Australia’s Dressage Re-Evaluation: International Rider Views–Lyndal Oatley

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Editor’s note: Australian dressage is undergoing re-evaluation after teams at the 2012 Olympic Games in London and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro were mired in controversy. With the World Equestrian Games set for Tryon, North Carolina in 2018, a major issue is selection of teams with prospective riders based on three continents–Australia, Europe and the United States. Dressage-news.com sought the views of four riders, two based in Australia, one in Europe and one in the United States, all with extensive international experience.

Lyndal Oatley and Sandro Boy. © 2016 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

By LYNDAL OATLEY, based in Germany with her husband, Swedish Olympian Patrik Kittel. Lyndal competed on Australian teams at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, the 2010 and 2014 World Equestrian Games, 2016 World Cup Final and six Nations Cups from 2009 to 2016.

Australian Dressage is currently undergoing a transition, and a well needed one.

We have a great opportunity to generate change in a positive way to stand together and move forward in Australian Dressage if we use this chance wisely and for the greater benefit of the sport and it’s future.

I do not wish to see my fellow riders from home and afar sacrifice so much and travel so far for simply a chance to represent our country and return home deflated to rebuild their businesses and families. This is not fair to ask of anyone, just as it’s not viable to ask overseas based riders to return home for the same reasons.

I think several factors need to be considered in any team qualifications and subsequent selection–form, soundness, scores and ability to work in a team and all that entails.

Taking our best performances within a certain time frame wherever the pair is based would be a great beginning.

Then, if financially viable, send a panel of judges and the team advisor to assess all the combinations where they are based. This worked very well prior to London and is a great tool for comparison without all riders having to be in the same place.

Utilization of Nations Cups is also a possibility which  could see teams sent as part of qualification and also used as an opportunity to compare, but also develop team behavior. We need to go to the best shows, and they will not take eight Australian riders as previously aimed for in past qualifications. By using the Nations Cups we have the chance to send teams of four to major competitions giving riders a chance to ride at the level we need to, compare performances, and work as a team.

At the end we need a team of horses and riders who are healthy, prepared in a routine that best helps them perform at their optimum and are ready to peak at the championships.

We need to address the issues in the past qualifying periods and devise a solution that ensures riders have the chance to represent their country without losing their businesses, causing unnecessary strain on families, and avoid excessive travel on our horses. Not only do we need a policy that addresses this, but it also needs to provide a sense of unity that brings everyone together.  Riders, owners, trainers, supporters, media etc need to group together and start using our ‘go get em’ Aussie grit and passion  to good use, get better, and support those who do this, whoever and wherever they are.

Lastly, we need an environment surrounding the team and the qualifying that is encouraging and supporting so riders can do their best and thrive in a positive environment. This will require clear guidelines and rules of what is expected of us. The behavior of the American team and their guidelines are for me the pinnacle for such policy and it would be great if we followed a similar system.

We need to make team selection feel like something achievable, and I think we are getting closer to reaching a mutually beneficial team qualifying procedure where we can get on with our job–riding–and hopefully all rally together and start pushing Australian dressage in a forward and positive direction , where results will reflect the improvements made.

(An outline of U.S. Equestrian policies and procedures can be found at USEquestrian Selection Criteria)