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‘I’m placing my cash the place my mouth is’

  • Successful British grand prix rider and dressage trainer Anna Ross discusses the importance of gaining qualifications in sport

    I START this column by correcting my last. I mentioned that there was no professional dressage riding exam in the UK, making it difficult to define ourselves as qualified professional people. But the British Horse Society (BHS) now offers a dressage-specific coaching pathway. This includes riding which, if passed alongside the other sections, means one carries the title of stage five performance dressage coach BHSI.

    It’s quite new and I wanted to know what it’s about, so I’m taking the exam, which is rebranded as an assessment.

    I reached BHSI stable manager level 25 years ago, but I didn’t complete the riding section as it was a multi-discipline exam, and I am the most spectacularly untalented jump jockey. I had no desire to do it and doubted that anyone else wished to witness my graceless attempts, so I bowed out at that point and cracked on with my competitive dressage career.

    I’m super-interested to see what being a qualified dressage rider in the UK entails, so I’m putting my money where my mouth is and taking the exam.

    There is also the coaching element to the pathway. I’m an experienced trainer, having coached at every major championship including the Olympics, so I’m looking forward to seeing what is actually involved in taking a high-level coaching exam.

    David Sheerin FBHS from Wellington Riding is going to mentor me, so I intend to blame him if I fail. But, luckily, I’m already confident in the key areas of “pretending not to be in the bathroom on a sales call” and “ethical use of training gadgets on overexcited supporters”, so his job will be a breeze really.

    A level playing field

    DO we need exams or should our results speak for themselves? Competition results are a less reliable way to judge a rider’s skills than exams, as it depends how the results are gained. Clearly, if someone has trained multiple grand prix horses from scratch, it’s safe to assume they know what they are doing.

    Riding a schoolmaster requires a different skill set to training horses yourself, although it can be difficult, too, to find harmony with a ready-trained horse.

    I know fantastic riders who have not had the opportunity to compete, and less skilled ones who have ridden high-level dressage on schoolmasters – and vice versa.

    Exams offer a level playing field and could provide talented riders who lack horsepower an opportunity to shine and prove their skills. This exam could be a great way for those without a lot of resources to be taken seriously, similar to the Bereiter apprenticeship in Germany, and take the qualification forward
    to employers.

    With the amount of over-exaggerated waffle written on social media these days, laypeople looking for a coach need the detective skills of Miss Marple to find someone suitable, if there are no qualifications they can look up.

    Many people will say, “I don’t care about qualifications,” but without a competition record, how should potential clients or employers measure ability? It will be interesting for me, as an employer of many riders, to see if this exam reflects the skills that I look for.

    Your Love Island correspondent

    AS H&H’s self-appointed Love Island correspondent, I am pleased to report that dressage rider Gemma Owen is representing our sport with great aplomb on this risqué stage.

    So far, she has daringly shared that she believes in family values, has found a “connection” with one boy, looked great in her swimwear collection and had a nice feature in OK! magazine with lots of her fellow international dressage rider friends.

    For those who may be concerned, I think the reputation of British dressage is safe enough.

    • Do you think coaches should have to pass an exam? Let us know at

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 14 July

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