervised rider in warm up, according to some sources, I think has resulted in a more “horse friendly” riding on his part.  And overall, the restriction on the use of Rollkur in warm up, has sent a positive message to riders that the horses do matter and after all, without them, we would all be walking.

On a final note, the hard hat with the shadbelly, PLEASE.  It is time, considering soon the hardhat will be required, to address the issue of “dress”.  But I cannot help but wonder, will hardhats be required of vaulters, reining, barrel racing, SADDLEBREDS????