Another year has flown by and it seemed only yesterday that we were meeting up in Denmark to watch, learn and discuss.
The presentations were on the whole good though perhaps not so much content as previously. To have new ideas is hard work for the organisers.
We had a discussion about judging the music, which has been updated last year laying out the degrees of difficulty so that is clear and quick for the judges to refer. There were thoughts from Wayne Channon that the music should be much more in synchronisation with the horse to make it more interesting to listen to and that the marks for the music and interpretation be much higher.
The other discussions which will go on is that the Grand Prix might need shortening or a different format found, as in the Weg’s and to some degree the Europeans, the hundred horses or so are just too many for judges and spectators alike. We are always looking for ways to bring in more spectators.
Lastly on the matter of rules, it seems not everyone has read the info sent where it states that now at all levels of competition there will be a 3% reduction at the end of a test if the is an error of course, and elimination on a second one. This did not go down well!!
Paul Fielder gave an interesting demonstration on the use of long reining. Some horses will accept the rein around their hind quarters and some need the reins across the back. It develops the connection of hand to the mouth. Confidence grows and rhythm is established.
Uta Graf was a breath of fresh air. A Grand Prix rider from Germany, with a zany hairstyle, and a big smile, she runs her thirty or more riding horses as a herd on her farm. They are geldings and do not have hind shoes on, and she just brings them in to ride. They are calm and happy. She also works in an arena which is open to the elements and spooking does not happen.
Exercises to think about were to canter the horses deep to loosen the backs. She rides from shoulder in into travers, then into walk and trot transitions, one after the other, so there are lots of transitions. For the changes, the canter must be good before and after the change, and do not allow anticipation.
A presentation about the need for continual fibre for the horse’s diet, to keep a carpet of fibre on the floor of the stomach, preferably from the same batch of hay for example, topped up with fat for the working horse, was hurried and difficult to follow as an English speaker, so what the Dutch and Germans got from it I am not sure.
Top dressage horses were looked at throughout the Forum to see the similarities that made them special. We saw Bonfire, Salinero from Anky, Alerich from Reiner Klimke, Matador with Kyra, Totilas and Edward, Rembrandt with Nicole Uphoff and of course, Valegro and Charlotte. The main points that were obvious were, that the front legs are set very forward on all the horses and apart from Matador, they were square in body, not rectangular . We learned that the sloping shoulder does not produce the big movement, but the ability of the elbow to move from a long enough upper arm. Strong withers are necessary so we sit in the middle of the horse, rounded loins and in all but Valegro, they have rounded croups. On top of this they all have a “look at me quality”.
The American George Morris, a well known trainer and show jumper who at seventy seven is still giving clinics and climbing on strange horses, was amusing and had a lot of stamina to talk and ride. The subject was that classical dressage was needed to train all horses in their disciplines. I am not sure how much he convinced me by the presentation!
Maarten van der Heijen, sports director for The Netherlands, explained the at now the breeding and the riding in Dutch competition was organised, it was the time to sort out the judges. With David Stickland and and Xander Noe, are now working together with the judges who are no longer examined, but have to be within 7% over one hundred tests. In Holland they accept no differences, so 2.5 is too much and the judges are tutored for each movement. A computer analysis which the judges can take home, show all the judges scores, the differences and discrepancies, so that they can evaluate, and the “2powers that be” can re-train those with non explainable differences.
The last of a very interesting two days was Wolfram and Brigitte Wittig. They are very successful German trainers, who breed their own horses for competition and have trained thirty five of them to top level dressage. Wolfram also has won numerous medals and trained many top riders. He showed us a four year old and an older brood mare just back in work, and Brigitte rode a Grand Prix horse. They were impressive in their light movement, good paces and calm athleticism. He used a lot of bigger and smaller of canter strides and of shoulder in ridden bigger and smaller with the emphasis lightness of contact, being able to have long reins and short reins without loss of balance.