Michael Jung had 486 international events under his belt going in to Le Lion d’Angers this weekend. From that significantly large dataset he had registered one horse-fall. That horse-fall was with a horse called Choclat, his ride in the seven-year-old class at the world breeding championships. The same horse had also registered a horse-fall as a six-year-old with Michael’s rider Pietro Grandis. This weekend, Choclat added his third horse-fall of his career, aged just seven, and Michael’s second ever horse-fall from 488 international starts.
You cannot reach any formal conclusions here. There could be chance involved as well as many unmeasured factors. However, it does present an opportunity to think about a couple of factors. Firstly, when a horse at the age of seven, at the lower-risk levels of the sport, has already registered three horse-falls, what could or should be done about this? Perhaps nothing, don’t jump to conclusions or get emotional, there could be random chance and there could be factors such as bad light, stepping on an overreach boot or some other explanation. The combination of the horse’s record of horse-falls, combined with Michael’s record of avoiding such outcomes, undoubtedly raises a major flag however.
It gets more interesting. Choclat holds the record for the lowest ever finishing score achieved in the sport. This is obviously achieved by producing an exceptional dressage score. That score was 22.8 in 2017 which translates to 15.2 under the 2018 system. This record came in a one-star where we place very little emphasis on cross-country attributes. At Le Lion d’Angers in the six-year-old class, 76% of starters went clear and inside the time on the cross-country. We don’t separate one clear from another, they are all treated the same. However, as you can see with the dressage, we absolutely do separate one good test from another. We reward the exceptional, therefore we encourage the exceptional dressage, therefore we train predominantly for dressage and we breed and buy predominantly for dressage.
Think of the attribute list of an event horse. Footwork, reactions, intelligence, athleticism, carefulness, scope, speed, stamina, impulsion, submissiveness, paces and trainability. Which attributes are we testing at one and two-star and how much emphasis is placed on each? How these attributes are tested will absolutely shape the type of event horses that are bred, produced and purchased, and then it will continue to shape how we train them. If 76% of horses all score the same score of zero penalties in the cross-country, but they get rewarded for everything they do in the dressage arena, then over time we will end up with dressage horses being asked to perform cross-country rather than cross-country horses being asked to perform dressage.
In the latest Eventing Podcast, we begin a discussion that we hope will engage people. This engagement may well explain why things are scored the way they are and it might transpire that this is the best way forward for the sport. But we also present an alternative scoring solution. A method of rewarding the best all-round performance. If there were no consequences to extreme dressage in Eventing then there would be no problem. But there are consequences. We are shortening top level courses and removing jumping efforts over fears of stamina. We have horses and riders that are growing up with less cross-country attributes and training than is desirable and this presents a safety concern. Our sport has one unique phase which attracts spectators and should remain the heartbeat of the sport. We are trending towards dumbing-down our key selling point because we continue to produce extreme dressage. Is this our objective or is this an unfair way of describing the situation? Let us know what you think.
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