Is it Wrong to Have a Shortened Grand Prix Test?

Wed, 12/19/2018 - 21:54
The Olympia Horse Show, Nursery for New Dressage Tests?! :: Photo © Jon Stroud

At the 2018 CDI-W London a new shortened Grand Prix test was ridden as an FEI pilot project  to make dressage more attractive and entertaining for the audience. 

Eurodressage reported on this class in the article Minderhoud and Dream Boy Win Pilot Shortened Grand Prix at 2018 CDI-W London. The article included a critique/column by Eurodressage editor-in-chief Astrid Appels with her thoughts on the new FEI enterprise. 

Here is a reduction of that article into an editorial:

Lead Up to the Pilot Project

The shortened Grand Prix test was created by a panel led by Richard Davison and David Hunt at the request of "some" World Cup organizers to which the FEI heeded.  

In October the FEI suddenly announced the existence and scheduled trial of this new shortened test at Olympia with as goal "to maintain a pacey and interesting competition on the first day, keep the audience engaged, expose emotions with direct interview of the athletes still mounted at the end of the test."

The FEI is focused on finding ways to make dressage sport more "entertaining" and achieve more "air time on television", ignoring the fact that the niche audience of dressage lovers want to see a sport answering to the basic principles of classical dressage,  often difficult to understand by laymen. Furthermore the television landscape has been changed to an online, on-demand streaming world, instead of scheduled timings on the classical TV.

To make it ironic, the live streaming of the Olympia shortened Grand Prix did not work yesterday and there was no TV channel broadcasting this "pacey" class.

Isabell Werth Voices Disagreement with Goal of Test

The World Number One Dressage rider, Isabell Werth, did not compete at Olympia, nor rode the shortened Grand Prix test, but voiced her opinion about it at the CDI Frankfurt a few days ago.

“This is not the option for me. It is not the truth we will get more media and more spectators because we cut the test,” Werth told Dressage-News. "We have six minutes for the Grand Prix now and to do it in three minutes makes no sense.  The most important thing it is worse for the horses because we can’t show the horses in the way we should show them. First of all, we have to show basics and we have to show the Grand Prix exercises in a proper way. In three minutes it is rush, rush, rush. It will be more difficult for the weaker nations than for the top nations. I’m sure it makes no sense at all. I am quite sure it can’t be the future. 

Werth continued: "I didn’t see a contract with a TV network for a short Grand Prix. If they show me a contract for one hour of prime time TV for a short Grand Prix then we can discuss it. It is nothing, just political stuff. They think they have to do something new, something special. Their opinion is they want to make it more interesting. It’s just an opinion to try to change something without sense.”

So, Is it Wrong to Have a Shortened Grand Prix Test?

Many dressage fans with the sport close to their heart have been very negative about this test project, especially because vital movements which test the essence of dressage (harmony, relaxation and lightness) have been scratched from the test (halt-rein back, zig zag, difficult pi-pa transitions). As long as the FEI chooses to sacrifice the spine of the sport over "entertainment" (and thereby going against animal welfare), it will rightfully provoke such negative reactions.

The FEI and its stakeholder clubs keep many aficionados frothing at the mouth because of their consistent work ethic of behind-closed-door decision taking by a select group of the same people, over and over. Changes are consistently introduced to the riders, press and those involved as surprise decisions. No democratic, open process, no open discussion, no time for digestion and proper reflection whether the project will work or whether it has any flaws.

It's typical human behaviour that there always just a few people who are the work horses and willing to invest the time and effort to develop something new and accomplish change, while the others sit back and relax, yet spout criticism from the comfort of their chair. However, the same people turn up in different FEI working groups and not all of them uphold the maxim of classical dressage. They prefer to sacrifice the core of the sport for the sake of marketing and entertainment. It makes one wonder why not more classical dressage bannermen are involved in these working groups! Are they not invited, or not willing to do the work?

There is nothing wrong with (re-)introducing a short Grand Prix for the World Cup. In principle it might be better that the horses are spared from a heavier test before doing the kur to music on the World Cup circuit during the winter months. The spring and summer outdoor season are demanding enough on the horses. The Short Grand Prix used to be in place as the qualifier for the freestyle, but was scratched in the noughties and replaced by the classic Grand Prix. It could easily be re-introduced, but it should not count for anything more than sorting the order of go for the freestyle the next day.

The main issue with a shortened Grand Prix test (no matter if it's the old or new short Grand Prix test) is that it CANNOT have the same weight as the classic Grand Prix test: not for FEI World Ranking Points, nor Olympic Qualification, nor MES scores. The test is "easier" so should not count for any type of points or qualification scores. If riders choose to do the World Cup circuit, the freestyle and its prize money are the reward.. not the points earned.

The whole World Cup circuit is already based on an unlevel, invitation-only entry system. Riders of the smaller dressage nations hardly ever get the opportunity to compete in a Western European League qualifier, so why give the same faces which we see non-stop at the World Cup show, an easier platform to score ranking points and qualification scores? 

A line needs to be drawn. Either you want to play with your horses in the World Cup, or you do serious dressage in the classic circuit. The World Cup is based on the freestyle, a (circus) test in which you can hide your horse's weakness and for which the judging system still fails as the musical part of the test is based on a largely subjective score.

Text by Astrid Appels  - Photo © Jon Stroud

Related Links
Minderhoud and Dream Boy Win Pilot Shortened Grand Prix at 2018 CDI-W London
Olympia Reveals Details of Shortened Grand Prix Pilot Project
World Cup Pilot Project Shortened Grand Prix Test Published
FEI To Test Shortened Grand Prix Version at 2018 CDI-W London