Big Makeover of Olympic, Championship Dressage Proposed by FEI to Broaden Appeal

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The image of things to come--Edward Gal in a tail coat not of a typically funereal color on Totilas--a partnership that electrified dressage, attracted hordes of new fans and put the sport on prime time television. Seen here at the 2010 World Cup Final in which the musical Freestyle is the centerpiece.
The image of things to come? Edward Gal in a tail coat not of a typically funereal color on Totilas–a partnership that electrified dressage, attracted hordes of new fans and put the sport on prime time television–seen here at the 2010 World Cup Final in which the musical Freestyle is the centerpiece.

April 6, 2015

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

A makeover both substantial and cosmetic to make Olympic Games and championship dressage “better sport entertainment and drama excitement” is proposed by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) to broaden appeal and insure its role as a prime global equestrian sport.

In a sweeping review of most aspects of top dressage sport from how many horses and riders in national teams to making the performances and judging more understandable to changes in the traditional funereal top hat and tails, the FEI Dressage Commmittee report dropped controversial efforts to shorten the Grand Prix while increasing the importance of the Grand Prix Special and Freestyles.

The report was prepared by the six-member committee chaired by Frank Kemperman, chairman of Aachen-Laurensberger Rennverein that organizes the world’s premier horse show, as a position paper for the FEI Sports Forum to be held in Lausanne, Switzerland April 27-28. The forum could decide the future format of dressage at Olympics and championships that would flow through to all levels of the sport that is one of three Olympic disciplines–jumping and eventing being the others.

To read the comlpete FEI Dressage Committee report, click: Dressage Future

However, although it cited the initial mixed reaction to creation 30 years ago of the World Cup with the then new Freestyle as its centerpiece it did not address issues surrounding the sole annual dressage global championship.

The release of the review of dressage is designed to generate debate ahead of the annual Sports Forum that has become the major platform for national federations and stakeholder groups such as trainers, officials, organizers and riders to focus on specific sports and provide guidance for future development.

The review came after testing earlier this year of shortened versions of the Grand Prix test that was rejected by most segments of the dressage community. And it proposes some team formats–three horses and riders instead of four with a drop score–that were applied at the 2007 Pan American Games and the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

The United States gold medal team of Chris Hickey, Katherine Poulin and Lauren Sammis in which only the three riders competed in the Nations Cup at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2007. A fourth combination was named to the team but did not compete and were not permitted to participate in the medals ceremony. The fourth medal in a brown paper bag was handed to the rider at a crowded news conference. HorseSport USA (owned at the time by this correspondent) described it as "perhaps one of the most unpopular team competition rules." Photo: © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
The United States gold medal team of Chris Hickey, Katherine Poulin and Lauren Sammis in which only the three riders competed in the Nations Cup at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2007. Photo: © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The latest proposals included a survey commissioned by the FEI to get what it described as “in-depth insights into the motivational structure of dressage and the perception and image of the sport among different target groups.” Results of the survey as reported by the FEI have not been fully agreed with by some groups, including the International Dressage Riders Club.

Key findings:

-Adoption of new formats is crucial–shorter both for the whole event as well as for the tests;
-Commentary and graphics are necessary to explain the sport to new audiences;
-Using key dressage events is essential to ‘hook’ new audiences;
-Modernizing and allowing more freedom with the dress code and music is likely to appeal to a wider audience but should remain “fitting and appropriate” to retain core dressage fans, and
-Human interest stories in media to broaden interest to wider audiences–convince riders to make themselves and
their horses more accessible.

The survey found that 86 per cent of the reasons people are interested in dressage because of beauty, relationship of horse and rider, the horse itself, grace, elegance and fun.

Only 24 per cent are interested because of discipline, control and training.

Challenges for dressage, it found, are lack of media exposure, perception of animal abuse, difficulty understanding the judging, boring to watch and too expensive to participate.

The issues the FEI identified to be dealt with for Olympic Games, World Equestrian Games and other championships and games need to:
–Limit participation whilst maximizing number of nations (flags) but make sport the highest level;
–Create better sport entertainment and drama excitement;
–Consider horse welfare;
–Provide very clear avenue for nations to qualify but take into account different levels of development in the world and transport and quarantine issues;
–For Olympics, move from sport-based to event based program, subject to regular review and foster gender equality, and
–Harmonize formats of the Olympics and FEI championships.

For the Olympics, it suggested teams of three combinations with no drop score to enhance drama and entertainment, more nations participating and use the Grand Prix only for qualification.

It offered some alternatives to the current format of three or four member teams with three scores counting for two days of Grand Prix competition, 32 combinations advancing to the Grand Prix Special to decide team medals and 14 competitors in the Freesyle to decide individual medals.

The alternatives centered around teams of three with no drop score, plus individuals to make up the total of 60 rides, two days of Grand Prix as a qualifier only, a rest day, Grand Prix Freestyle of 18 on the fourth day to decide individual medals. Team medals would be decided on the fifth day with eight teams–one competitor from each team in the Grand Prix Special and two competitors per team in the Freestyle.

Variations of this format were suggested including looking further into the future at pas de deux (2) and pas de trois (3) performances.

Some other aspects such as open scoring and using digital technology to show split screen of the actual ride and a graphic of how a movement should be performed have been introduced to some extent, including crowd scoring that was introduced at the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen in 2014 and more complete digital video feeds from each judge’s location are being pursued in Germany.

Redefining the dress code to reflect national teams, for example, should be considered including giving riders more freedom “without giving the impression of being a member of a circus.”

Jumper teams on the medals podium at the 2012 Olympic Games--Netherlands (orange), Great Britain (dark blue) and Saudi Arabia (green). © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Jumper teams on the medals podium at the 2012 Olympic Games–Netherlands (orange), Great Britain (dark blue) and Saudi Arabia (green). © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Olympic Games team medal podium at London in 2012--Germany (left), Great Britain (center) and Netherlands (right). © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Olympic Games dressage team medals podium at London in 2012–Germany (left), Great Britain (center) and Netherlands (right) all looking very similar in dark tail coats, white britches and black boots. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com