The FEI World Championships were simply amazing. The quality and the riding were just so fabulous (not to mention the beautiful horses) and to be part of it was not only rejuvenating, but a real eye opener. Considering what we can learn here in Australia from watching the sport at the highest international level can be productive.
1. More focus on correct basics
To become seriously competitive, riders need to be concentrated and dedicated to the simplistic basics of making a dressage horse from the beginning, especially with adjustability through the entire body. It’s not about the movements, it’s about the control and obedience in an expressive and willing way between the movements that also counts; it is this that allows the horse to perform the movements better! Practising half-passes every day won’t make the half-pass better; it is the ability to control the quality of the trot that will make the half-pass better.
When you get to this level, eyes on the ground are essential – and in fact even more so in the basics early on so that you stay on the highway, not the byway. We need to focus on the basics and not getting to Grand Prix before ticking the capability box – much like jumping and eventing.
2. “Throughness” is critical
The word “throughness” is something that we need to better learn and observe. It is something that is tangible and the most important part of any dressage performance, and it is often not paid the attention it demands.
Attention needs to be paid to making sure the horses are truly on the bit and over the back, using themselves to the best they can through riders that are in fact improving their horse’s balance.
3. Accurate lines
Throughness and better balance will in turn produce better movements and provide availability to ride accurate lines; at the top level such as a World Championships you see lines almost always ridden perfectly, yet here at times there are lines I see ridden where I am sure there should be an error of course given!
4. Brave judging
Part of ensuring the basics are correctly established is to make sure judges keep an eye on horses and pay thought to their readiness for the next level. Early on, they need to be pointing out the highlights – and equally the lesser areas – so the focus is on this. It’s great to see good marks for good work, but there also needs to be honest marks for the not-so-good work, otherwise it’s not helping the riders, trainers, horses nor the sport in Australia. Honest, educated scores for each individual movement are what the judges must do, and use the scale of marks. Brave marks both high and low are helpful to all in the sport.