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  • Henni Jesch

Equestrian Sports – Quo vadis?

Now and then you start thinking about what you are doing and if it could be of any kind of relevance. It might not be a good idea… thinking about it all – just keep doing…

On the other way I usually tell my students, to ride clever and not strong. Usually they are not strong, so this possibility is not on the screen most of the times. You think first – and then you act! A usual kind of best practice. It might not always assure success. I was clear about that again, after competing last week in a regional dressage event. It´s just a regional show, for average riders of the upper Austrian region. It´s a CDN-B and everyone can ride there: Germans, Austrians, Czech and Hungarians - whoever – old and young, experienced or unexperienced, dressage squad or schoolgirl, whoever likes to ride, can ride there. We have classes and divisions so that an Austrian dressage squad rider would not compete against a beginner – so in case of this kind of evil - there might be taken care of.

The only thing, always the same throughout all classes, is the fact… that it is by far better to sit on a darkbay Don Hitfürstmeyer. Judges appreciate these kind of horses, that´s no mystery. And there is absolutely no argument against the fact, that beautiful, well bred, well schooled and for these reasons very expensive dressage horses are by far better than bad, ugly and cheap horses. No arguments against that! We all would like to ride those expensive beautiful horses!

Well… but simply: we can´t!

As my clever father always said: “Beautiful and expensive is better than ugly and cheap!” As always… he was right! There is some other point in which he was absolutely right… he never wanted me to make equestrian sports such a big part in my life, because: “You will always be the one, who´s only gathering the horse droppings of the rich people riding”. And as a girl I had no idea of the meaning of his words. He was right, without having any glimpse of equestrian.

In the big sport and in the big spotlight of the sport horse breeding programme is one big visionary taking over the market bit by bit, cooperating with other big visionaries – who might already have been a bit disenchanted. By the way – we LOVE to see this beautiful big moving dressage horses led round the big arenas by their incredibly skilled riders! Such wonderful pictures! It´s really great what a dressage imperium people could create, by believing in the beauty and the fascination of our beloved sport! I can´t stop watching the professional riders in Ermelo, sending one wunderkind of a horse after the other round the main stadium. Absolutely stunning. Helgstrand dressage, of course, sends one horse after the other, then there are all those long legged dutch girls riding easy moving horses, kicking the clouds from the sky in every single step, some German professionals of the big well known dressage stables, and after all there is always Doro riding some horses, someone was allowed to give to her to ride, and she usually does it slightly better than all the rest.

I travel to Ermelo every year to watch the World Championship of young dressage horses. I never get enough of watching all those wonderful horses! And I usually write a report for people staying at home but would like to be there as well – for the same reasons. There might be many horse people as crazy fascinated by dressage horses as a I am! But… WE will always just keep watching it. We will never ride a horse like that, we will never own one. We will never have any part in this game.

And this last weekend with a simple medium advanced class on a regional show – I was again assured about it: it is a sport for the rich – it has always been and it will – just the pain barrier went up.

As a basic trainer in Salzburg, Austria, I could tell, that there ARE skilled Equestrian talents among the young riders, who have the talent, the courage and the diligence to work hard. The courage to go abroad might be the handicap… courage is not for sale – neither for the rich nor for those not so rich.

It´s just about average kids by average parents, who deal well with their life and property and could afford a horse for their child, but will not be Helgstrand clients. What about them? I am at a point where I tell them not to try to get any foot into the door of equestrian sports. It will not end well – just gathering horse droppings…

In Salzburg exists a “Haflinger & Norikercup”. And we have lot´s of competitors in the beginners class! In the dressage classes! Jumping with the heavy cart horses (Noriker) is not as funny. The Noriker usually isn´t quick enough to recognize the obstacles in the first half of the course. After running through 5 obstacles he asks the rider above: “Why didn´t you tell me? I would have jumped if I knew there were obstacles!” The typical Austrian Haflinger is quick and very intelligent, but very often follows his own interpretation of equestrian sports. Usually without harming himself, what means, that he doesen´t harm the rider most of the times as well, because he simply doesn´t kick himself of his own feet. That´s a really clever aspect keeping riding lessons more comfortable if your horse manages to stay on his feet, means he doesn´t rear and fall or slip on the hard ground outside the riding surface for making nonsense nobody asked him to do. Haflingers do a lot of nonsense! But they manage to do it in a way they don´t harm themselves a lot.

So, we have upcoming equestrian talents there. In the beginner´s class at the regional dressage show… we had 5 competitors on Sunday morning… And I am watching this for the whole season now… and this development worries me a lot: we have no upcoming riders in the dressage classes – some, but not many. Or does anybody see a lot of upcoming equestrian athletes at places I have never been? Don´t mention those “First ridden classes” where parents who are riding for many years present their cute children wrapped up in funny clothes, just adding a pink glitter helmet to their regular show weekend.

I want to point out again, that I adore those beautiful, well moving, expensive horses! I do see that a horse with basic gaits for 8 and 9 get´s higher marks than a horse with basic gaits for a 6. I can figure it out! It was painful and took me many years riding with my little Companero against walls. That´s why we wear helmets again in the dressage classes – for riding against walls.

But what we gonne do with talented riders sitting on the wrong horses? If a rider´s position and seat is worth a 8 or 9 - Why can´t this be reflected in any way in the dressage test? There are riders who sit incredibly well, who ride with a maximum of efficiency and invisible aids, who know the scale of training, who are physically welltrained athletes, who don´t wiggle in the horses back, no matter what kind of maneuver the horse carries out. These riders often ride difficult horses – cheap ones – in the beginners classes, because they are still young – the riders! And if a skilled rider just sits on an average horse… he or she will never ever win anything… the funny conclusion: they will not enjoy this game for very long!

I know there are – were – marks for the “rider´s position and seat” – I did a lot of writing on the judges table. But usually the final marks are just there to get it all in a useful ranking.

By the way… the young talents should ride Haflingers and have their fun among other young people on an similar level. I like those “Alpine Ferraris” – they do a lot of education of young riders. They are good teachers, but not as dangerous as a young Don Hitfürstmeyer – they are not so big and don´t have too much compulsion to handle in the beginning. But the Alpine Ferrari is not stupid and by far not easy to ride, they have their own interpretations – the Haflinger scale of training. In Salzburg young riders could compete with their Haflingers without always reading the results from bottom to top.

I thought a bit about the breeding programme producing lots of Don Hitfürstmeyers as well. The sport horse breeding might not be the physically strongest or healthiest (even if I do not compare them to the physical strength of our beloved alpine Ferraris). So, you should likely buy 5 Don Hitfürstmeyers to have 2 to ride on. Seen from the point of view of breeders, sales stables, professional riders: a good way to do the business! They have no problem with selling you more beautiful expensive horses, not just one. So again, you should rather be rich otherwise you should have a big amount of good luck to compete with only one horse. Good luck is always an important factor in a sports carrier – with the modern sport horse… you better order a bit more of it.

That was the point where I met the Spanish horses: I just could buy a talented horse that could walk sound on his 4 legs. My former beautiful and easy rideable Oldenburg gelding could not walk on his own feet. Hopefully I was the only one, to whom this happened?

Actually there are some “Superstar Stallions” frequently used by most of the breeders. With all this artificial insemination it works out easily all around the world. Thousands of beautiful, long legged, well moving and dark bay Don Hitfürstmeyers can be produced every year. They can be treated well by judges for their quality, therefore they can be sold for interesting prices. Popular is, what gains 6digit prices, by the way, 6 might not be enough, 7digited prices are paid for licensing champions. And if there are many stallions and geldings of Don Hitfürstmeyers, there are as many mares as well. So breeders mix the same blood again and again? I am by far no expert for breeding … but doesn’t responsible breeding mean to cross new blood into the traditional programme? But I well know, that no one pays a lot of money for unknown but fresh blood. What if the fresh blood doesn´t make a long legged, well moving dark bay? Who should buy it? Better stick to the traditional way that is popular now. So, you breed what you know well and others know as well and you will sell. I understand that! A breeder can´t fill his stable with horses that can´t be sold! So… Don Hitfürstmeyer.

I have been at the Trakehner stallion market, as every year in October. There was a Trakehner stallion licenced by a pure bred Arabian – which was successfully competed in Prix St. Georg – and out of a Trakehner daughter of the legendary Renaissance Fleur. Just for Information: Renaissance Fleur was a grey Trakehner mare, competed by Monica Theodoresco on the real big dressage arenas in Europe. They were prospects for the next Olympic games for the German team. George Theodorescu once said about this mare: “Actually you could not ride this horse: it´s grey, it´s a mare and it´s a Trakehner.” Unfortunately this wonderful dressage horse broke a leg, when she escaped from her stable and fell on the frozen surface outside. A Haflinger would just have a bloody nose after escaping in ice and snow, because he tried to get the last corn out of the birds case and the birds kicked him. The Arabian son was a really beautiful horse with 3 good gaits, good walk and the modern type of a sporthorse. I thought the German “Landgestüte” would fight for him?! But there was not really any interest… I don´t know if he went back home or somewhere abroad. I would appreciate this kind of arabian blood something really precious for the modern sport horse breeding, but… This stallion will not generate 6 or 7 digited prices on the licencing in the next generation. So they keep on breeding Don Hitfürstmeyer – they are asked for and well paid and therefore produced. For rich riders. The rich are the better clients – I can see that! To own more money is always better than to own less! Hopefully Equestrian sports never feels a lack of rich clients… rich clients who like horses…

Quo vadis?

Just watch out – and we will see…

… meanwhile we tack our Haflingers and Andalusians…

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