“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.
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!