The Journey to the 2016 Rio Olympics Continues - The 73% Strategy

by Heath Ryan | January 28, 2016

13th August, 2015

So far we have been dealing with the riders and horses starting to make an  impression on the top level competitions which will interest the Australian selectors when it comes to selecting an Australian Dressage team and an Australian Eventing team. At first glance an outside observer would be excused for thinking that this is a simple process and you simply select the first four place getters in the final selection trial just before the Olympic Games. Well for those of you who have been following the articles for the last few months in the Equestrian Life magazine you would be starting to get an insight into the complexities of getting accurate competition results. In the dressage discipline report in last months Equestrian Life, one of the biggest and most important shows in Australia, the Sydney CDI, produced a very questionable set of results through the use of judges who were perhaps not representative of the quality of judges who will be used at the Olympics. As a result the judging struggled remarkably to find consistency and agree on scores and placings. Indeed the field of competitors and riders at this major competition on May 8th, 9th and 10th was the best collection Australia has ever seen and the competition was fierce. This aspect of the Sydney CDI competition was very exciting. The judging on the other hand was the worst that I have ever seen with each of the five judges in the Grand Prix selecting a different winner. Australia’s most capped Olympic dressage rider Mary Hanna had one judge placing her first and another placing her 17th! Nearly every rider had a similar discrepancy. As a dressage rider we would be very concerned if a judge was to vary by more than four places in a competition for one rider. Also, because these judges were not confident we saw the winning scores being considerably lower than the scores being posted by these riders in competitions leading up to the CDI. The scores are very important in qualifying horses and riders for the Rio Olympics and also in letting the rest of the world recognise that Australia is a nation with a rising star. Especially in the subjective areas of competition like dressage big scores cannot be posted without there being a big expectation. Judges who are expecting to judge at the Rio Olympics will already be watching the dressage results on the internet from all the international dressage competitions all over the world (Sydney CDI is an International dressage competition). This poor judging performance at the Sydney CDI did Australia more harm than you would think. The Olympic dressage judges for Rio will certainly have registered these lower scores and in their minds recognise that the Australian riders are not contenders for respectable scores at the forth coming Olympics. This in itself will impact on our scores no matter how well we perform at Rio. The winner of the Grand Prix at the Sydney CDI was Brett Parbery riding  DP Weltmieser with a score of 69.56%. We had expected maybe 3 or 4 riders to go through 70%. The winning score at the Rio Olympics next year is expected to be between 85-90%. We are not yet ready to challenge for medals however realistically I do believe we are closing the gap. Sydney CDI however did not help illustrate the fact that we are improving. It actually did the opposite.  We need to get our house in order. The other problem with this poor judging performance is that it inflicts faulty results into the selection program and ultimately has the potential to influence a team for Australia to be selected for Rio which is not our best team. Competition results from our big International shows are part of our selection mechanism. For instance many of us have a schedule which allows us to get through a lot of work in a day efficiently. This is how many of us make a living. Running to a schedule is absolutely critical. The mechanism that allows us to maintain the schedule is our watch which keeps us all on time. If the mechanism is inaccurate (The watch stops or loses time) then the whole system collapses and pandemonium breaks loose. Well the judging results are a mechanism for the Australian Olympic selection process. These results are absolutely critical for the correct Australian team to be selected and the correct riders to be qualified for selection.  If these judging results are inaccurate then the Australian riders and their massive effort towards the Rio Olympics does crash into pandemonium. The selection process is seriously compromised and the Australian focus is thrown into disarray. I cannot begin to tell you how driven all of these top riders are at this point of time in terms of preparing for the Rio Olympics. None of these riders will have an easy nights sleep for the next year. How did I train today? Are we making progress? Was our horse hinting at being a little tired? Should we do a light day tomorrow? If I push harder and train longer in the piaffe passage section of the daily workout routine will that ultimately contribute to a more even presentation of these movements in the test? Keeping in mind that soundness and happiness of mind is 100% critical for Olympic performances is the daily routine at the moment too tough? And so the questions for tomorrow and the torturous reviews of what has just been are relentless. Tossing and turning and no sleep is the prospect for all top riders from now until the Rio Olympics are finished. Pure torture. And whats more, if you come up with the wrong answers to those questions that roll through your mind at night you either become one of the losers who didn’t quite reach a high enough standard or your horse sustains a sports injury or loses confidence and the training program comes to a sudden set back and sometimes to a sudden end. This is no time to make a mistake. So I do understand that the judges are without question doing their best, however right now, to be part of the Australian program we do need a judges best shot to be in keeping with Olympic standards. To expose our riders to less at this moment in time is seriously disrespectful.

So who are the Olympic judges for the dressage discipline? The FEI has announced the long list from which the members of the Ground Jury officiating at the Rio 2016 Olympic Dressage events will be drawn.

The 12 highly experienced 5* judges that make up the long list are Maribel Alonso (MEX), Susanne Baarup (DEN), Stephen Clarke (GBR), Annette Fransen-Iacobaeus (SWE), Andrew Gardner (GBR), Peter Holler (GER), Isabelle Judet (FRA), Thomas Lang (AUT), Gary Rockwell (USA), Francis Verbeek (NED), Eddy de Wolff van Westerrode (NED), and Katrina Wüst (GER).

Maribel Alonso has now been appointed as President of the Ground Jury. The Jury’s remaining six members and reserves will be determined by a draw conducted at the FEI Headquarters in Lausanne (SUI) under the supervision of the FEI Legal Department.

All judges must be from different nationalities. Each time a jury member is drawn, the remaining candidates that share the same nationality will be automatically eliminated.

The draw will take place one year before the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. So the actual seven judges for the Rio Olympics are about to be decided.

At the moment our top Australian dressage riders are becoming more comfortable at scoring 70%. Equestrian Australia (EA) has promised the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) that we will finish in the top 8 teams at Rio. To do that our team will need to score 73% or better. The Australian Sports Commission is responsible for something like 52% of all EA funding. In other words the future funding for all of our riders for the future depends upon the Australian teams performing well. The eventing team has promised a team medal, the para dressage riders have promised a medal and the Australian dressage team has promised to finish in the top 8 teams. Certainly I will deal with the other disciplines in later Equestrian Life issues but right now the question is how the heck is the Australian dressage team going to score 73%??? As of right this moment  it is every rider for themselves and there is no funding and so each rider has to drive themselves independently towards that 73%. Now money is not everything however in my opinion we do need clear strategies and innovative strategies. Sometimes a strategy does need funding to make work however it is my experience that money made available before the strategy will be spent  carelessly without anything to show for it in time to come. Strategy first! I do think the high performance arm of the EA should take ownership of making sure that the Olympic judges become part of our judging panel at our international ranked shows between now and the Olympics. The high performance dressage director Julia Battams did start collating all the Grand Prix dressage results and working out where each rider had a consistent low score. For instance some riders find the canter pirouette difficult and consistently score 5’s where they actually score 7’s and 8’s for piaffe and passage. So the high performance arm of the EA can then approach that rider and ask if there is anything they can do to help with the canter pirouettes. Sometimes helping is not actually that difficult however just having the focus to know exactly where that help is needed is indeed very difficult. So I think this program, which does not need massive funding at all, needs to be reinstated and then developed ASAP. Now I would like to put it to all the readers, do you have an idea that you think has the potential to positively push the Australian team score towards 73%. That is truly a frightening big step in the next 12 months. How the hell are we going to make 73%?? Keep in mind that funding for all of our future up and coming riders does depend on our Australian dressage team doing this. I would encourage all Australians to give this some thought. If you have a good thought then please remember that these top dressage riders are at the moment going through hell. Life is just one driven world of pain. Please pick up a pen and write your thoughts down as clearly as you possibly can. Some of the best thoughts are actually simple and will require very little funding. Operating at this top level does tend to be an expression of accuracy. Never the less if you have a really grand plan that is going to take considerable funding let us hear it. If you have stumbled across or brainstormed an idea that could revolutionize the sport we are desperate to hear. Funding is something that can always be found if you have the right project. Please send your 73% strategy to the editor of Equestrian Life address PO Box 8677, Armadale, VIC 3143, Australia or e-mail   

The big dressage drive towards 73%! Come on Australia let’s hear what you’ve got.