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