(“. . . an individual‘s tax return, a note from their doctor, and one from their psychiatrist . . .”)

Mixed up with all the hoopla about that dreadful ride which we all saw on Facebook and the back and forth which followed is the whole question of fairness and the unlevel playing field. Beyond the abuse issue raised, an underlying gripe seemed to deal with the “She’s getting something for nothing; we have to work for everything and we aren’t rewarded.”

Should there be a requirement to achieve a certain score at one level before being permitted to move up to the next one? That’s a Maybe. Should it be a requirement for each rider and horse combination, or will competence on one horse be taken as a ticket to ride a higher level on another one? In other words if an FEI rider buys a new FEI horse, must she go back and show him level by level to get qualifying scores before she can compete him at the level which he had been doing with another rider? That seems unreasonable. Another scenario – if this were passed, would the requirement be retroactive? Would the hypothetical incompetent rider currently doing FEI without having performed adequately at the lower levels in the past have to go back, or would she be grandfathered in? It would seem unrealistic (though desirable) to make her do that. Is this a solution that takes a generation to have a meaningful effect?

Wrapped up in this is another issue – the unfairness of it all. As you might guess, this is more often expressed by the Have Nots than by the Them Whats Got. The first group proposes various solutions. Number one — “We only want to compete with our own kind.” Therefore we need our own classes. Specific suggestions include Maiden, Novice, and Limit divisions as they have at big hunter shows or as at horse trials (for instance) divisions of Novice Horse, Novice Rider, and Open Novice. The problem is that at small (normal) shows, there aren’t enough entrants to go around to fill up all those divisions. Is being best out of one or two any more satisfying than being fifth out of 12? That’s the question you have to ask yourself.

One proposal which has been floated from time to time is to use the so-called Danish System of awarding ribbons. Instead of the highest score getting a blue, the second highest getting a red, and so on, any score above (for example) 68% gets a blue ribbon no matter how many there are. Likewise any horse scoring between 64 and 68% gets a red ribbon. This would mean in some classes if no one did very well, there would be no blue ribbon award at all. In the most extreme case if none of the rides were above 50%, no ribbons would be handed out.

This wouldn’t really work for championships. Our culture ordains that there must be a winner. It would work fine at “ordinary” competitions.

Then there is the “Why don’t they ride where they belong?” complaint. This is voiced by people who feel the playing field is tilted unfairly against them because they are supposed to compete on any equal footing against those with inherent advantages – a fancier mover, one with more training, or a rider – amateur or professional – who is not burdened by three children or a full-time job or an aging parent or whatever. It has been proposed from time to time that if a rider exceeds a certain score more than once, they must move up to the next level. In my mind NOT a good idea – the Peter Principle personified! The world is full of riders who have done pretty well at First Level but aren’t remotely ready to be pushed up into Second Level where sitting to the trot and collection are demanded! It has been suggested tongue in cheek that each show entry should include an individual‘s tax return, a note from their doctor, and one from their psychiatrist. Each entrant could then be grouped appropriately with her peers.

Another whole way to re-level the playing field would be to radically alter what the judges are told to reward. An example would be to eliminate not only the Gaits score in the Collectives but not judge them in any of the movements either. As you might guess, this could appeal to someone with a very unathletic horse but be anathema to the interests of the breeders. In other words jigger with everything we are used to rewarding in the dressage arena. A ride that is pretty boring and mundane can be a model of harmony. Is harmony the ultimate goal? What about an exotic mover with an uphill balance but fraught with tension? I know I don’t reward that, although a good mover with a little tension that performs accurately may sometimes beat a cheerfully marginal mover which lacks some of the other requisite qualities.

Not to be diminished in the equation is the notion of beauty. As subjective as that is, isn’t it what we should be trying to achieve and reward within the limits of the tableau on which we paint? To my eye beauty includes elastic, dynamic movement which comes from the horse’s natural ability but especially is enhanced by good training. Unless you’ve seen the “before” and “after” it can be hard to know how much of that should be credited (or debited) to the rider’s skills. Wherever it comes from, when I see it, my field tilts decisively in that direction!