So the FEI launched its latest greatest series last weekend, its Nations’ Cup Dressage series. Rotterdam and Aachen already offer team competitions a la Nations Cup-style, so the FEI just tacked one on the front (Vidauban, France) and one on the back (Hickstead) and called it a series. Rotterdam and Aachen are both big kids on the block, and with it being a Euro Champs year the big shots will be out guns a’blazing at both, I’m sure. Hickstead has developed a good rep and always draws its share of stars, though I’m not going to make any bets on turn-out for the NC since it is sandwiched between two already-established team events and the Euros. But Vidauban last weekend fell as flat as a crepe Suzette. A grand total of four teams turned up for the inaugural NC, which meant nearly everyone got to clamber onto the podium. And it wasn’t the A teams, either. The gold medalist Dutch decided to use it as a stepping stone event for their up-and-comings -fine. The Swedes (silver) sent top riders like Tinne and Minna, but with horses that are either on their way up or on their way back – fair enough. Bronze went to the home French team which narrowly edged out a group of Swiss (whose average scores amounted to all of 65%), none of whom I’ve ever heard of. And that was your field. The scores overall landed well shy of world-beater status. Seems to me the FEI has fallen down in its market research and/or promotion department. Good thing they don’t have to worry about losing their title sponsor due to lackluster turn out. They don’t have one.
Astrid at Eurodressage hit the nail on the head as usual with her comments regarding the underwhelming launch of the FEI Dressage Nations Cup series. Of course, when you want to attract the world to a brand new, untested series, you might want to consider choosing a date with less going on elsewhere in the ‘hood. Wiesbaden (Germany) and Villach (Austria) were both on the same weekend. Wiesbaden is a traditional heavy hitting must-do for the Germans, and Villach is the home of Glock, sponsors of Dutch ubermenschen Edward and Peter (yes, I’m aware of the irony of using a German phrase from Nietzsche to describe Dutch people). I’m not the biggest fan of the mileage rule, but let’s not be silly here, folks. This latest ‘success’ of the FEI with a series does remind me of my dad’s favourite Einstein quote regarding the definition of insanity: repeating the same behaviours and expecting the outcome to be different.
In other small-class news, Canada had its first CDI of the year, The CDI3* Rockwood at Angelstone. Angelstone? What and who is that? I had to Google it to learn that it’s show jumping rider-cum-show organizer Keean White’s venue. Not seriously believing that Keean was likely to venture into DQ territory, I checked Equivents (Cara Whitham’s show organizing company) and sure enough, this was an Equivents gig. Either I’ve seriously fallen down on the keeping-up-to-speed part of the journalist’s job or this event has adhered to the FEI model of marketing-shmarketing. Because I didn’t know it existed until I got a press release, post-event. And apparently riders didn’t know about it either, since there were all of two horses that competed in the Grand Prix division.
To cut some slack on the marketing, though, I am not sure what the numbers are like in general at Ontario dressage shows these days, but they are in the toilet out here in BC. A group of dedicated individuals busted their cans last year to get some really awesome sponsorships for every level – from AA to a Prix St. Georges ‘Chase’ whose winner went home with a custom saddle. Knowing they wouldn’t likely see the fruits of their fundraising labours for a year, the optimistic supporters anxiously watched the numbers for the first shows of 2013 in the hopes that the prospect of CASH and PRIZES would have revitalized the BC dressage shows. If we were to use the metaphor of excited children pulling down their Christmas stockings, let’s just say it’s coal staring up at them and not sugar plums. So where is everyone? Why is dressage one of the fastest-growing equestrian disciplines worldwide, but shrinking in at least one part of Canada?
I have one half-baked theory about this and it has to do with the notion that the people with get-up-and-go got up and left. If our top younger riders have to go away to pursue their careers, they aren’t here at home inspiring and mentoring our next generation, or even our adult amateurs, who – let’s be honest – are a driving financial force in dressage. Blame the ambitious young riders who end up based in Europe? No way. They are doing what they absolutely need to do if they are to be tomorrow’s Olympians, people who will help pick Canada up out of its bottom-of-the-pack slump. Meanwhile, back at the ranch in Canada, dressage shows are getting duller – and there are those in other disciplines who would argue that wasn’t possible, but there it is. They are. Any ideas out there on how to turn this barge around? Feel free to weigh in with a comment. Don’t be shy!