On Thursday this week (19 Feb) the FEI Dressage Committee is meeting in Warendorf (the national equestrian centre in Germany) to assess whether the grand prix test should be shortened.
They’ll be assessing five new shortened versions in a bid to make the sport more user-friendly and attract more spectators. But is shortening the test really going to make a scrap of difference to spectator appeal?
German grand prix rider and trainer Michael Klimke, has made public his views, saying that it is wrong for the sport. He believes that at 5min 45 sec (shortened from the 2002 version which was 6 min 30 sec) the grand prix is already too short.
He says the test currently does not have enough movements to ‘ensure the submission and throughness of the horse’. Interestingly in 1980 a grand prix took 12 minutes! Klimke would like a minimum length of 6min 30sec and points out that the aim of dressage is to ‘stick to the classical principles of the sport’.
Whether he speaks for the majority of riders is unknown however after London 2012, which used a specially shortened grand prix, riders opted to return to the longer version.
Putting classical principles aside for a moment, I still can’t see how a shortened test is really going to bring in more spectators. In order to appreciate dressage a potential spectator has to have some understanding. Truth be told, watching a grand prix or grand prix special is not a fun way for anyone outside of the sport to spend six hours. Would those people watch if it only took four instead? I think not.
By shortening the grand prix the next logical stage is for the horse and rider to simply perform the ‘tricks’ – a bit like they do in ice skating – where strangely enough no one watches (let alone televises) the ‘compulsory figures’ either, although spectators flock to watch the freestyle ice dancing.
And the dressage freestyle has done much to raise the profile of dressage and attract spectators, television and possibly sponsors. There are many, not even necessarily horsey folk, who will happily sit through 15 freestyle tests and can, through the music, appreciate the difference between a good and an indifferent test, witness the success of the freestyle night at Olympia.
Those same spectators would probably run a mile rather than sit through a grand prix, which takes an understanding to recognise the difference between one test and another let alone 30 regardless of whether they take four minutes or six.