New Dressage Selection guidelines solve problems – or do they?

In case you haven’t read the EA release, here it is

You are going to like the new guidelines, EA President, Judy Fasher told me, a couple of weeks ago. Well I do – and I don’t – as you will gather from the following conversation.

Chris Hector and Brett Parbery discuss the new dressage selection process…

So Brett, we finally have a new system of selection, and it has some obvious improvements, like you can qualify to be selected in an Australian team in Australia – without having to send yourself broke going to Europe to try and get on a team…

“Yes – I think that the inclusion of the three selection events in Australia will give the state based High Performance programs, and the general population of Australia, something to aim for, which is something we’ve been fighting for, for a long time. The people who are serious about being selected, probably would have flown to Europe anyway, but it is at the expense of the sport. Here and now, you’ve got more people who will be able to be in the mix and give their owners, breeders, spectators, the feeling they are involved in the selection process. I think it has been a great initiative. There’s still room for improvement going forward, but I really welcome the fact that people can be selected from here.”

But what strikes me as a little odd, where we have a pre-selection criteria, is that riders have to score a 69% to go into the selection events. Two things occur to me, one that is cutting down the number of people vying for selection which is going against the idea of bringing spectators to the events to witness this epic battle, and two – what if only two combinations qualify for the selection events, but they are both beaten by two more combinations who didn’t get their pre-April 69, so they are not eligible for selection – and I’m assuming that the non-qualified combinations will still be allowed to compete at the selection shows, anything else would be absurd…

Brett Parbery and Weltmieser competing at Boneo Park in the lead-up to Rio

“Exactly, and as a group, we riders put that view when we were asked to comment. With Fiona McNaught’s Boneo Park event at the end of the selection process, if people aren’t in the mix, if they aren’t eligible to be considered for selection – and that’s a very real possibility, there will be a lot of riders that won’t go and compete, and the event could struggle… and Fiona has gone to a lot of expense to put the competition on. We argued for the minimum 69% to extend throughout the whole selection process, so you could be given the grace of rising form throughout the selection process. Great to have the 69% as a criteria to be selected, but extend it to the selection events, and that is what we riders put forward, but it wasn’t taken on board.”

Also Brett, we can pause for just a little history lesson, Hayley Beresford didn’t have the required score to take part in the Hong Kong selection event at Wiesbaden, and only got to compete because her then employer  Isabell Werth insisted, and yet, she was far-and-away the most successful Australian at the Beijing Games, and similarly, Matthew Dowsley did not satisfy the selection criteria to go to the Aachen WEG – lucky he did because he was the best scoring Aussie… They should look at history and see that combinations can be on a sharp upwards curve at the end, I think on the new Australian criteria, Weihegold would not have been allowed to go to Rio and win a medal with Isabell…

“It’s a bit unnecessary to put a date on it. It’s great to have the 69 there as the underlying criteria, but what should come out of this is that more horse and rider combinations find their mojo from the selection opportunity, and actually prove themselves, and that is what I’m trying to do now that the opportunity is there, and also if the judging can be a bit more positive going forward, and offer that opportunity, because whether you are winning on 70% or 69% or 68%, as we know, it’s just a stroke of the judge’s pen, whether it’s positive or negative, and some positive judging going forward from our Ground Juries will really be the difference.”

“It’s there now, it’s set in stone, and now we’ve got to put it out there, the time line exists and the riders have to fight harder, train harder, judging juries have to be more positive and we have to try to get as many people as possible eligible for selection as we can.”

The other thing that strikes me as odd is that this is a selection for an AUSTRALIAN team, yet the majority of the selection events are still in Europe, Australia has three selection events, and Europe has five, so our local riders are having the odds stacked against them yet again, and the Euro based ones can take their pick and mix and match…

“That’s right, having looked at the European selection events, and having some knowledge of the European Show schedule, I can see a really clear strategy that I could follow if I was based in Europe, but you don’t get that option if you are based in Australia, you’ve just got the three shows and no room to manoeuvre. The riders debated that quite heavily. I’m sure there are reasons for it, but giving you the option of a strategy if you live in Europe, and no option for strategy if you are based in Australia… I do have a problem with that. It’s not about us and them and all that, it’s just about a level playing field. I can see shows that could have been picked in Europe – three shows and three dates, like we have in Australia. So it is not really equitable, but at the end of the day, for those of us based in Australia, the opportunity has been put forward, and now we have to train harder, get judges on side, and let everyone know we want to have some Australian based riders on the team and really fight for it.”

“Hopefully this is the beginning of a new era, where we can put some life back into the sport here.”

But in the process, we have totally thrown the level playing field out the window. You know as well as I do, that the judges at one of the selection shows, the Cappeln show in Germany are going to be scoring their local, Viktoria Max Theurer, in the high 70s or better (the show is run by the Max Theurer family on their property, and their daughter, Viktoria, tends to do well at it) and that means all the other scores are going to be dragged up, so you could get a great score, even if you come 15th, and that exactly same test would score mid-60’s at best on some godforsaken day at Werribee…

“What you are describing there is exactly what I said before, the judging pen can be positive or negative, and still be correct. What you are quite rightly saying, is if you happen to find yourself at a show where the judges are feeling positively towards some high profile athletes, as a rider further down the ranking, you will still be picked up in the wave. I want that to happen for Australians around the world, I don’t want Australians to be pushed down, it’s just very hard to compare apples to oranges, and that is the case comparing shows in different hemispheres.”

“We have to get the message out that 69 exists, and get some positive Ground Jury assessments going forward, so we don’t get caught out with this policy. We’ve fought hard for it here in Australia, we’ve fought hard for the sport, not for ourselves, because I’ve got owners who can put me anywhere in the world at any point, but we are fighting for the sport here in Australia, and now we need everybody to get on side and go forward, and let’s hope we get some really positive performances coming out of Australia.”

“The reality of the situation is that the best two people usually stand out in the process and there is no debate they should be in the team. It’s usually positions three and four, when there’s a percent, or half a percent between them – and there’s where I would really like to see some Australian based Australians, picking up those positions. That’s why it is most important that the oxygen gets put back into the sport here, this is the line in the sand that Australian riders need, that Australian judges and juries need, that the shows here need, and now we just have to get on with it and try to be clearly as good as we can be and show the rest of the world that Australia is back on the map and coming…”


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