On October 3, the International Dressage Riders Club and International Dressage Trainers club concluded an extremely productive 2-day meeting at Azelhof, Lier Belgium. Approximately 65 members from the clubs participated along with representatives of the Dressage Official Club, Dressage Organizers club, and the FEI.
The theme of the meeting was Enhancing Welfare and Performance thru Knowledge. The programme included a wide range of subjects including:
-an interview with the newly appointed Director of Dressage Ronan Murphy who also gave an update on the Paris 2024 Olympics
- demonstration of the Sleip Gait Analysis which provides easy, fast and user-friendly tracking the symmetry of horses in trot
-an exposition of the structure and function of the FEI Education department by Frank Spadinger
-a demonstration by Rieky Young which showed the potential for cross-over of western -riding techniques to achieve some of the goals of dressage
-Marc Koen drilled down to expose weaknesses in research which has been cited to support the movement to make the double-bridle optional. He also presented a pilot study which appears to debunk the myth that there is ‘no room in some horses’ mouths to accommodate a double bridle. IN FACT, his study made the surprising discovery that rather than the accepted belief that bits lay on top of the tongue, in fact all bit, snaffle or bridle, actually imbed in the tongue! It was clear that further study to develop this understanding is imperative.
-Dr. Russell MacKechnie-Guire previewed results from an extensive study of noseband tightness with some surprising preliminary results. As part of the follow-up discussion Ronan Murphy confirmed the need for cooperation amongst stakeholders and the FEI around initiating and evaluating research.
-From Wisconsin USA via live stream Kendra Skorstad presented the HoofMapp app which owners can use to document and track a horse’s shoeing over time. This will be followed up by a webinar which further explains the tool.
-In response to some dissatisfaction with the current A & B tests several alternatives were ridden and discussed. There also appeared to be an opportunity for an ‘introductory’ grand prix for use in developing countries and amateurs or young horses. Ronan Murphy agreed to discuss any proposals with the Dressage Technical Committee and as part of a future strategy for developing the sport.
-Ulrike Nivelle provided an overview of the judging at the European Championships in Riesenbeck. This was followed the next day by a panel discussion amongst, Kyra Kyrklund, Isabel Werth, Katrina Wuest, Rieky Young. The potential for AI to augment judging was discussed.
-Thomas Eyckmans and Dane Rawlins outlined the current difficulties organizers are facing in creating competitions in the face of ever-increasing costs. Member awareness and suggestions was solicited.
-Dr. Siddhartha Khandelwai presented an app in development, Walkbeat, which describes in detail how the horse is using its limbs. This could be used to maximize performance and prevent injury.
-David Stickland described a system he developed with a Global Equestrian Technology BV which is capable of tracking skeletal locations from standard video. AI is then used to correlate dressage observables with how judges categorise and score movements. This could be an aid to riders, trainers and judges. The community is invited to consider how to best use such a tool.
The meeting concluded with discussion amongst all the participants during which participants’ ideas were solicited about how to improve dressage. During this Klaus Roeser proposed the establishment of a Transparency Register. This would be a database on which Judges would register relevant activities in addition to judging such as, training, giving clinics, horse sales etc. It was recognized that, given the paltry remuneration given judges, there was a need to supplement their income. The proposed register would increase transparency and thus the appearance of probity for the sport. The Dressage Director noted that the FEI already has tools in place to record and manage any conflicts or perceived conflicts of interest. These include the COI policy and the Code of Conduct for Officials. He agreed to discuss the feedback from the IDRC/ICTC in detail with the relevant FEI departments and the DTC.
The Secretary General of the IDTC asked members to affirm their commitment to horse welfare by pledging to adhere to a list of 15 Principles.
1. Assure that essential individual indicators for animal welfare are met based on the 5 domains of 1. nutrition 2. physical environment 3. Health 4. interactions with environment, other
animals, humans and 5. Mental state. These factors should not be resource based or limited.
2. Commit to respect every horse equally regardless of its use (breeding, recreation, or sport) and ensure that training and performance objectives are consistent with the individual’s genetic potential, temperament, and development.
3. Commit to the need for ongoing training of the horse, its rider and all its handlers to achieve the best possible interaction between horse and man.
4. Recognize that the horse is a social, sentient, and neotenic animal and be alert to the physical, emotional, and intellectual implications of these characteristics.
5. Appreciate the character-building, emotional, and physical benefits of dealing with horses especially for young people and those with mental or physical disabilities.
6. Commit in training to utilize natural behaviors to enhance the horse’s ability to understand the human objective.
7. Accept the responsibility for the wellbeing of the horse throughout its entire life including after its sporting career has ended and until death. All decisions must be made in the best interest of the horse, informed by the most recent advice available.
8. Promise never to discipline out of anger or frustration.
9. Pledge strict adherence to all anti-doping regulations and procedures
10. Ensure prompt and appropriate treatment in case of injury or illness.
11. Dutifully display characteristics of good sportsmanship and strive to present equestrian sport favorably at competitions.
12. Require that all regulations related to horse welfare are based on sound scientific evidence and are scrutinized and approved by the FEI Veterinary Committee. Recognize
knowledge regarding horses and their wellbeing is incomplete and be open-minded to new scientific evidence.
13. Commit to being transparent and proactive. Demonstrate a willingness to engage with all stakeholders (including the public) to enhance understanding of equine welfare and
recognize the legitimacy of differing opinions.
14. Appreciate and disseminate the history of the horse and the role it plays in our cultural heritage.
15. Enhance the positive contributions of equestrian sport to people and the environment.
Ronan Murphy identified the need for a strategy for dressage. He welcomed participation by all stakeholders in the development of this strategy and announced that there would be a meeting including all stakeholders in the early part of 2024 to initiate work.