A Week in Social Media

Has anyone seen the furore on social media this week about “that dressage test”?

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, there was a video of a US rider performing an Intermediare II test which received a huge amount of interest. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a pretty video. There have been two main responses online.

Firstly, there are the keyboard warriors criticising the riding and quality of the test. To me, the video shows a rider who is out of her depth. She found sitting to the extended trot difficult (not that I can blame her) and the movements lacked finesse. The horse looked like a schoolmaster, who knew his job but unfortunately he did spend the majority of the time behind the bit on the verge of rolkur – which is a sensitive subject at the moment.

So it wasn’t the best example of an Intermediare test. But there’s still no need to publicly insult the rider, although part of me thinks that by competing above her ability and at a live streamed competition she is opening herself up for criticism.

It would be interesting to know the full story. They say a picture speaks a thousand words. But it’s useful to know the circumstances that the photo (or video) was taken in. How long has she had this horse? How long has she been competing? Does she have a trainer? Does she suffer from competition nerves? A new partnership is likely to have some rough edges in their first competition. And someone who is competing at their first national competition, or at a new level, is likely to be nervous so will make mistakes with their riding. Do they have a trainer and has the trainer encouraged this rider to enter this test, or is it all off the rider’s own back?

The next criticism that I read was about the US dressage system. Apparently there’s no entry requirements to ride at the higher levels in the US. Which, in my opinion, leads to a lowering of standards and allows riders to take short cuts in their training. Then there’s the fact that the judges were quite generous in their marking. However, the judges are marking the horse’s performance and to give the horse it’s due, he tried his best and did all movements asked of him. It’s just a shame that their competition results aren’t a true reflection of the test. The video does highlight a flaw in the dressage world in that judges don’t (or can’t) take it account the effect a rider has on the horse’s performance. Perhaps the competitive world could learn something from this. My friend and I were discussing how equitation tests, which judge the rider as well as the horse, would improve the standard of riding. Unfortunately though, those riders who are striving to improve would enter these classes and the riders who need the feedback and are complacent in their ability wouldn’t enter. Which doesn’t solve the problem.

The last criticism I saw, concerned the welfare of the horse. The rider’s aids were less than subtle, and she did get frustrated with the way the test went and unfortunately took it out on the horse. To me, the social media criticism in this area was most justified and I would be appalled if any of my clients (or I!) behaved like this to their horse at any time as it’s just bad horsemanship.

I think that covers the negative comments with regard to the video. In my humble opinion, whilst no one should criticise without being constructive or having a good level of understanding and education to verify their point of view (and unfortunately a lot of keyboard warriors just bash out insults without a moment of thought), there is a lot to be learnt from the video. Not just from the rider’s perspective, but also from the dressage world’s.

The other side of the debate, was all about bullying. These comments were largely defensive to the rider, saying that the rider should be praised for furthering herself. Yes, I agree, anyone who wants to improve their riding and ability should be supported and encouraged. And the thoughtless insults shouldn’t be endorsed.

I do think, however, that there is a flaw in the way this rider is is going about furthering herself. She’s got the horse power, and done the right thing in getting a horse who can teach her the movements. But I do wonder if she’s getting the right support behind her. Surely she would have been better off competing at a lower level and establishing their partnership, whilst practising the movements at home before going to such a high profile competition. Then, when competition nerves kick in they still perform to a decent level. So perhaps the issue lies with the trainer, for not enforcing the basic building blocks and for pushing her client beyond her current ability in a public environment. Which ultimately will shatter her confidence because the video has gone viral and received less than complimentary comments.

The equestrian world has been shown at it’s worst this week – I’m not going to link to the debates, but a little surfing online will get you there. There are those who have critiqued this rider for the sake of it, and those who have criticised the wider picture in an attempt to improve our little society. But equally, there have been those who have played the anti-bullying card and ended up defending some of the poorest aspects of the equine world. I don’t know who’s right, but I do think everyone can learn something from watching the video and reading up on the situation as a whole.

4 thoughts on “A Week in Social Media

  1. Tracy Jan 31, 2018 / 11:19 pm

    Vorst D was purchased in Europe for $300,000. She has a trainer in California.
    Unfortunately we see a ton of this in the US. It’s pretty much the same scenerio every time. Successful adult woman decides she want to compete and ride Dressage. She finds a trainer who will tell her what she wants to hear and said trainer will then start her off at training level for a while and maybe scoot her around at 2nd and 3rd before telling her she needs a horse of her own. The woman will buy several horses along the way, each one will be very nice but will be blamed for the poor scores at competition. The trainer makes a juicy commission on each of these purchases. Eventually they go for a GP horse because it’s been there and done it and has been so successful that she is bound to have success with it too. She doesn’t and so it goes. If these women don’t like what the trainer is telling them they will fire the trainer and find one that will tell them what they want to hear. I’m a Brit that has been in the US for 31 years and living in Wellington FL. I can honestly tell you that I and my fellow competitors see this all the time down here, there is a phenomenal amount of wealth and ego. It’s so sad and the US dressage system is failing the horses. Something has to change.

    • therubbercurrycomb Feb 1, 2018 / 3:56 am

      So the problem lies with the US dressage system and the morals/ethics of the trainers …
      which says very little for our profession!
      I always say to my clients that if they want to compete at 80cm then they need to be jumping 90cm at home.
      If they want to be competing prelim dressage then they need to have established this level at home and be playing around with Novice level work. One teenager was finding prelim a bit safe and straightforward so we’ve started looking at Novice tests. Yes, her first marks weren’t great but there was nothing wrong – they were “developing” each movement. But the feedback motivated her to keep practicing and fingers crossed this weekend’s test shows more established work.

      With the situation in my blog, the sad thing I felt was that the whole discussion was blurred by the bullying aspect. People were accusing others of bullying and making senseless remarks. Yes there were some of those. But at the cost of a constructive conversation about improving the standard of riding, the horsemanship and the dressage system. I know it’s a delicate subject but if it’s not open to discussion about the principles of the video (not the rider or horse in particular per se) then nothing will change.

  2. Tracy - The Printable Pony Feb 1, 2018 / 5:05 pm

    This is a VERY well-written post on the subject! I wholeheartedly agree with you — I don’t know the circumstances of this rider or her horse, but what I found discouraging about this video was how she treated her horse and how frustrated she got.

    We’ve all had difficult times in the show ring, but taking it out on the horse it NOT the answer. Ever.

    • therubbercurrycomb Feb 2, 2018 / 9:26 am

      Thank you 🙂
      I definitely think the real issue here is not that people are insulting her riding ability, it’s the fact she’s punishing the horse for trying his hardest and as horse lovers everyone is outraged!

      Sure, you see the odd child getting frustrated with their pony in the ring, but they’re learning to control their emotions and understand failure. If they’re destined to continue to ride and love Equines then they soon learn the etiquette! But as adults we know better 😃 I think …

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