Aussie Dressage Team for World Equestrian Games to be Selected Mostly in Europe

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Lyndal Oatley on Sandro Boy, the highest placed Australian combination at the Olympic Games in London. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Lyndal Oatley on Sandro Boy, the highest scoring Australian combination during the country’s selection trials for the Olympic Games in London where the pair were also the highest scoring for their nation. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Selection of horses and riders for Australia’s dressage team long list for the 2014 World Equestrian Games will require results from European competitions for all but one of eight combinations under a policy announced Thursday by Equestrian Australia.

The federation said the selection procedures were designed to eliminate the impact of inflated scores Down Under and to create a level playing field around the globe. Head-to-head competition at two European events will be staged among the final eight combinations on the long list to determine the team for Normandy, France a year from now.

National Elite and A squads will be created based on results from June 1, 2013 to Jan. 1, 2014 from which the long list of eight combinations will be named by June 24 next year under the policy that is available by clicking 2014 WEG Selection Pol

“One Australian-based combination will automatically be selected to the Long List of eight combinations based on average scores from the Grand Prix class at three of the following four events: The Australian National Dressage Championships CDI-W 2013, Equitana CDI-W 2013, Dressage Festival CDI-W 2013 and Boneo Park CDI 2014,” according to the selection policy.

“The remaining seven combinations will be ranked by averaging an athlete’s best results from three Grand Prix classes at CDI-Ws, CDI3*, 4* and 5* events during the period from Nov. 28, 2013 until June 24, 2014.

“For Australian and non-European-based athletes, at least two of the scores to produce this average must be in Europe. For European-based riders, all three results must come from European events.”

For all athletes, the scores will be from Grand Prix and at least two of the three competitions must be outdoors.

The top eight combinations will then go head-to-head at two European events.

The top ranked four from the head-to-head competitions will be selected for the team with the fifth and sixth ranked pair offered non-traveling reserve status for the WEG in Normandy, France a year from now.

The federation said that no funding is available to send horses and riders from Australia or the United States to compete in Europe.

Julia Battams, National Performance Director for Dressage, told dressage-news.com this process “essentially will validate the scores across the three continents where we are likely to have athletes contending for the team by creating a level playing field”–Australia, Europe and the United States.

The new policy came about after a study of results awarded at CDIs in Australia showed, Julia said, that scores were traditionally higher in Australia then dropped when the combination first went Europe before slowly starting to climb. The differences were significant, she said, from high 60s to 70 per cent in Australia to mid-60s in Europe.

(The situation of scores in the United States that were criticized for being overly generous has changed dramatically with American combinations competing in Europe this summer being awarded higher results than at home.)

Overriding creation of the new policy was the controversy swirling around Europe-based Hayley Beresford who waged a public campaign against the selection procedures for the 2012 Olympics after she was not selected. She sharply criticized apparent conflcits of interest by selectors and subjective reviews without accountability or appeal.

However, attacks against riders who were selected became so searingly personal and led to some of the sport’s biggest sponsors to flee the sport that Julia Battams, as the new chief of the country’s high performance dressage program, determined that an overhaul of the selection process was needed to heal wounds and develop a baseline for future team selection criteria.

Hayley Beresford on Belissimo NRW that she attempted to qualify for the Australian team for the 2012 Olympic Games. The pair are seen here at the World Equestroan Festival in Aach]hen, Germany after Hayley went public with her campaign against the selection procedures that existed then. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Hayley Beresford in tears on Belissimo NRW that she attempted to qualify for the Australian team for the 2012 Olympic Games. The pair are seen here at the World Equestroan Festival in Aachhen, Germany after Hayley went public with her campaign against the selection procedures at the time. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Julia said that the policy was formulated after consultations with riders and expected that most would accept the underlying principles.

At least three of the top Australian combinations live in Europe and at least two riders based in Australia announced plans before the new selection system to train and compete in Europe beginning next spring. Two or three combinations based in the United States could be contenders but the timing of results to determine squads works against them as only two CDIs remain on the U.S. East Coast–more than 1,200 miles (1,900 km) from their Florida base– within the next few weeks and then no more international competitions until mid-January, 2014.

“I think we have to perform the selection process on a level playing field,” she said, “the same environment, the same conditions so that we can determine if this is a valid way of selecting. If it works, we won’t have to do it again.

“I still believe that putting our riders in the European situation is good. If it were me and I wanted to produce a horse with the best possible end result I would want to compete in the European environment.”