Sunday, Apr. 21, 2024

Let’s Follow A Winning Model

The Palm Beach Dressage Derby (p. 8) is usually a winter highlight for me. It’s great to head down to Florida when the Virginia winter weather is dreary and spend three days in the sun watching the best dressage horses on the East Coast duke it out.
   

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The Palm Beach Dressage Derby (p. 8) is usually a winter highlight for me. It’s great to head down to Florida when the Virginia winter weather is dreary and spend three days in the sun watching the best dressage horses on the East Coast duke it out.
   
I certainly saw a few rising stars shine in Loxahatchee over the weekend, but I was struck by how deservedly low the Grand Prix scores were. A 65 or 66 percent isn’t even competitive in Europe, let alone good enough to win the class. I know many of those Grand Prix horses are young, and they’ll certainly improve with more trips down centerline, but I’m worried about the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in 2010. How are we going to win our bronze medal back, or even step up to silver as we did in 2002?
   
The U.S. dressage program has a lot of great pieces in place. Three years ago U.S. Equestrian Federation officials added three individual championships for younger riders to the Collecting Gaits Farm/USEF Dressage Festival of Champions (N.J.). The national young horse championships continue to grow with the addition of the developing horse classes two years ago. I’m positive these building blocks will pay off in time.
   
But the missing link in dressage development is that transition from riding a national Grand Prix dressage horse to an international one. A clean and harmonious test is a great start, but it’s not enough.
   
Two months ago I attended the Exquis World Dressage Masters in Wellington, Fla., (Feb. 13, p. 8) and watched many of the same riders from the Derby go up against a few of Europe’s best. Almost without exception, the tests in January were better. I can’t count how many times a rider has told me that simply warming up in the same arena as Anky van Grunsven or Isabell Werth upped their own game.
   
I think it’s time to look at the U.S. show jumpers—who won team gold in the past two Olympic Games—for an idea to bridge the gap between a good Grand Prix horse and a great one. Every year the show jumpers send their “A” squad to Europe to compete in the elite Nations Cup competitions. Dressage does something similar by sending our top four or six dressage horses to the Aachen CHIO in Germany in July. Riders gain experience showing with the biggest names for the best judges in the electric atmosphere of an important show.
   
We don’t do enough for our “B” squad, however.
   
The show jumpers also send a developing rider team abroad. Talented young riders obtain needed experience, promising horses get exposure, and there’s also a place for the experienced horse and rider who just need a little push to reach the next level. What if we could do the same thing for dressage and send a “team” of developing horses and riders to Europe to compete at smaller international shows?

I don’t think the United States is short on dressage talent, but our riders need exposure and experience. Right now, emerging Grand Prix riders have to figure out how to get to Europe on their own until they’ve already learned how to play the game on the international stage. Let’s give them a leg up.

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Sara Lieser, Editorial Staff

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