Last week the FEI revealed its revised FEI Grand Prix tests as well as the addition of two more in the newly created 'medium tour' that will be put in place. Right now these medium tour tests are called the 'Intermediate A' and 'Intermediate B', but those names are not set in stone. The small tour tests, namely the Prix St Georges and the I-I will not have any changes, so rest easy those of you currently showing with either of those. If you would like to take a look at the new test click here. Overall I like the restructuring of the FEI tests. In my mind it is a more logical climb to Grand Prix. Right now, at least in southern California, we are busting at the seams with great horse and rider pairings at the small tour. It is not unusual to have a dozen horses in a PSG Open class, which is wonderful.
Theoretically, most of these horses are ones that have the potential to move up the levels and into this newly created medium tour, and then possibly into the large tour. But before the common practice was to finish at I-I, skip over I-II and when your horse was ready, enter into the Grand Prix. This left the I-II test in the lurch, in a no man's land without a goal, for there is no end game within the I-II. In the small tour, you have your basic shows moving toward qualifying for the Pan Am Games and then possibly representing your country. In the large tour, there is no shortage of ways to aspire toward prominent representation, be it the World Equestrian Games, Aachen, the Masters, the European Championships or the Olympics. This new medium tour will have the potential to be a gate way into the CDIs, which is great for horses who for whatever reason cannot move up to the Grand Prix. As well, if the medium tour comes up with the same build toward larger competitions, it will give athletes incentives to stay their horses at this level.
Another change within these tests is the emphasis on the piaffe. The way the they have built these new 2014 tests uses the piaffe (and to a lesser extent the one tempis) as the touchstone movement for charting your horse's progress from the medium tour up into the Grand Prix. It starts with the Intermediate A and B, allowing the piaffe (at this stage essentially half steps) to travel two meters. In the Intermediate 2 it narrows the distance specifically to one meter and then within the Grand Prix the distance is not stated in the test, but ground cover should be very limited, with absolutely no backward steps, still showing a clear forward desire. They also specify the number of steps they want seen (12-15). In these new tests is a greater weight within the scoring, with the piaffe becoming a double coefficient in the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special, literally doubling its value in the test.
This is going to have an effect not only on the athletes moving through the FEI levels, but also the judges. Right now there is a tendency amongst some horse and rider combinations to favor collection and forward mobility at the expense of ground cover, aka they cover more ground to better allow for the impulsion and forward desire. Steffen Peter's and Legolas spring to mind, who while having many beautiful elements to their piaffe, are routinely covering around a meter of ground, sometimes more, which would put them in the Intermediate 2 criteria of ground cover. As a bystander, this is something that I never minded because there were so many other beautiful things happening, but now that the FEI has set up these tests with the distance more specifically being narrowed as the horse and rider combinations climb the levels, and with the movements weighted more heavily, how with that affect scoring?
I suppose that time will tell. A good piaffe has so many elements to it physically within the horse, it would be a shame if some of those were lost because we all feel the urge to break out a ruler at every piaffe movement. At the same time, the greater the distance traveled, the more the difficulty of the movement is evaded and that is something that will be ringing in people's minds when watching the Grand Prix as the medium tour becomes more developed. It will be interesting to see how this plays out as the medium tour matures and the distinction between a 'small tour', 'medium tour' and 'large tour' horse become more concrete in the dressage community's minds.