Archive | March, 2013

What goes around, comes around

18 Mar


Only a few years ago, the Big Thing in dressage judging was to learn to be more like figure skating.

Figure skating had suffered a crisis of spectator credibility during a judging scandal (you give my skater points, I will give your skater points). A decision was made to have a Code of Points. Each and every move was  assigned a Degree of Difficulty, and only the moves were scored—with a  cursory nod at artistry.

Sort of the same as dressage freestyles.

The results could be predicted—and were—and now the results of such half-baked thinking are everywhere, most recently at the Men’s World Finals in figure skating.

IF the emphasis is mainly on technical with risk, then mathematically, the most daring skaters often score the highest—even with falls, even with clumsily inserting an extra DOD move into a freestyle, regardless of the music or the choreography, in order to make up for aforementioned fall.

This past weekend, the tweets and comments were flying furiously around the globe:

from the Los Angeles Times—

<<… in a USA Today column, the judges gave scores to leading skaters based on what they have been capable of doing in the past rather than what they actually did in this event.

Judges use the program component scores to prop up favorites just the way they used the old artistic impression mark. Whether it’s 5.9 out of 6.0 or 9.11 (one of a skater’s inflated marks) out of 10, it smells just as bad. >>

In all other subjectively judged sports other than dressage, there is only the human athlete’s inner ambition to measure against resulting  success. Even in pairs figure skating, there are only 4 legs to watch and they all belong to the same species with the same desires and communication skills.

Still–at the Olympic level, it is a table of 12 judges,  they are assigned to watch different parts of each movement and give scores. Which sounds more complicated than dressage, but it is simply humans watching the mechanics of a specific movement. The overriding score in dressage is for something far more complex than a single or even double set of skates doing stuff: dressage measures the communication between human and alien mind.

Only dressage attempts to measure the relationship between two species, their ability to ‘push the envelope’ .

When that relationship is very good, the results can be close to sublime, and –as they say–a blind judge can see it.


Goodbye to Two Great Champions..?

12 Mar





Two individual Olympic gold medals. Umpteen World Cup Finals. World Championships. European Championships.

It has been the stuff of drama, of dedication, of passion, of ambition, of athleticism,of dreams.


Anky van Grunsven is one of the few equestrians who is known everywhere by just the one name, “Anky”. It is a brand of clothing, of tack, an equestrian center,a definition of class and grace under pressure.

First,there was Prisco. Then the incomparable, Bonfire.

For a long time now, there has been Salinero. The diva, the naughty boy, the explosive and brilliant performer. Together, he and Anky have brought crowds to their feet, most recently at the London Olympics, where this 18-years-young competitor danced through the freestyle and placed  individual 6th  after helping the Dutch team–once again–achieve an Olympic  medal.

Salli a youngster again (   Salinero, 18 years young

This weekend, Indoor Brabant will feature a retirement ceremony for Salinero. As is fitting, Anky’s long-time rival and equally great horseman, German Champion Isabell Werth, will be part of the night’s activities, much as she and Anky have been rivals for the top spot of the podium over several Olympics.

But will this be Anky’s retirement from competition as well? She has been expanding her time and energy in coaching new combinations, as well as developing the equestrian center. Not to mention raising her two children with long-time partner and husband, Sjef Janssen (also one of the few figures in equestrian sport known worldwide by the one name.)

There can be no dance without the partner, so we will all have to wait and see if Salinero’s successor, the stallion Upido, is over health problems and can be aimed for Rio. Because even Anky says there are no younger dance partners after Upido.

So perhaps for the last time: Bedankt, Anky! For taking the sport to new heights, for giving us so much pleasure, for allowing us the chance to enjoy and feel what it is to be a champion.


Sadly it is also the nature of  current horse sport that Isabell Werth will have to see if her own German Federation will sacrifice her on the bonfire of prejudice and bias and politics that is German dressage. Isabel;l will ride and compete an Indoor Brabant and I can only hope that common sense and some semblance of fair play infuses the FN (German Federation) in time to make sure that this is not the last international competition for the great Isabell.

Isabell’s horse, El Santo, competed at a German national dressage show last year ,was drug-tested and was found positive for cimetidine (Zantac), a stomach medicine for humans and horses. Under the German drugs/medication regulations, this is a prohibited substance (but allowed by FEI).

Isabell has pointed out that she KNEW she would be drug-tested so obviously did not consciously give El Santo anything, and that El Santo lives next door to her great old champion, Warum Nicht, who does indeed live on cimetidine during a lengthy lay-up, and that somehow El Santo’s feed/water must have become contaminated.

Here and now–I believe Isabell. I hope it is NOT the last time to say: Danke, Isabell, for all the great moments and great horsemanship.




Short, not too sweet

4 Mar

It all comes down to perspective, doesn’t it?

Sport does not cure world hunger or ensure that everyone has fresh water. Dressage does not quantitatively measure courage or …something.

The ancient Greeks did not ask ,’what do you do’, but rather, ‘what is your passion’–and there is the heart of it.

When we can feel the passion, whether as competitor or spectator, when we can share in the fantasy and the dream–when we are moved– that is when sport or any other human activity actually matters.

Everyone in horse sport says they stay involved for love of the horse. And yet it is amazing how few people watching any of the horse sports ever can feel that love.