Toto, We’re Not In Dressage-Land Anymore, Presented by Wahl

As is such with policy and rule changes from the FEI, the eventing dressage co-efficient removal for 2018 caused its share of waves online, as followers scrambled to understand the effect the change would have on the sport. Now that we’ve gotten the first marquee event of the year, the Land Rover Kentucky CCI4* Three-Day Event, under our belts, it’s clear that the days of dressage domination and – dare we say – the uptick in heavier-bodied, dressage style movers may already be seeing their dusk.

Grizzled worshippers of the long-format event and its lean, strong Thoroughbreds can take a bit of solace now. The removal of the coefficient has kicked off a new era of less dependence on a dressage winner to cross both sets of finish flags sans penalties, particularly in the CIC format events. Those with a positive outlook on life may see this as a step in the right direction for the preservation of eventing in its true form, rather than inviting a shortened version that would favor the dressage horses and their scoring ability.

Savannah ‘Woodge’ Fulton and Captain Jack, a 15-year-old OTTB, moved up from 44th after dressage to 23rd overall at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event – Photo JJ Sillman

The intent of the removal, according to the FEI, was “to address risk management issues through rebalancing the importance of cross-country skills.” In other words, this was an effort by the FEI to promote proper cross-country training, removing the ability to rely on a dressage horse to secure a lofty enough lead.

Taking a look at the numbers from recent FEI events, the change is noticeable, albeit small. The following examples are from the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event.

2018 Top Three after Dressage (coefficient removed):

Marilyn Little – 24.8

Michael Jung – 27.1

Chris Burton – 27.9

Penalty Point Spread: 3.1

2018 Top Three after Dressage (coefficient scoring):

Marilyn Little – 37.2

Michael Jung – 40.7

Chris Burton – 41.9

Penalty Point Spread: 4.7

Stripped bare, the removal of the coefficient had, in this case, removed even the allowance of a show jumping rail from Marilyn Little in order for her to retain the lead – never mind any jump penalties or more than 7.8 seconds of time on cross-country. Of course, the former coefficient scoring allowed little more room for error, though the gap was narrowed.

At the end of the weekend, the point spread, while lower than similar events with coefficient scoring, was not markedly different from previous years. However, the observation can still be made that the point spread is trending downward with the removal of the coefficient.

This weekend, some of the best of the UK and European circuits (as well as a smattering of North Americans) compete at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, and here after two days of dressage we see another example: 20 penalty points separated positions 1-65 (out of 78) after the first phase. By comparison, 20 penalties or less separated positions 1-57 in 2017, with a similar number of entrants. Again – not a huge difference, but still worth noting.

For all intents and purposes, it appears the scoring change is doing its job: providing a leaderboard without inflated margins after one phase of competition.

Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class finished on their dressage score of 28.7 penalties to win the competition – Photo Rolex

Devil’s advocates may argue that this change may encourage riders to focus too much on the boldness of cross-country, while letting the flatwork fundamentals wither a bit. A difference of a few seconds on cross-country may prompt an otherwise conservative rider to make bolder decisions to save seconds. Time will tell whether or not this potential risk comes to fruition, but taking the example of Derek di Grazia’s course in Kentucky last weekend, with an 83.7 percent completion rate, it appears there are at least many riders who are still conscious of responsible riding.

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