Bernard Maurel: "Changes for a Better Image of Our Sport"

Thu, 05/09/2024 - 10:38
Bernard Maurel at the 2022 CDI Troisdorf :: Photo © Astrid Appels

French 5* dressage judge Bernard Maurel sent in this open letter to Eurodressage with some reflections and thoughts on the ideas for changes proposed by IDOC president Hans-Christian Matthiesen. 

Dear Hans-Christian,

A few weeks ago I read your article (translated from Danish) and I was impressed with your  views and your desire to promote some changes. But I had immediately the memory of our former French President who accepted a free discussion with journalists. He is a clever and honest man, but maybe he was too confident regarding these journalists. Later, when they published their book, the title was “A President Should Never Say That” and he lost his candidacy...!

Two weeks ago you were president of the ground jury of the 2024 World Cup Finals in Riyadh, where many points were very subjective and we need to remain objective if we are to have a clear path and understanding for the audience at events and watching on television. The points were : 1. An elimination for small sign of blood  2. Two riders who say on social network that they don’t understand the judging   3. Riders on the podium, with little points difference that they could be ‘ex aequo’, and judges with different placings. On all these points I just say “no problem, that is the sport, congratulations to the judges”. The only problem is that it’s not so good for the image of dressage !

So I agree with you, it has to change for a better image of our sport !!

But you claim to support the love of horses and the passion for riding, and I don’t agree when you criticise our sport. Because equestrian sport is a natural way to use and enjoy the power of horses bred and selected in this objective. Because to sit and ride on horseback or to have humans working with horses for over a millennium is part of the horses’ nature. 

Is Dressage Conservative?

Is our sport so conservative?   I truly believe not and use two examples to prove this :

  1. Freestyle to Music: when a group pushed for the Freestyle Music test in the 80s, we had a lot of opposition, but this has changed the sport so successfully ! 
  2. When the introduction of a Freestyle was refused by the Dressage committee for the Ponies, we were a few to insist and managed to get it also for this introductory level !

One more remark: as a judge, the title that the journalist gives you as “chief judge” is too strong. You do not carry the ‘burden’ of all dressage sports on your shoulders. But I agree that you are at the centre of the system around the international dressage world. It’s just that you forgot that the judges are only mirrors : better they are, less power they have, but of course they have a great responsibility !

A Proposal for a Few Changes

Back to propose some changes now :

  • Why not make some changes to dressage tests ? Most of them are the same since 2009 ! Medium tour, Young Horses, Young Riders and U 25 could evolve. And although most  people love the actual GPS, a few light changes could update it  
  • Why not change some rules, taking in account modern scientific knowledge, like the RHPE (Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram), and look at the bigger picture of all equestrian sport ?
  • Why not introduce in dressage tests at every level a few exercises that makes the judges sure of correct training bases, like we have at lower levels ? But the working group should be open and transparent, with horsewomen and horsemen respected with their practical knowledge and experience.
  • Why not introduce in the judging more value to the harmony between horse and rider, instead of insisting on absolute precision and to accept sometimes tension?
  • Why not make the snaffle optional up to FEI Grand Prix level ? Of course, technically it’s a lot of arguments to stay with compulsory double bridle, but letting riders choose could be important for image and communication.
  • Why not for the World Cup finals and other levels where it is 7 judges give the possibility to place 4 instead of 2 on the long side, in order to have a similar view like most of the spectators ? 
  • Why not improve the judges' teaching system with meetings with coaches,  breeders, riders, veterinarians, scientists, etc ... that allows the judges to update their eyes and their knowledge about biomechanics and animal psychology ?
Judge the Warm-Up or Reinforce the Stewards?

Of course, if you propose to give a mark during the warm up, you will have all riders and trainers against you ! I remember talking with an Olympic rider president of the IDRC about this idea, and the answer was immediate : “it’s enough pressure to compete in dressage, don’t put one more when we have to warm up and prepare our horses” ! That’s why a reinforcement of the role of the stewards to apply the existing rules is also a change that has to be considered now, as mentioned in the FEI action plan presented last Monday at the Sport Forum.

At the end of your interview, the proposal of new categories makes me happier. Thinking out of the box is surely the best way to promote our sport !

As a conclusion, when I received this morning your article "Have the scores gone down ?" it seems that you already have prepared the FEI and the dressage stakeholders for some of the changes mentioned as questions in my article. Good news ! I do hope that you will have enough strength and influence to implement these changes in the coming years, and I would be happy, as far as I can, to support these efforts !

by Bernard Maurel   

Related Links
IDOC: "Have the Scores Gone Down? Maybe They Have"
Christian Landolt: "Time to Empower and Professionalise the Officials"
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"
Dinja van Liere on Streaming the Warm-Up: "We are put under a magnifying glass which is undermining the entire sport"