May 19, 1978
Major General Jonathan R. Burton was invited to evaluate the state of both sports in a guest editorial for The Chronicle of the Horse’s “First Annual Combined Training and Dressage Issue.”
Combined training and dressage continue to expand and provide exciting sport and challenge to American horsemen. The two disciplines provide an exhilarating arena of competition, not clouded by commercialism and divisive bickering, making this more technically-oriented field of equestrian competition a scene where the participants receive rewards fairly on what they have accomplished, and they have a great time doing it.
The past cycle of championships at the international levels in eventing begin again with the World Championships this September in Lexington, Kentucky. The big question is, can the U.S. maintain its momentum and again emerge world champions both as a team and individually? Between the Stockholm Olympics of 1912 and the Berlin Games of 1936, the host nations team won no less than four out of six times. Since Berlin, no “home” team has won; not at eight Olympic Games, nor at three World Championships. Fortunately now the host team has the advantage of numbers, the U.S. having an additional six individuals for a total start of twelve riders, which gives us safety in numbers. Fortunately for the sport, in addition to the established riders such as Mike Plumb, Bruce Davidson, Tad Coffin, Mary Anne Tauskey, Jimmy Wofford, Denny Emerson and Caroline Treviranus, some younger riders have emerged with advanced level horses such as Derek di Grazia, Wash Bishop, Bea Perkins and Tom Glascock—these talented riders are working with Jack LeGoff, having been the survivors of the selection trials of 1977.
The World Championships will again be a test of the centralized system of training under Jack LeGoff. Interval training of horses and a planned program of selection trials will provide the selection committee with a basis of determining the team, and the five trials over a planned, progressively-difficult series of courses will prepare the horses systematically for the Championships in September.
Lexington’s new state-owned Horse Park will be the site for the ’78 World Championships, September 14-17, with a course designed by Roger Haller and an organization directed by Edith Conyers. The hard work of many will provide Americans with an unparalleled opportunity to see world-class eventing of the highest caliber in the heart of the Bluegrass.
The developments in dressage are, in a way, paralleling those of combined training. While 1977 was not a year of international competition for our riders (with the exceptions of Edith Masters and John Winnett, who have shown in Europe), there was a steady growth in both low and high level competition at home. First of all, the number of AHSA/USDF recognized shows almost doubled, as did the number of rides and competitors—according to the Andrew B. de Szinay’s annual statistics, there were 5339 rides in 36 shows he tabulated in 1976 and there were 11,982 rides in 85 shows tabulated in 1977. The growth was across the board, with an increase of 243.6% in the Training Level and 175.8% on the FEI Levels, where a total of 394 rides took place during the year.
While the number of potential candidates for international competition is growing, there are, thus far, 15 riders who desire to compete for a place on the 1978 short list and a chance to represent the United States at the World Dressage Championships at Goodwood, England this summer. The basic problem, however, remains: we are, as everyone else, short on experienced trainers who are able to produce FEI Level, international class horses. As a consequence, the tendency exists to import at least partially made horses. This is notwithstanding the fact that our best horse in Bromont was Keen, an American Thoroughbred who was basically trained by owner Hilda Gurney with only occasional help from professionals. While it may not be easy to acquire and train Thoroughbreds to FEI levels, it is hoped that in the years to come more American-bred horses will be trained, be they Thoroughbreds or some of the warmbloods that are increasingly bred in this country.
Since 1978 will be an extremely expensive year as far as the USET is concerned, the dressage community must plan to raise substantial amounts of money to support international competition. It is necessary, if the sport is to have a chance internationally, to send more and more promising horses and riders on the international circuit year after year. Importing foreign judges to officiate at our shows must be considered only as a stopgap—this alone will not provide our competitors with the experience necessary for successful participation in the international dressage arena. It is sad that while other nations support their equestrian sports through healthy transfusion of public funds, these are not available from similar sources in the U.S. Perhaps it is time to start vigorous lobbying campaign for such support.
While international competition is an important part of the sport, full attention must also be given to the grassroots. Here, of course, proper instruction is of greatest importance, as is proper evaluation of the progress of rider and horse. While relatively little can be done to assure quality instruction, since practically anyone may hang out a shingle as a dressage instructor, the AHSA is doing all it can to assure that the evaluation is done properly. Annual judges’ forms, at which dressage judges are brought together for instruction and evaluation, are very much a part of this. In the years to come, the requirements on the judges should be made even stricter, and their instruction must be intensified to achieve a highly-uniform standards against which competitors must be evaluated. Only in this way will the future of the sport be assured, particularly as far as the supply of potential international competitors is concerned. In short, the guideline for dressage should be quantity through quality.
This article was first published on May 19, 1978, in The Chronicle of the Horse. It’s part of a series celebrating 75 years of Chronicle history.