BAL­ANCE

A QUES­TION OF BILL NO­BLE dis­cusses the pos­si­ble fu­ture struc­ture of our Na­tional Cham­pi­onships, and the con­flict­ing prop­er­ties needed in top dres­sage

NZ Horse & Pony - - Enter at A -

(pretty or­di­nary) horse Mi­crochip through to Grand Prix long be­fore be­ing let loose on Airthrey High­lander.

Nice horses work­ing nicely may be sooth­ing to the eye, but they are not win­ning com­pe­ti­tions. We all recog­nise how great the top per­form­ers in the world are: they show won­der­ful power, elas­tic­ity, and har­mony. e likes of Des­per­a­dos, Da­mon Hill, Bella Rose, et al, have shown just what top dres­sage can be. In par­tic­u­lar, they have shown that it is pos­si­ble to have both power and re­lax­ation. At the next tier down in Europe, Ad­vanced com­pe­ti­tions which is the level our lead­ing rid­ers are at we are see­ing more im­per­fec­tions, ob­vi­ously (which is why they are sec­ond tier). For ev­ery­where other than the ma­jor coun­tries, it mat­ters hugely how these im­per­fec­tions are treated: these sec­ond tier horses are go­ing to be the win­ners in most coun­tries; they will set the trends.

If we think of the bal­ance be­tween two con ict­ing prop­er­ties we re­quire from our ad­vanced horses me­chan­i­cal ex­cel­lence on the one hand, and the eth­i­cal fac­tors such as har­mony on the other then it is pretty clear that the pen­du­lum has swung in world dres­sage far to­wards the me­chan­i­cal side.

ese days we are tol­er­at­ing a huge amount of ten­sion in our horses. As I write this there is a big uproar about the judg­ing of the young horse cham­pi­onships in Ger­many, in which some freak­ishly tal­ented but to­tally stressed horses were very highly placed a er dis­plays of pretty bru­tal rid­ing. We see the same ten­sions in Ad­vanced classes, and we o en just gloss it over. A bril­liantly tal­ented horse, o its face with ten­sion, will still beat its more sane but less tal­ented ri­vals.

Why is it that dres­sage judges are not nearly as hard on chronic ten­sion as they

Back to the Na­tion­als. ere were two ma­jor in­no­va­tions this year: the ama­teur/ open di­vi­sions, and the ‘Su­per 5’ nals. Both worked very, very well, and full credit to Dres­sage NZ for in­tro­duc­ing them. e ‘ama­teur’ di­vi­sion I nd the name both pa­tro­n­is­ing and in­ac­cu­rate was de­signed to cre­ate a more level play­ing eld by sep­a­rat­ing very ex­pe­ri­enced rid­ers from their less prac­ticed brethren. is is to­tally nec­es­sary, long over­due, and great to see be­ing im­ple­mented. But PLEASE change the name.

e ‘Su­per 5’ semi- nals were held at the South Is­land Champs and the Na­tional Champs a week apart; one test for each grade, us­ing the same judges for each semi- nal. For the rst time ever we had a real feel for a truly na­tional cham­pi­onships: we could com­pare the best horses in each is­land. I be­lieve that this gives us a blue­print for how our fu­ture Na­tion­als should be. We don’t in fact need one Na­tional Cham­pi­onships; we need Is­land Champs with this ‘Su­per 5’ sort of for­mat. Per­haps the other classes at each is­land champs could qual­ify just the top 15 or so rid­ers for each semi- nal; per­haps each semi could be run in re­verse qual­i­fy­ing or­der; there are many lit­tle is­sues to dis­cuss. But the ba­sic prin­ci­ple is fan­tas­tic, and just what we need.

e dis­cus­sion about whether cham­pi­onships should be de­cided on ag­gre­gated score over the whole show, or on one test, has been rum­bling with­out real re­solve for a long time. I’ve been fairly am­biva­lent over the years: both con­cepts have good and weak points. e ag­gre­gate con­cept prob­a­bly re­sults in a bet­ter cham­pion, but the one-o test puts rid­ers un­der more pres­sure to per­form on the day when it mat­ters; this tests more than rid­ing skills; it tests plan­ning, emo­tional strengths, and so on. is is more like Real Life, and I have no prob­lems with it be­ing used.

Look­ing at the num­bers tak­ing part in the re­cent semi- nals: 37% were SI, 63% NI rid­ers. For the place-get­ters, 28% of the top 10 rid­ers across all grades were from the South; 72% from the North. In the top ve for all lev­els, 31% were SI, 69% NI rid­ers. All the grade win­ners were from the North Is­land. Any­one would have ex­pected the NI rid­ers to be more suc­cess­ful; they were, but not by the mar­gin that some would have an­tic­i­pated. e SI suc­cesses were not too far di er­ent from their par­tic­i­pa­tion num­bers, and this I think should be re­ally en­cour­ag­ing.

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