What To Do With Tradition
Nothing like greeting eighteen months of social distancing, lockdown and screen fatigue with back to back equestrian, in person, events: Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials Dressage and LeMieux National Dressage Championships.
Maybe it was the long break, but returning to national and international dressage & eventing competitions I saw first hand it is not just waistlines that have changed during Covid-19. 72 hours of being submerged with my people, I worked out what had changed at equestrian events post Covid-19...
The winner of Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials Long format. In the lead from the start, 2021 winner Yasmin Ingham held her nerves aged just 24 yrs, sharing her success was due to her "incredible horse" Banzai Du Loir.
“That is the most pressurised situation I have ever been in my life, and I just couldn’t be more grateful to be sat on such an incredible horse going into the final phase,"...“To be here at Blenheim Palace and taking the win is something you dream of and I can’t believe it has happened to me." When everyone cheered, it made it feel real.” Yasmin Ingham
Sunday morning I made the early trip back to Blenheim, observing the welfare of our four legged competitors through a process call the 'trot up'. Riders present their horse to the same ground jury who judged the dressage and officiated the horses well-being on cross country day plus to the lead vet of the competition, inspecting each horse's physical well-being. One horse was "not accepted" and therefore did not proceed to show jumping, whilst 3 were "held" and on further investigation by another vet, re-presented to the jury who then "accepted" and they continued in the competition, completing the final round of show-jumping.
Historically, the homogenous attire of military uniform was Trot-Up culture. Over decades the military uniform updated to the rural uniform. Critics of this era called the trot up "a fashion show" whilst others released stories of riders dressing to distract the jury away from limited movement of four legged friend, to the two legs 'trotting-up'.
With just a light sprinkling of trotting traditionalists, there was a new 'trot-up' in town. Running on diverse high ground, riders footwear equalled the diverse shapes and sizes of the horses. I have never seen so many styles and colours of trainer at any equestrian event. A massive fan of the trainer - for a cheeky Parkrun or a brutal HIIT in the garden, witnessing diverse rider attire as well as horses at Blenheim really felt like a pivotal moment in the 'loosening and taking off' outdated traditions movement. Tradition is anything that has this response when asked "why?
"Because it's how we've always done it"
The absence of equestrian tradition did't just stay on the trot-up in Oxfordshire. Some miles away on the Saturday at the LeMieux National Dressage Championships, I witnessed traditionalists changing their minds in the face of stronger evidence and logic. Diversity of thought in different spaces; radio commentary, judges live scores, final placings acknowledging horses lived experience - tests in distress mentally (as evidenced from negative emotional state expressed through facial expressions).
I was delighted to see judges hanging up tradition, how horses have always gone, updating with new mental models of how horses can feel and do feel throughout a dressage test. Welfare winners Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin ditching tradition for optimal horse welfare, in turn wins medals. There is so much the field of equitation science is contributing, what is harder than doing something different to how you've always done it? Having the courage to walk away from tradition, because it's stoped or never served horse welfare. And rider safety.
Three Day Event Trot-ups have evolved. With my own eyes Ive seen them transform from military to rural to trainer. My hope is our next transformation of attire is driven by safety. Trotting up your horse for the vet, no matter how good you are, or how well trained your horse is, needs us all to embrace the culture of helmets and gloves. No different to the culture of showing up as you are. At an international three day event. I get we only have one head, let's all use it. Covid has given us new opportunities to see and try things differently. We can do better. We can ditch tradition in the face of stronger evidence or logic. Having the courage to place horse welfare and our safety at the centre of all our equestrian sports.
Fair to sum up my first post Covid horse weekend was beautifully diverse, and now Im excited to see how far our courage to be more diverse goes. And remember courage is contagious.
Examples of Trot-Up Diversity: Event riders no longer trot up all looking alike.
The Trot-Up Trainer