Cricket, Dressage and Watching Paint Dry!

“Dressage? Ugh…it’s about as interesting as watching paint dry.” If I had a hot meal for every time I’ve heard that I would be well fed for a month. So it seems that the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) is trying to make dressage at the top level more interesting and attract a bigger audience. To that end the FEI Dressage Judges Working Group came up with ….the all new short Grand Prix dressage test!

This new shorter test was revealed at the Olympia International Horse Show in London this past week. What was the response?

Charlotte Dujardin, Olympic gold medalist, had this to say. “I find halting at the bottom and straight into the half passes not easy to get a flow going. It’s kind of a bit bitty and quick coming.” Charlotte placed second in the class.

The winner, Hans Peter Minderhoud said: “I think it’s good to get the Grand Prix more attractive but I think we have to improve the test, especially the half passes. They are really short.”

Isabel Werth, who did not compete at Olympia, but is the highest ranking FEI rider in the world and is the most decorated Olympic equestrian in history did not mince her words. “In three minutes it is rush, rush , rush.”

And does she think it will attract a bigger audience? “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.”

Did anyone have a positive reaction to the short test? British Olympian Richard Davison was positive. “This pilot project is an exciting initiative aimed at adding considerably more spectator appeal while monitoring traditional dressage values and a highly competitive format.” But it is worth noting that Richard Davison was a part of the FEI committee that devised the new short test.

What has been changed? The new test is shorter in time and the rein back, most piaffe with transitions and the zig zag are gone. Gone! That is a big change. Will it attract more viewers? I’d like to take a look at another sport that has brought in changes to the format in order to attract more viewers, especially more TV viewers. Cricket.

CRICKET

In the late 1970s one day international cricket was introduced. This was to shorten up the time of the matches. International Test Matches were traditionally held over five days. Those 5 day tests have continued but the arrival of one day cricket introduced a new game. Then one day was later shortened to what is known as 20/20 which takes a mere three hours to be played. This is a game you can watch in a single evening. And ….the players could wear colored outfits! This was also to make the game more appealing on TV. The traditional cricket white outfits were considered a gnats whisker boring!

How did this shortening affect the game? New rules were introduced to encourage more runs and scoring. Restrictions were placed on fielders and bowlers so batters could make more runs. Audiences like more runs! Over time the short game had changed the way cricket was played. A different style of player emerged who was good at the shorter game. In countries like India the short game players became the superstars.

In the “old days” the ability to field a team who could excel at Test Match, 5 day cricket, was what gave a country prestige as a cricket nation. But test cricket is not a product for TV. Today the best players in the world go to India for a one month season and are paid in the millions. Then they go home to play in their own country and are paid in the tens of thousands. Some people say the short game has revitalized cricket. Others say now there are just teams of mercenaries.

ARE THERE PARALLELS TO BE SEEN FOR THE FUTURE OF DRESSAGE?

The skills required to play the short game of cricket are very different from the long game. At bat the point is to “smash” every ball bowled. If you are good at this you could not hold up being at bat for a whole day of a test match.

In England, a country with a long tradition of cricket, County level cricket is a shambles and in a real financial crisis. The audiences are down to a few retired elders who remember another era. But County cricket is the basis for the professional game. All national players come from County cricket. The traditional County cricket matches were played over 4 days and this prepared players for the big Test Matches.

What will become of the longer format cricket? Will it go the way of the Dodo? Soccer, American Football and rugby were all traditionally games played over several days. Cricket is the only one that has held onto the longer game. Many already say: “Test cricket is dead.”

Will a short dressage Grand Prix test change Grand Prix dressage? I think it could. No more zig zag,to require that level of collection and flexibility, piaffe with transitions that were often the telling point for horses who could not make those transitions with ease in a seamless fashion. I think it will make a difference. A different dressage horse that can excel at the short test will be bred and will appear in the show ring. If there is no zig zag in the GP will they cut the zig zag from the Intermediare levels? Why not since the tests move the horses and riders up through the levels to the highest level. If there is no zig zag at the top why learn it at a lower level?

What do you think? Will this have a long term effect? And most importantly…will it bring in the TV audience? That, Dear Readers, is the 64 million dollar question! I look forward to your comments!

15 Comments Add yours

  1. Emma Cownie says:

    I’m afraid I don’t care for cricket whether it takes place over several days or one day (almost my brother-in-law is a MASSIVE fan), I like dressage because it has horses in it doing incredible moves, maybe shortening the event will improve its appeal, but I like the zigzag.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thanks for commenting Emma. Cricket is a bit of a mystery to me. My son who lives in London used play it at at school and he follows it closely. He was the source of my information. Also my uncle used to be the president of the MCC. I’m not sure where these changes in dressage will end but catering to non existent TV coverage is a questionable route I think.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Emma Cownie says:

        President of the MCC is a lofty position indeed! Yes, the TV coverage may currently be non-existent but there’s always Youtube/Social Media as growth areas, I suppose.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. anne leueen says:

          There are other outlets but the restriction on Broadcasting rights is considerable for big championships so filming is only allowed to those who have paid for those rights. There may be video from phones taken by people in the stands but the quality is often poor. I just think the FEI needs to be careful they are not opening a Pandora’s box chasing viewers.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Emma Cownie says:

            I suppose they need to ask WHY they are chasing viewers, is it for revenue or to increase to popularity of the sport? They would have to be careful to preserve aspects of the sport that people love.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. anne leueen says:

            Exactly! The pursuit of audience brought major changes in cricket. And some would argue they were changes for the best. Others feel the game has been lessened. So I think dressage needs to be aware of what direction it is going in. I think that with increased viewing there is more sponsorship for riders and show organizers. That’s the theory anyway.

            Liked by 2 people

  2. There is value to be had in skill. There is worth to be found in tredition. In the end, I realize that in our world nothing stays the same…however, some things are worth saving as is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read this post and to comment. I agree with you that sometimes it is best to leave well enough alone. Especially as these changes are unlikely to result in a big TV contract.

      Like

  3. Frank Prem says:

    If I don’t get a chance otherwise – Merry Christmas to you and the family and Biasini, Anne. Hope it’s a great one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you Frank and all the best to you and yours for Christmas and the New Year 🎅

      Liked by 1 person

  4. cagedunn says:

    Quite some time ago, a gentleman (I wish I could recall his name, but he was associated with the Spanish horses) suggested a short-form of dressage that focussed on the original military purpose behind it. Now, I don’t know what he referred to, but I do recall the pictures, in full regalia, of horses ‘fronting’ up along the mid-line, backing in a straight line, turning the full circle in situ, etc. And two or more horses in the ring!
    Maybe the committee needs to think more in terms of (not what they know now) audience expectation for the sport.
    I don’t think it ever improves the game when only the committees decide what’s interesting/exciting/good for viewers, rather than the ones who practice the art, and those who like to watch the form (of horses in competition). My brother worked with stock horses, rodeo, drafting and rough-riding, but he trained his horses using a lot of dressage – what better way to have a horse know exactly what I want than to use the consistency and form of dressage? he’d say. Once people saw how his horses worked for him, they never laughed again.
    Back to the point:
    No dressage competition is ever going to be truly ‘short’ enough to fit the television programming req’s, so what if it became a time-limited ‘game’? No ideas, here, because I’m one of the old school.
    But …
    If they’re serious, it needs to go outside the committee rooms, and out into the new jungle – find the niche, something that’s missing from current events and would be exciting to the new breed of horsey person.

    Just an opinion, as usual.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you very much for this comment. Much to think about here and interesting to have your brothers perspective on dressage as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. cagedunn says:

        he considers it a necessary skill-set for every working horse (and rider).

        Liked by 1 person

        1. anne leueen says:

          I agree with him 100%.

          Liked by 1 person

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