HEAD TO HEAD

BILL NOBLE as­sesses the con­tenders for New Zealand’s sole dres­sage berth at the up­com­ing Olympics, and re­flects on our best sea­son yet for Grand Prix rid­ers

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So, another sea­son winds down. As far as Grand Prix is con­cerned, it’s been the best sea­son we’ve ever had, with sev­eral horses hov­er­ing around the 70% mark, with Julie Brougham’s Vom Fe­in­sten break­ing his own Aus­tralasian freestyle record at HOY and se­cur­ing a place for New Zealand at the Rio Olympics…. all pretty heady stuff!

It’s not just the GP scores at HOY that were im­pres­sive: more im­por­tant was the fact that all the horses looked rea­son­ably con­fi­dent at that level; the com­pe­ti­tion was a clear high­light of the week.

For Julie to have se­cured an Olympic spot for NZ is im­pres­sive not just be­cause of the scores she’s been achiev­ing, but also be­cause of the ef­fort she’s made, with trips back and forth to com­pete in the Aus­tralian in­ter­na­tion­als. For this ef­fort, com­mit­ment, and qual­ity of work, she de­serves our hearti­est con­grat­u­la­tions.

If the Olympic spot had to be filled to­day, our selec­tors would have a dif­fi­cult task to chose be­tween our two con­tenders. Julie, hav­ing se­cured this spot, would have the slight ad­van­tage: she won the Grand Prix at HOY, and breached the 70% bar­rier in so do­ing, but the other pos­si­bil­ity, John Thomp­son, won both the Na­tional Cham­pi­onship ti­tle and the HOY ti­tle with An­tonello, thus show­ing more con­sis­tency.

Both horses are very close to the pro­jected cut-off point for ad­vanc­ing to the sec­ond round at the Olympics, the GP Spe­cial. From what I’ve seen from the scores around the world, I would guess that a com­bi­na­tion would need to be up­wards of 71% to feel safe for round two; nei­ther of ours is quite there yet, but they are both very close. John has fur­ther op­por­tu­ni­ties in Aus­tralia, whilst Julie is off to Europe to train and com­pete. We wish them well.

The ques­tion of whether we should send a horse, and, if so, which one, will cre­ate huge de­bate around the coun­try over the next few months. But be­fore eu­pho­ria takes hold, let’s be real and look at another cou­ple of ques­tions.

Our Olympic spot came as a re­sult of a great deal of per­sonal ef­fort and ex­pense from Julie. But what would have hap­pened if we had had a bril­liant rider on a bril­liant horse who sim­ply could not have af­forded to com­pete in Aus­tralia? Af­ter all, it’s not cheap fly­ing horses back and forth... not to men­tion the time in­volved. And we would need our rider to com­pete in Aus­tralia: we sim­ply do not have the num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­als here for any­one to gain the points needed for such an Olympic spot.

We are stuck in a clas­sic Catch-22 sit­u­a­tion: we can­not get High Per­for­mance fund­ing un­til we are suc­cess­ful at world elite level, yet we may not be able to com­pete suc­cess­fully at that level with­out the HP fund­ing. We need to think about how we can sup­port bril­liance if and when it ap­pears.

More ab­stract, and fas­ci­nat­ing, is the con­cept of where we go from here. Yes, it will be great to have another Olympian. But let’s be re­al­is­tic. Our rider may well not make the sec­ond round, and al­most cer­tainly not the third − the medal round; the freestyle.

How many New Zealand dres­sage folk

How many New Zealand dres­sage folk re­ally, gen­uinely, be­lieve that we can get into medal con­tention in the next few years? I do, for one.”

re­ally, gen­uinely, be­lieve that we can get into medal con­tention in the next few years? I do, for one.

Over the last few years, many rid­ers have lost the fear of train­ing to GP; this is great. So the next ma­jor step will be for good rid­ers on great horses to go to mid- to high- 70%. Pos­si­ble? Of course!

All ad­vanced rid­ers need to take a hard, crit­i­cal look at their work, and com­pare it with that of the world’s best. All will have their own view of the di er­ences: I’ll bet that the ‘ta­lent of the horse’ be­comes the num­ber-one rea­son.

ey may be right; I don’t think many horses have the abil­ity to be scor­ing 8s and up­wards through­out a GP test. But cer­tainly we do have some ex­traor­di­nar­ily gifted horses, who are not yet pro­duc­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary work.

Why? Again, ev­ery­one will have their own rea­sons. e other day I watched one of my pin-up horses, Ger­many’s Des­per­a­dos, win­ning in Dort­mund with 80%. Why was he 80%, and our best ‘only’ 70? I know that it is di cult, and dan­ger­ous, to com­pare work seen on video with that seen in real life, but I had the strong feel­ing that Des­per­a­dos did noth­ing that our top horses could not do: ours could per­form the tricks with equal ef­f­ciency, but there was a class that he showed which our horses lack: he worked with a com­fort level, a peace­ful­ness, an ease, which ours do not. All ours have an edge of ten­sion which Des­per­a­dos did not show.

Again, we could dis­cuss why that was the case: “ours are not so es­tab­lished”, “they don’t have the same op­por­tu­ni­ties to com­pete”, “Des­per­a­dos has more ta­lent”, “she [rider Kristina Sprehe] has more help than our rid­ers have”, and so on. ese rea­sons may all be valid, but I think miss the point.

At HOY, watch­ing the work­ing-in of the Ad­vanced horses at lev­els be­low GP was quite fas­ci­nat­ing. De­spite the fact that there were some stun­ning horses, it seemed to me that not many rid­ers re­ally, re­ally be­lieved that it was pos­si­ble to train with ef­fi­ciency (re­gard­ing the tricks), power, and re­lax­ation. is is an odd mix­ture, one which is di cult, for sure, but pos­si­ble.

Power and re­lax­ation can com­bine. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, rid­ers who fail to recog­nise and cor­rect qual­ity prob­lems – ten­sion, re­stric­tions, tight­nesses, etc – on the way to GP will al­most cer­tainly be un­able to cor­rect them once there.

I saw a clas­sic ex­am­ple of this many years ago at an Olympics: one bril­liant horse which I’d seen com­pet­ing sev­eral times, and al­ways per­formed very short and tight in the neck, was be­ing rid­den by that coun­try’s na­tional coach be­fore the Games started. e work un­der this trainer im­pressed me greatly: it was free, un­re­stricted, and spec­tac­u­lar – ex­cept that in this state the horse had no idea how to pi­affe. For sev­eral years it had only done so with chin on throat: the poor thing had no per­cep­tion of how to do this freely.

I gen­uinely be­lieve that we could get to world level here, but to do so we need to have our top lower-level horses ar­riv­ing at the doorstep of GP with work which, although prob­a­bly lack­ing GP power, shows no se­ri­ous qual­ity de­fects.

I’m o en re­minded of Reiner Klimke’s great horse Ah­lerich: the rst time I saw him in GP he worked with great free­dom, com­fort and beauty, but with a bal­ance only suit­able for, say, a Medium-level horse; he was only mid- eld, but set a plat­form for fu­ture gold.

FROM RIGHT There’s very lit­tle be­tween Julie Brougham and John Thomp­son for NZ’S sole dres­sage spot at Rio

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