In February 2015 the International Dressage Rider Club sent out a survey to gain a thorough understanding of how equestrian enthusiasts perceive the future of dressage. The survey was completed by 3,254 respondents (91% female; 9% male). The represented age groups range from 17 years or younger (3.96%) to 60 or older (14.41%) (figure 1).
Figure 1: Represented age groups
Almost half of the respondents are resident in the United States (23,54%) and the United Kingdom (23,20%), but all major dressage countries are represented (figure 2).
Figure 2: Respondents’ nationality.
The majority of respondents are horse owners and competitors at recreational, local, regional or national level, while some also consider themselves spectators and trainers. A smaller number of respondents are international riders or judges (figure 3).
Figure 3: Respondents’ type of involvement in dressage.
2. INTEREST IN DRESSAGE
A large majority of respondents are ‘interested’ (7.34%) to ‘very interested’ (91.30%) in equestrian sports, with interest in dressage ranging from ‘very interested’ (52.45%), ‘interested’ (35.78%), ‘quite interested’ (10.54%) to ‘not interested’ (1.23%).
Interest in dressage developed for participants mostly in their youth or teens (figure 4).
Figure 4: Age when interest in dressage first developed.
3. MOST ENJOYABLE FEATURES OF LIVE DRESSAGE COMPETITIONS
A majority (65%) of respondents have attended international dressage competitions in the past. Participants attending international shows, enjoyed the experience ‘a lot’ (72%), quite a bit (23%), not much (4%), not at all (1%) (figure 5).
Figure 5: Enjoyment of international dressage competitions.
When attending dressage competitions 85% of the respondents enjoy watching the freestyle the most, followed closely by watching the GP (80%) and the training/warm up of horses (66%). Facilities and lower rated classes (Young riders, GPS, young horses) attract less interest. (figure 6)
Figure 6: Elements enjoyed the most at international dressage competitions.
4. MOST ENJOYABLE FEATURES OF REMOTE DRESSAGE COMPETITIONS
Of those individuals who haven’t attended competitions in person, 34% of respondents watch live online broadcast, while 33% prefer TV. An additional 24% turn to Youtube while 7% adhere to Facebook. A mere 2% watch competitors on DVD.
Similar to results of respondents who watch live, those individuals following competitions remotely also consider the Freestyle the most enjoyable (80%), followed by the Grand Prix (66%) and watching riders warm up/train their horses (54%) (figure 7).
Figure 7: Elements enjoyed during remote viewing of international dressage competitions.
5. PROBLEMS PERCEIVED BY LIVE AND REMOTE VIEWERS
Both live and remote dressage spectators highlight several issues in dressage as problematic, with judging being considered by far the most serious problem. More than half of the respondents (58% live vs. 51% remote) consider subjectivity in judging the most significant issue, followed by lack of transparency in judging (50% live vs. 46% remote) and difficulty in understanding judging (30% live vs. 31% remote) (figures 8 and 9).
Figure 8: Perceived problems (live viewers)
Figure 9: Perceived problems (remote viewers)
Additional themes emerged from commentary from respondents:
- welfare of horses during training (e.g. noses behind the vertical; necks too deep)
- application of FEI rules by judges or stewards
- judging bias
Respondents seem to believe that judging does not occur according to the FEI rulebook and that the most popular rider with the most spectacular horse gets the highest score. In order to get more openness in the judging a number of respondents propose to use a live scoring during the tests.
6. CHANGES DESIRED BY DRESSAGE ENTHUSIASTS
In response to the question of what respondents would like to change in the future, 67% of live and 59% of remote viewers would like more television coverage, while 57% (live) and 55% (remote) viewers would like a more transparent judging system, 52% (live)/41% (remote) would like real time scoring, and 52% (live)/48% (remote) less judging bias (figures 10 and 11).
Figure 10: Future changes (live viewers)
Figure 11: Future changes (remote viewers)
7. LIKELY IMPACT OF SHORTENING THE GP
Only 6% of the respondents think the shorter GP test is a solution to the future of dressage. More than half of the respondents think shortening of the GP test would have a negative effect on the popularity of dressage.
Statistical testing determined a small but highly significant correlation between ‘interest in dressage’ and ‘influence to watch dressage competitions if the GP was shortened’ (rs=0.23; p=0.001). This means that the more interested spectators are in the dressage, the more negatively they would perceive a shortening of the GP. The correlations between interest in dressage and enjoyment in attending international shows was also highly significant with a medium effect (rs=0.353; p<0.0001). With these results in mind, it might be argued that shortening the GP would constitute an alienation of current, core fans.
What is more, an additional small, yet highly significant effect was found for the correlation between ‘enjoyment in attending international shows’ and ‘influence to watch GP’ (rs=0.16; p<0.000), indicating that enjoyment would decrease if the GP was shortened. Especially if visitors numbers remain a concern, shortening the GP would seem unadvisable.
In summary, results from the current survey show that the Freestyle and the Grand Prix remain the most popular elements of international dressage competitions. The – primarily female – dressage enthousiasts enjoy attending live dressage competitions, but are also drawn towards remote media, such as television or live streaming.
Most importantly, results clearly demonstrate that dressage spectators, regardless of whether they are watching live or remotely, demand a more transparent, less biased judging system, which riders, trainers, officials and spectators are able to understand. What is more, aspects relating to equine welfare in training, and horse-rider combinations being judged according to current FEI rules, rather than on flashiness or common biases were regularly highlighted by respondents.
Lastly, shortening of the Grand Prix is likely to have a negative effect on dressage audiences, but increasing broadcasting time might assist in increasing the popularity of dressage in future.
Prof. Kyra Kyrklund, President IDRC
Wayne Channon, Secretary General IDRC
Dr. Inga Wolframm, University of Applied Sciences VHL
Claudia Rees, Assistant IDRC