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April 17, 2012

The IDTC Meeting At Newmarket: Degree Of Difficulty

Catherine Haddad Staller enjoys a punt tour of the River Cam during the IDTC meeting. Photo by Esther Tacken.

Dear Rita,

Occasionally dressage trainers get together to do something fun and a little less serious than the circles in the sand that fascinate us nearly every day.

If you are so lucky as to be a member of the International Dressage Trainers Club, you have the opportunity to do something fun with your fellow trainers at least once a year during the annual meeting in April. This year’s meeting was held in the famous little town of Newmarket in Great Britain.

Now Newmarket is not particularly known for its dressage horses. Newmarket is a racing town, through and through. The British Jockey Club has its offices, a museum and a school in Newmarket. The British National Stud, numerous flat racing yards and a few steeplechasing yards as well are all found nestled within and around the town—not to mention a collection of training and racing tracks that would raise the blood pressure of any self-respecting Thoroughbred that got them in his sights.

Linda Keenan, administrator of the IDTC, arranged tours of the National Stud and the nearby city of Cambridge for our group. We enjoyed a wonderful punt tour of the River Cam, dined in one of the hallowed halls of the University, and got to spend the next morning watching the training gallops as the sun rose over Newmarket.

Have a look, Rita:

David Hunt, President of the IDTC and our representative to the FEI Dressage Committee, presided over the short meeting that followed our days of fun in Newmarket.

Can you guess, Rita, the subject of our discussion? I can’t escape it: Judging the degree of difficulty in the freestyle test!

“O” Judges Katrina Wuest (Germany) and Stephen Clarke (Great Britain) did a presentation for the IDTC on the current status of the degree of difficulty score in the freestyle. They discussed how the judging of that mark could be and should be improved. The real difficulty in the matter appears to be agreeing on what is actually difficult.

One-handed riding was discussed, and the trainers generally commented and agreed that the riders rarely receive a reward on the degree of difficulty score for riding with one hand even if they pull it off without error. Since one-handed riding is normally a crowd pleaser, everyone at the meeting thought such risks should be encouraged in the freestyle.

Katrina Wuest has pushed for years to get riders to submit their choreographies before the freestyle so that the judges could determine degree of difficulty before the test and give the appropriate marks if the horse and rider actually pull off the plan on that day. I am starting to come around a bit to this kind of thinking. I would love to know what points the judges will reward me with if I take the risk and perform without error W’s tempi change combination in the Pink freestyle—one handed. Why take the risk if there is no reward?

All the trainers were polled about specific movements at the end of the meeting, and the results of the survey look like this:

Results of Degree of Difficulty Survey
Respondents, International Dressage Trainers Club: Newmarket Meeting

  • Exceeding requirements for one-tempis, piaffe and passage was seen to increase the degree of difficulty only slightly.
  • Piaffe pirouettes greater than 180 degrees were seen as difficult, and a pirouette with a change of direction was very difficult.
  • Passage half-pass is modestly difficult, whereas a zigzag passage half-pass is thought to be very difficult.
  • Changes on a curved line are seen as a modest increase in difficulty as are pirouettes greater than 360 degrees.
  • Reins in one hand on a straight line increase the difficulty somewhat, however it is thought to be very difficult if flexion and bend are required.

The following direct combinations are listed in order of difficulty:

MOST Difficult

  • canter half-pass→piaffe→canter-half-pass
  • canter pirouette→piaffe pirouette
  • passage half-pass→piaffe→passage half-pass
  • direct linking of two-tempis and one-tempis
  • piaffe from halt or other gait

SOMEWHAT Difficult

  • pirouette→tempis→pirouette
  • extended canter → pirouette
  • trot half-pass→passage half-pass→trot half-pass
  • halt→passage
  • halt→piaffe

This is more food for thought, Rita. At least we continue to discuss, define, restructure and improve our judging system. Kudos to that!

I’m Catherine Haddad, and I’m sayin’ it like it is from a training clinic at Tigchelaar Stables in Hanover, Virginia.

Training Tip of the Day: Try bridging your reins to stabilize the flexion in pirouette work—both walk and canter. Correct only with your seat and leg after you have stabilized the neck. See what you learn!

InternationalDressage.com