I'm just back from the AIRC Festival and I had a fantastic time. It's one of the horsey highlights of the year and I make a big effort to go when I can. Nothing quite beats surrounding yourself with other horsey people and chatting into the early hours of the morning about everything equestrian (with a few cheeky alcoholic beverages!). For the most part, I love the riding club and have encouraged a good few people to join. It's such a good organisation for any amateur rider and allows you to compete at some lovely venues and avail of affordable training with some top coaches. Just like many other organisations it does have a few niggling issues that need to be dealt with. (All screenshots are taken directly from their 2017 rulebook)
The problem? The large volume of riders staying at levels far below their current true ability and skill. These riders constantly win at lower levels and refuse to move up. To be fair, there are no incentives to move up unless you want to push yourself. I understand that it's very hard going from winning and getting prizes every week to moving up a level and coming away with nothing. The mentality of ''Why should I move up if I'm winning?'' seems to be common nationwide.
This issue is rampant amongst both the showjumpers and dressage riders, although the dressage riders are the guiltier of the two. Showjumpers seem to have a different mentality and want to move up the levels and jump bigger but the dressage riders seem to sit at their grade and refuse to move up - even though they and their horse have the ability! This is particularly common in the Advanced Primary and Inter levels.
To be fair the association they have tried to ensure riders are competing at a grade that is suitable to them. They brought in dressage guidelines and also changed the rules.
While they have to be commended for introducing this rule and trying to deal with this problem what really irritates me is that they don't apply their new rules to their own organisation, unless you are competing at national level. For example, if you score 60% riding a Prelim level test on 3 occasions (or the equivalent points!) in Dressage Ireland you are forced to move up. However, if you score the same or higher at an AIRC affiliated show, riding a prelim level test, you are not required to move up and can stay competing and winning indefinitely. At the festival I saw scores of 80%+ at Advanced Primary level! While grading officer can suggest they move up many riders say they are not ready and continue sit at their current grade. It's important to note that AIRC affiliated dressage shows usually use a listed judge - the same judges who judge in Dressage Ireland.
|Surely moments are implied to be just a few strides - not the entire test. It's far too common to see AP level horses ride their entire test on the bit and have a proper contact.|
The AIRC then went one step further and brought in the above rule. They didn't backdate this rule, so now many riders have openly said they will compete on a year on/year off basis to get round this rule. Additionally if they come 1st one year and 2nd the next will they be allowed to stay at their current grade?
I believe one solution would be to record riders scores at inter club shows. This will mean additional manpower but perhaps it could be done on a regional basis? I believe the fairest system would to have a % cut off point and if that is reached 5 times within a 2 year window then the rider should upgrade. If you are getting good scores in dressage then surely you're ready to move up? This would in turn increase the number of AI/O/AO riders we have and allow those competing at P/AP/I to compete against people of a similar level.
This, of course, is just my two cents and I'm sure others will feel differently. There is no denying that the problem of 'grade sitting' is a nationwide problem, I've had friends from different regions say it and it's even been brought up at regional meetings but nothing has been done. We are given grades to ensure we are competing against riders of similar ability and skill and so we are not competing 'out of our depth'. I'm sure some people will suggest that If I'm not happy in the riding club that I should leave - On the contrary. The riding club itself is fantastic and I encourage anyone to join! But this appears to be its achilles heal and something that could, potentially, be solved so easily.
I'd love to hear from other about what they think could be done or how this could be solved. If you do not want to comment on my facebook page then please facebook private message or Email me. Really interested in hearing other peoples thoughts on this :)