So, answer this horrible little question. Be honest, now. Are you ready? OK, here goes—
How far down do you think you can be after the dressage phase of an event, and still have any reasonable hope of tearing around on a victory gallop, listening to “Chariots of Fire”, with a blue ribbon hanging from the bridle of your horse, while thousands cheer and genuflect at the sheer and utter magnificence of your equestrian skill?
There`s a saying that you can`t go cleaner than clean on cross country, that is, no jumping faults and no time faults.
There`s a saying that you can`t go cleaner than clean in stadium jumping, no rails, no quits, no time faults.
SO—–the winner, that exalted being at the front of the aforementioned victory gallop, is the rider who did not mess up either of the jumping phases, and who, amongst the other clean, fast jumpers, HAD THE HIGHEST DRESSAGE SCORE.
That`s the reality, isn`t it, fellow eventers, bad dressage, no ribbon, mediocre dressage, maybe a white or pink ribbon, while the good colored ribbons get scarfed up by the dressage mavens who can also jump.
So part of that is riding skill. We all know Jack Le Goff`s famous “Three Requirements” saying: “What are the three things you HAVE TO HAVE to be a good rider? 1. A good seat. 2. A good seat. 3. A good seat. Or, put another way, “Good riders don`t bounce.”
But say you don`t bounce. Say you can put a horse on the aids, put him “over his back and through”, say you can ride round circles, post on the correct diagonal, get your canter leads, all that stuff. What then tends to differentiate a 26.7 from a 38.5? The answer, so often, is the quality of the horse that you happen to be sitting on in front of that dressage judge. A horse that is quiet, rather than hot or nervous. A horse with an energetic walk, a slinky, elastic trot, a buoyant, uphill canter, self carriage, expression, marks of quality.
Sure, you may say, training and riding can make or break any horse, but get past that. Assume you can ride and train. The “fancier” horse will usually beat the plain or average horse. All evidence to the contrary, dressage judges are, actually, only human. They like lovely flowing gaits. They are entranced by physical beauty. As their black little (I didn`t really say that) hearts soar, so do the marks they hand out.
So buy or try to breed horses that are beautiful, fancy movers, with good “brains” that allow you to get at that movement. Hot horses don`t cut it, average movers are “Ho-Hum”, poor movers get fours and fives. If a mare is a poor mover, or if a stallion`s trot is just “OK”, and if you want Chariots of Fire to be your special song, don`t go there. It`s hard, hard, hard to play catch up after a bad dressage test. There are too many good riders out there these days to hope that they will all mess up, and let you sneak up from behind after dressage, like watching Secretariat in the Kentucky Derby. Better to be like Secretariat in the Belmont, go to the lead and stay there!!