Rick Helmink: "Gaslighting"

Mon, 04/29/2024 - 10:56
Photo © Astrid Appels

Guest columnist of this week is Rick Helmink, a Dutch equestrian journalist working for De Paardenkrant/Horses.nl. He specialises in breeding and dressage and writes opinion piece on the current affairs in the equestrian world. His column "Gaslighting" was first published on Horses.nl on 19 April, which he now shares with Eurodressage. 


When I hear dressage people talk about change, I always think of an anecdote Dirk Willem Rosie told me shortly before his retirement. It concerned former FEI chairman Princess Haya who told him years ago after one of his tirades about the unsportsmanlike character of the judging system in dressage: "Dirk Willem, look at the dressage people themselves. They don't want to change."

So when the president of the IDOC (!) and leading 5* jury member Hans Christian Mathiessen said last week in an interview with horse lifestyle magazine Malgré Tout that he wants to turn the entire sport of dressage upside down, my ears were pricked.

In that interview Matthiessen says the craziest things. For example, that stress and conflict signals mainly need to be written down in the comments on the protocol and is afraid to do so. “When I comment about tail swooshing, 'bad' people may come up with the idea of injecting botox around the tail so that a horse can no longer move the tail. The same applies to contact issues: the noseband can be tightened enormously the next time.”

Those are not the things a judge should be thinking when giving points. If that's the case, than the tack check after the test should also include a check to see whether a horse can still move its tail (sideways). And if that's the case than the tightness of the noseband needs to be checked differently.

I see this interview and his proposals mainly as a fine example of gaslighting. As a 5* jury member and chair of the International Dressage Officials Club, Matthiessen is in a position to tackle matters. Matthiessen's hands – and those of his colleagues – are not tied.

Matthiessen CAN give 50% for a test with a horse that is bursting with tension. In fact, he can (if he is sitting at C) ring out the combination on the basis of Article 5.7.2 of the FEI Dressage Rules (the performance is against the welfare of the horse), but this elimination on that basis has (as far as I know) never happened.  

After photos were recently published in Aftonbladet of open mouths and visible (blue) tongues dressage riders are again busy using marshmallow fluff; banned since 2022 on penalty of a yellow card. It should rain yellow cards at every dressage competition, but it doesn't happen. In the whole of 2023, only five dressage riders received a yellow card (the lowest number of all equestrian disciplines). None of them for fake foam.

Dressage people don't want to change, I believe that. Until actual changes and actions prove the contrary.

-- Rick Helmink

Related Links
Editorial: Recalibration
Editorial: Fear of Change
Hans-Christian Matthiesen: "Sport and Politics Should Go Hand in Hand"
Thomas Baur: "Time for Change - Time for Action"
Angelika Fromming & Hannes Müller: "Change of Priorities - Training Scale over Quality of Movement"