This weekend the World Dressage Masters in Wellington took place and USEF was nice enough to offer the competition to online viewers on a live stream. While unfortunately their streaming was littered with problems (now I know how reality must look to a Time Lord) it none the less got me thinking.
After a disappointing American showing at the 2012 Olympics I read various opinion pieces on what went wrong. Often one of the elements blamed was the vastness of the United States, and rightly so. We have a huge distance we must travel in order to reach from one coast to another. These travel expenses prohibit those without sponsorship from reaching certain show locations, not to mention time off from their businesses and clients to travel, say, from the mid west to Florida or California. What is created are isolated pockets of dressage that do not communicate with one another. The dressage community in California does not experience what is happening in New York, or Florida, or Texas. This also follows from competitors to breeders and breed shows.
It is human nature to compare yourself to what is around you. And if what is around you is good, but not great, the standard will experience a downward slide. Of course you will look online and see someone in Holland who has a world class horse, but mentally that becomes the “other” and is reflects less on your day to day behavior than if you have that world class horse passaging next to you in warm up. Or losing to them regularly. Moments like that tend to light a fire under someone’s proverbial ass.
Now there is not a whole lot that the United States can do to shrink this geographic distance, but perhaps we can do something to close the communication gap. While I do agree that tracking prospective talent early on is very important, it is equally important that these people are tracking each other, and over seas as well. No matter what part of the United States you are in, you should be able to watch and learn from your fellow competitors. And how do the right people know what seeds of talent are out there, hidden and waiting to be discovered unless they are first exposed to it?
Just as eTRAK has been created by USDF to give educational opportunities to its membership, another data base should be built. This database would be open to all USDF members and anyone who is showing their horse at FEI would be permitted to submit a video of a test to the data base for consideration. At that point there would be some sort of ranking system to encourage the cream to rise to the top, so to speak. This would expose the technical advisor to partnerships that they might not have otherwise noticed, as well as give them more material of horse and rider pairs they may be considering.
Now let’s go to the next step. They now have created a list of the top twenty horse and rider pairs to encourage for future world competition. If and when you are listed as one of the top twenty pairs then it is STRONGLY recommended you film a competition test once a month and submit it to the data base, and in the off season, film a schooling session (without edits). All of this gets dumped into a database that is then available to all twenty riders.
This allows them to watch not only their own progress, but also will keep them frosty as they watch other top pairs. It also allows the technical advisor track everyone and give feedback on a more consistent basis between live viewings or clinic sessions. If I were to really have my way, I would pair the database with some sort of message board where these riders can communicate with one another and their “higher ups”. If the technical advisor sees a German pair that they want to bring to everyone’s attention, they can post a video of them and start a message board discussion about it.
Now I know that this has been a bit of a drier post, but I feel strongly about this. In order to reclaim our place as a winning nation, we need to explore every avenue for success open to us. It is about communication, recognizing quality and encouraging it, and creating a community that is aware of one another across this huge country of ours.
You might argue that Europe has not done this. But Europe does not have to. They are stacked on top of one another and have an ingrained thriving community, a structured young rider program, formalized licensing, and no end to events that are feasible to get to on a relatively small budget whether they be auctions, shows, clinics etc. In that busy schedule they naturally are exposed to what I am proposing we artificially create online.
I realize this is only a piece of the puzzle. Lendon Gray’s Dressage4Kids program and the young rider programs are necessary. The Instructor Certification Program is necessary. All the clinics and continued education are necessary, not to mention the shows. We need to build a community and I wholeheartedly believe that the internet, for the United Stated especially, needs to play a part in that to make our dressage base as strong as it can be.
And to start – take a look at Tinne Vilhelmson Silfven’s winning musical freestyle at the Masters. Wow.
If you enjoyed reading this, you might also enjoy Our Responsibility to Dressage Judges.