Dressage Festival ’15

Maree Tomkinson CDiW

Dressage Festival 2015 Equestrian Victoria’s marquee Dressage Festival four days of fabulous competition held at Werribee Park National Equestrian Centre saw competitors from all over Australia and Jody Hartstone from NZ riding her expressive and talented Lusitano stallion Ali Baba in the FEI Intermediate II and CDiW classes. 

by Geoffrey Mclean
Gone Riding Media

Amy Reilly - Aarchen Challenge

Total entries were very strong with good numbers presenting in all classes.  Day one the young horses and pony classes took to the indoor arena to compete the four, five and six year old classes.  The best way to describe the young horse classes was impressive, there are certainly a good number of fine young horses coming through the grades.

In the five year old horse class, six of the top nine places were filled by progeny of two stallions Royal Hit and Furst Love.

  • Bloomfield First Lady –  Antony Bartlett  (Furst Love) -1
  • Remarkable –  Karen Skimmings (Royal Hit) – 2
  • Cooramin Rialto Hit – Ruth Schneeberger (Royal Hit) – 5
  • Twigley – Jack Palfreyman (Royal Hit) – 7
  • Furst Dance – Megan Bryant (Furst Love) – 8
  • Bloomfield Furst Glory – Megan Cue (Furst Love) –  9

Before we go much further there is a point worth noting, Royal Hit and Furst Love progeny featured in the placings in a good number of the championship classes for the entire event. What does this say about these two stallions?  We won’t go into this here. That is a story initself for another day.  But it is worth noting when you look at the pedigree tree for these two popular and prolific stallions there are two common threads,the grand Sires Donnerhall and Rubinstien I.

A quick check of the pedigree tree of place getters in all classes,reveals Donnerhall and Rubinstien Iblood lines somewhere in the pedigree tree.  This is evidenced by the great Donnerhall appearing in the pedigree tree of Mary Hanna’s mount Dance Salentin and Charlotte Pederson’sBaunhojens Diamond Dance, Caroline Wagner’s WS DonnermanMarie Tomkinson Diamantina IV.  The same legacy can be demonstrated for the great Rubinstien.

It’ probably stating the obvious but the legacy of these two great stallions deserves further discussion another day.

Back to the Dressage Festival.  Apart from the commonality of heritage and general high quality of horses and ponies presented, the standard of riding by competitors was excellent evidenced by the number of championship winning scores in the high 60’s and low 70’s in all championship classes.

The other heartening thing is the emergence of some fine young rider talent moving through the ranks Madison Tristram (Vic)Amy Reilly(NSW) Edwina Hutton -Potts(NSW) Morgan Duell (Vic), Victoria Stuckey (Vic), Stuart Archibald (Vic).  These young riders are demonstrating elegance, poise and technical competency.  We should see given the right support, continued coaching, mentoring, opportunity and sponsorship these young riders going on to successful national if not international careers.

For more than a decade now the pony classes have continued to grow and develop and it is evident considerable thought and effort is going into breeding, developing and training these elegant free moving smaller horses.  With that excellent and kind rider skills are being demonstrated in all classes with championship winning scoresagain either exceeding or hovering around the 70% mark.

The Dressage Festival was again a key event for our para riders.  Whilst numbers in the para classes may have been small, competition was good.  The stand out in the Para Classes was Joann Formosa 2012 London Paralympics gold medallist,  Joann (Grade IB) was riding her new mount GB Winchester, owned by Gary Lung, who is kindly supporting and sponsoring Joann to campaign GB Winchester for selection and ultimately compete at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August this year.

Whilst dressage is developing well up to Prix St George and Intermediate I, there seems to be a glass ceiling preventing riders breaking into to top FEI levels with the exception of the appearance of Jody Hartstone from New Zealand who came over to campaign her delightful, talented and well-mannered Lusitano Stallion Ali Baba in NSW and Victoria.  Jody, an equitation scientist, whilst in Australia,  took the opportunityrefreshand update hers skills and give Ali Baba a work out and tune up at the Australian Equine Behaviour Centre with Manuela, Warwick, and Andrew McLean.

Otherwise it’ssame names, same horses finishing in the same place give or take a place or two.  With the inclusion or exception of a few names it doesn’t matter whether it’s Sydney, Canberra or Melbourne there is a real sameness about competition and results at the CDiW level.

Probably, the last new talent to appear and sustain an FEI career is Maree Tomkinson’s Diamantia IV.

We need to ask.  How do horse and rider combinations progress from the Entry level FEI Small Tour grades and break through and establish themselves at the FEI Big Tour grade?

It is a question for us all who support dressage to stand in and consider and not answer off the cuff.

Is it a lack of rider talent/ambition? A deficiency in coaching and poor foundation skill development?  A shortage of quality bloodstock capable of going on, even though Australia has access to semen from first class European stallions?  Lack of event and rider financial support and sponsorship?  Is it a combination of all of the above?  Or is it something completely different?

If we can answer and solve this problem, dressage in Australia will go, to use the vernacular would be one step closer to “Going Gang Busters”.

Having said this we were entertained with some expressive and talented riding in the CDi-W LF Grand Prix on Friday Night and the CDI-W LF Freestyle on Saturday night.  Mary Hanna again demonstrated why she is a four time Olympian winning both the Friday and Saturday night events convincingly from Brett Parbery and Maree Tomkinson respectively. It really was joyful to watch.  However, considering the majesty, spectacular and entertaining nature of Grand Prix dressage there were significant gaps in the spectator seating especially on Friday night.

The lack of spectators at a marquee event such as the Dressage Festival is disappointing, it should be asked. Why and how do we get general spectators to come to a key event such as the Dressage Festival?

Retailers at the event with the exception of one were heard to say sales were poor and there was very little foot traffic with the exception of competitors and their support people and they would struggle to cover the trade stand fee for the event and were expecting to make a loss for the event.

We can make all kinds of excuses for this, ranging from it’s the lead up to Christmas, the weather, the economies down through to it’s an “elitist sport”.  Sorry none of these excuses cut the mustard.  Our marquee events need to be marketed as an attractive reason to come together to be entertained, celebrate and socialise as much as it is about watching good performance.

There is no doubt Equestrian Victoria supported by a small army of volunteers approached the day to day running of the event with a “Can Do” attitude and did an excellent job running the event and managing the logistics throughout the entire event, everything ran like clockwork.

But if OUR governing bodies are to grow the sport and develop interest from the general public they must take a more active and creative approach to marketing and sponsorship and look outside the square as to how they look at presenting our sport as sporting entertainment, no different to Cricket, football, Golf or tennis and they are competing for the same sponsorship dollars.

Even after my mutterings, all in all, the Dressage festival was a screaming success and each day of competition had something to offer and something memorable to take away.

Dressage has come a long way in the last fifteen years, it was four magnificent of days of high grade competition.  Credit and recognition must be given to all involved with the event but special recognition and thanks must be given to the small army of Volunteers who turned up each day to give their time.  Sponsors also need to be recognised and thanked for their kind contributions and support.  Without volunteers and sponsors our sport would struggle to exist.

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