World Cup Changes Considered to Take Account of Global Growth of Dressage

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Charlotte Dujardin with Edward Gal and Jessica von Bredow-Werndl holding aloft the 2015 World Cup. © 2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Charlotte Dujardin with Edward Gal and Jessica von Bredow-Werndl holding aloft the 2015 World Cup. © 2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

A study is being undertaken of the procedures for riders to qualify for the dressage World Cup Final to take advantage of the global growth of the sport and overhaul a system still firmly rooted in its founding 30 years ago of the annual championship as a European indoor series.

A key aspect of the review being prepared by Thomas Baur for consideration by the FEI Dressage Committee is to produce a system of points earned in a minimum number of competitions that should allow participation by all riders no matter where they live to count toward qualifying in one of the existing four leagues that presently operate under an uncoordinated hodge-podge of rules.

The current system imposes limits on the ability of riders to qualify outside their geographic leagues—Western Europe, Central Europe, North America and the Pacific—even though they may be the most successful riders and like most sports center around the action and not the home base.

Australians based in Europe or North America, Europeans based in North America or North Americans in Europe have had to get extra place designation or have been totally cut out of the opportunity to qualify for the sport’s annual individual championship.

The possible changes could also mean more top riders no matter their home league—such as Europeans competing in Florida’s Adequan Global Dressage Festival—for points to be carried back to their home league without adversely affecting spots reserved for North America.

Proponents of the changes say would likely generate more fan interest in World Cup qualifying and elevate overall level of competition.

However, the North American League nations of Canada, the United States and Mexico that have a committee that writes its own rules have already told the FEI it opposes changes to the current system in their countries that uses the average of the two best results.

The Pacific League, dominated by Australia, is the only geographic group that continues to hold a final specially for its league. This year, neither one of the two riders that qualified opted to go to Las Vegas for the Final so the Pacific League was without representation despite several Australian riders based in Europe and the United States.

The FEI has already taken steps to eliminate discrimination on costs by agreeing to include in future contracts with organizers of World Cup Finals the obligation to pay for transportation of horses, riders and grooms on an equitable scale. Both North American and European riders in the United States have often had only a tiny portion of their costs covered for Finals in Europe while Europeans competing in Finals in North America have been reimbursed fully.

Meantime, a new system for determining degrees of difficulty in Grand Prix Freestyle that was undertaken by the highly respected German 5* judge Katrina Wüst will likely be tested this summer with three “shadow” judges sitting at a competition to see how it could work. Although not directly related to the World Cup, the annual Final is decided by the Grand Prix Freestyle as are the qualifying competitions and many see the musical performances as the best way to attract more fans to the sport.

Under the current World Cup system, riders are required to compete in their own geographic league no matter where they are based in a sport that is increasingly global. A rider based in one league competing in another league can carry back to their home league all of the points won in in one competition and 50 per cent of the points in a second competition and no more. Riders based in a league not their own—such as an American or an Australian in Europe or a European or Australian in North America have to finish at or near the top of the league where they compete and then hope for an “extra” starting place because riders of a nationality within that league get preference.

In the European leagues, riders can start in up to six qualifying events with the four best results counting.
In North America, only the two best results count and it is by average scores and not points which detractors say diminishes competition because a rider can get two scores early in the season and not show again that detracts from the concept of a competitive series.
Riders in the two European leagues earn up to 20 points for a win and other points on a sliding scale in a schedule of nine events in Western Europe and 10 in Central Europe.

The Pacific League has five qualifiers plus a league final that is essentially limited to horses in Australia and New Zealand because of travel, quarantine and qualifying requirements.

North America in the 2015/16 season is likely to have the most qualifiers—the final schedules are not yet published—with 13, four in California and four in Florida but only two in Canada and none in Mexico.

Every Western European League event is sponsored by the New York fashion designer Reem Acra that also is the title sponsor of the Final.

In North America, the four qualifiers in Wellington’s Adequan Global Dressage Festival each carry $50,000 in prize money that is at least equal the European events though most of the shows in Canada and elsewhere in the U.S. typically offer only a fraction, if any purses.

“The NFs (national federation) of USA, CAN, and MEX in the North American League Committee had unanimously wanted to continue with using percentage and have two results counting, opposing the (FEI) Dressage Committee decision to change to using points,” The FEI said in a report on discussions about the World Cup.

“Having only two results counting was not favorable to the organizers and also did not encourage growth of the sport.

“However, it was agreed to leave the conditions as they were for 2015/16, but a wider discussion around the subject was proposed.”