Scrutinise and review it’s on-going practises while embracing good scientific findings
Aachen - Since the first Global Dressage Forum in 2001 this annual event has become the leading platform for open debate on many aspects concerning the international dressage sport. Top trainers, riders, officials, scientists and other stakeholders including the FEI, from all over the world met last Friday during the CHIO Aachen as the Global Dressage Foundation organized an internal seminar.
About 150 people attended the meeting which was opened by it’s President HRH Benedikte of Denmark and chaired by international rider and trainer Richard Davison. As well as including an FEI update, the meeting focussed on the theme ‘what can science tell us about dressage, welfare and the sport’.
Bettina de Rham, head of the FEI dressage department, informed attendees on a number of new initiatives as well as updating them on follow-up decisions arising from the previous years Aachen meeting. These included;
*the creation of a pan-discipline expert group to consider new equipment and tack and advise the technical committees on rule changes. The group would include technical and scientific experts, as well as other stakeholders such as riders.
*The FEI will evaluate new tests for children and other classes, including a number of shorter grand prix tests which had been requested at the previous years GDF. There will be a try-out in Warendorf in September to evaluate the current judging method and look into the possibility to focus more on the riding skills (instead of the ability of their horses).
*The Code of Points for judging was mid-way through its development by the FEI and will be presented towards the end of 2019. It will be introduced in the judging system from 2021. The code of points will assist the practical application of judging.
*the FEI Dressage Committee had considered the Dressage Judging Working Group’s recommendations and would be forwarding their responses to the FEI Executive Committee
Researcher Dr. Rachel Murray then gave a summary of many scientific studies which focussed on nose band pressures. She helped the attendees to balance the limitations of each study against any conclusions and findings. She also highlighted the need to consider the impact of other pressures on the horse’s head such as bridle pressure points, the effect of bits on head and mouth pressures, dental health and rein pressures.
Participants at the meeting noted the scientific findings that loose nose bands, or no nose bands, did not always result in increased horse welfare. The result of the study on race horses was that 53 % of horses with no nose band had injuries to the mouth while only 10 % of horses with nose bands showed small injuries. The meeting concluded that recent rule changes to noseband pressures introduced by some National Federations, possibly triggered by media and public perception and based on limited scientific studies or unbalanced interpretation, could result in a negative impact on horse welfare.
The wider welfare question of how we use horses for equestrian sport, and in particular for dressage, provided lively debate and diverse perspectives. Under Richard Davison the panel of Dr. Janne Winther Christensen (ISES President), Prof. Rene van Weeren (head of Utrecht University animal department), Roly Owers (World Horse Welfare) and Jenny Hall (FEI veterinary director), together with input from the stakeholders, concluded that extra focus and research was needed to study what was being demanded of horses and evaluated as the dressage sport moves into the future.
The meeting concluded that when it came to the reliability of science studies, there was a wide variation in standards, interpretation, applicability and relevance. In terms of governance, what was needed was diligence and expertise to ensure that that any changes in rules and protocols did not result in other unintended negative effects on horse welfare.
it was agreed there was a need for equestrian sport to continue to scrutinise, audit and review it’s on-going practises while embracing good scientific findings, and in that regard the annual Global Dressage Foundation stakeholder meeting provided an important and regular platform.