As the dressage phase finished at Badminton, two time Badminton and one time Burghley winner Jane Holderness-Roddam CBE spoke to Niki Hinman about the ‘bette noir’ that is dressage, the value of smiling down the centre line, and reflects on the change in cross country courses since her day.
West Kington based Jane is one of the World’s leading eventing dressage judges, and admits that a nice smile from someone heading down the centre line is always welcome.
“Some do quite a cheeky smile,” she said. “Especially someone like Olly Townend. I think he thinks it will make a difference. But it doesn’t work with me Im afraid!’
She does admit that it is always worth a try and tells all her riders ‘for goodness sake smile at the judge.’
“There is nothing more soul destroying after a day in the box and some boot-faced person comes down the line. You don’t feel like giving them a good mark. So a nice smile makes a difference to me personally. It doesn’t necessarily change the marks but it puts me in a better mood.”
“You just love some horses. There is something about their whole expression. If they really look as if they are enjoying it and the rider is in total harmony that is such a pleasure to judge.”
“I’ve never judged at Badminton. I was asked once, but I wasn’t qualified, and they didn’t ask again. But I’d love too,” she said
But is she swayed in her marking by knowing the horse, or the rider and does she think any unconscious bias slips in to the judging?
“I like to think I don’t,” she said. “You should always judge what you see on the day. Some days you will see a horse do a fantastic test and another day not.
“What I find sometimes quite difficult is horses with what I call regular irregularities.
“When they do something like twitch their heads all the time or have a thing called string halt when they lift their hind leg up which can be quite disconcerting.
“At various intermediate trials it can be quite difficult as your mind tends to think ‘oh no not another six, and you think, please can someone come along and excite me. You want to give a good mark compared to endless sixes!”
“I have given a few tens in my time when something is just perfect. It’s is difficult to get total perfection so it’s exciting when you can give those marks.”
She came along to Badminton to support the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) for which she was chairman for nine years.
“I’ve also come to watch friends and family go round this rather difficult course, which is so much different from my day,” she said.
“It is so much more technical and so much better built and prepared. It was completely different in my day as it was much more of an endurance competition because you did the roads and tracks and steeplechases, and the course was around 16 miles, where as today it is under four miles but so much more technical.
“If I’d started my riding career now, I think I’d have had to have a much quicker brain than I was blessed with!.”
Jane’s equestrian career can only be described as epic.
Winning gold in team equestrian at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, winning Badminton in 1968 and 1978 and Burghley in 1976.
She has also penned around 20 books, and was Princess Anne’s lady in waiting for 30 years. She admits that dressage was her bette noir.
“It was my sister Jennie Loriston-Clarke who was the dressage expert,” she said. Jenny competed at four Olympics, 1972, 1976, 1984 and 1988.
“She trained me a lot in what I should be doing and how I should be doing it. So it was wonderful having her growing up with me five years younger. She just kept saying to me ‘sis – you’ve just got to concentrate on the basics.
She says in everything it is the basics that are so important and I think that is where people go wrong.
“If you can’t to a straight line and you can’t do a proper circle and you can’t do an evenly spaced serpentine you are always going to be at a disadvantage.
“I see it from a judges point of view all the time and again, that riders are so inaccurate with the way they ride. Even some of the top riders. I think why? Why do you give away those marks.
“Get the basics right so you get the best possible marks for that movement,
She says she has also noticed more and more riders getting their horses too round.
“A horse with its nose behind the vertical is incorrect so whatever fancy stuff you are doing beneath to me it will never be more than satisfactory. In fact it won’t be as there is a mark for satisfactory and not satisfactory. And unless you can get those basics right it doesn’t mater how fancy you look.”