presented by Gaitpost Magazine

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Now That’s More Like It!

Global Dressage Forum 2007 Day Two

The second day of the forum gave us much more of what everyone came for: some great training demos (Jean Bemelmans), putting the judges on the spot, and wrapping up with the big bang of the Coby and Jo show. Bemelmans was inspiring: passionate about the horses, humble in aspect, but firm in his knowledge and philosophy. In response to some lady trying to categorize him as either ‘classical’ or ‘modern’, he dismissed her by saying he was tired of such labels: “there is only good training and bad training.” Too bad Jean is so busy with his Spaniards. He’d be a kick ass Canadian coach.

Stephen Clarke Stands Tall

It was perhaps a blessing that Mariette stayed away this year, since it gave the eloquent Mr. Clarke the opportunity to apply his speaking and defense skills during the analysis of the judging of the European Championships. Like last year with the WEG analysis, comparative videos of specific movements were shown of several competitors, followed by much animated discussion about scoring. Stephen had pointed out in his opening remarks that judges are actually human (despite the popularly held belief that they are the Devil), and that when one or two judges in a panel of five gives out a too-high or too-low mark, it is usually the result of human error. Admitting fallibility – now that’s a breakthrough! When Wim Ernes, one of the judges at the Europeans, confessed that in seeing the video he now believed he had given too low a mark for an extended walk, the crowd became near-orgasmic. If only men like Stephen and Wim were the norm in the international judging community…

Where’s Coby?

Richard announced that it was Coby up there for the last presentation of the day, but I have my doubts. I suspect it was a robot made up to look like Coby. The robot read from a script in a monotone, never looking up from the notes, not even when addressing the issue of the red-handed photos of Power and Paint cranked in like a circus pony. The Coby-tron did heed Richard Davison’s pre-speech advice to deliver her defense about the lunging photos before talking about her ‘main’ topic – the pony-to-Grand Prix rider program that she and Jo Hinnemann have developed together over the years. Richard had quite rightly told her that until she said her piece about the photos, no one would pay any attention to the training presentation. Before the session started, a high-profile participant in the forum (who shall remain anonymous because I don’t quite have the balls to name him) said to me that in his opinion Coby should admit she had made a mistake and apologize. She did nothing of the sort; she simply reiterated the story that the whole world and their dog has already read on line, that the photos were a misrepresentation, that the child lunging him had made them too tight (must be a hell of a strong kid) and that Coby immediately loosened them when she came to help with the lunging.

With that bit of fluff out of the way, the Coby-tron gave a presentation that was a finalist for ‘driest presentation of the week’, making the system of training children to become Grand Prix competitors sound about as much fun as military school. There was a small betting pool in Journalists’ Row about whether Power and Paint would be one of the demo ponies, and I was a winner. His was the first adorable face to peek around the curtain for the mounted demos. Jo now took over the mike, and although I’m sure it was really him and not a robot, his style was not much more animated than Coby’s. But it WAS more opinionated. One little gem he threw out (and one final jab at the judges) was that he teaches the kids two different shoulder ins: a correct one without bend, and one for the judges, who naively still look for bend in the movement. Because of course everyone else knows horses can’t bend in the rib cage. Too bad Hilary Clayton wasn’t on hand with some of her overhead photos of horses doing shoulder in – with body bend.

Send in the Lions!

Finally, the moment everyone had been waiting for: question period. Coby herself spoke no more in her defense, but there was plenty said from other quarters. A spokesman from the Dutch federation said that an investigation into the lunging of Power and Paint is under way, and a man with the ominous title of Prosecutor is on the job. A German from the magazine St. Georg (the same mag Sjef sued for slander) voiced what was on everyone’s mind: “as a Grand Prix rider, and an Olympic team member, you can never have the reins that short by mistake. Also you said you didn’t trot but the photographer produced photos of the pony trotting.” The federation guy jumped in to say he didn’t want the scene to turn into a ‘court case situation’ (he was definitely in the minority), and that the prosecutor would get to the bottom of things. I did have one question for Coby: “in retrospect, would you have done anything differently?” But I didn’t get to ask it because Richard Davison never gave me the mike. Maybe he thought I was going to cry again.

So that’s it folks. The Forum that puts all the players together: riders, trainers, coaches, judges, wannabes, groupies and journalists. If I were you I’d be marking it on your calendar for next year. I can recommend some lovely cheap accommodations very nearby.