Positive developments in the world of dressage

The judges in international dressage championships are now awarding marks of as much as 90%. In order to qualify for Grand Prix Special events horses and riders must have obtained at least 70% in a Grand Prix. And a score of 75% in a Grand Prix Special really is no longer enough to get anywhere near the medal places, while in freestyle competitions the top pairings are getting as much as 90%.
Up to about 30 years ago a horse and rider could win an international dressage competition with a mark of up to 75%.

Can today’s high scores simply be explained away by a benevolent and uncritical attitude on the part of the judges, leading to inflationary marking? No, that is not the case at all.
Over recent decades international dressage sport has seen a significant improvement in the quality and level of the performances. And the performance density is also much greater than before.
There are some good reasons for this positive development:
The seven most successful nations in the field of international dressage train their horses and riders in a methodical and disciplined manner according to recognised principles of classic dressage training. Thankfully, isolated cases of individual eccentricity (see Article no. 1) have not lasted long.

Horse breeding has undergone huge improvements and dressage riders now have access to splendid, high-quality steeds (see Article no. 1) the like of which were hard to obtain in years gone by.

Today, the top riders see themselves as top-class athletes. They know that they can only deliver maximum performance with their horses if they too are physically and mentally in top form. In order to ensure this, the best riders of today also deliberately engage in other types of sport as well as riding, in order to prepare and mentally train their bodies for the saddle.
It goes without saying that the top riders of today honour and respect their horses and make real efforts every day to better understand their partner in sport. They know horse and rider can only achieve success by working together as a team.

Training a sporting horse and preparing it for high-level international competition therefore follows the same lines as for a high-performance athlete. All the factors that affect sporting performance are continuously monitored and optimised: housing conditions, feeding, shoeing, veterinary care (3 to 4 medical/stress check-ups a year), osteopathy support and/or acupuncture, background qualifications of the stable personnel and tournament grooms, planned programme of training and exercise (short, medium and long term), planning of recuperation phases, competition planning and management of mental resilience.
All these measures will be based on and governed by the natural and individual needs of the horse.

Trainers of top horses and successful riders always have in mind, and under control, all those factors and measures that affect the performance and commitment of horse and rider. And what is crucial here is the knowledge and experience of the top trainers. This means the vast knowledge acquired about and from the other half of the partnership, the horse. And the huge amount of experience built up in the individual, humane and efficient training of dressage horses to Grand Prix level, combined with wide-ranging experience in training riders and in results-based coaching for competition events.

All successful riders and trainers know that when it comes to training horses, and especially for sporting events, there are two key factors that will mean the difference between success and failure: TRUST and MOTIVATION!

In everyday engagement with the horse – whether in the stable or when working out in the saddle – attention is paid to natural behaviour patterns and the individual needs of the animal are largely satisfied. Horses are tested as part of their daily training routine but are never overextended.
As a result, these horses trust those who interact with them on a daily basis. And they not only have trust in the day-to-day work done with their rider but they also look forward to it. Because they want to move and because they love it when someone engages with them. And if at the same time they are ridden correctly and well then it can only benefit the horse.
This feeling of trust can then develop into motivation.
Successful riders and trainers know how to promote this trust and motivation in such a way that their horses are keen to present themselves well with their rider at tournaments and in dressage competitions.

The ultimate outcome of all this training and motivation is that judges and spectators at international championships are able to witness and enjoy a dressage competition that is full of dynamism, resilience, expression, balance, sophistication, effortlessness, harmony and elegance along with an impressive display of great collection combined with power and impulsion.

Ralph-Michael Rash
Warendorf, August 2017