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The Carriage Commentator

Antonio Rigamonti

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FEI World Championships for Young Horses in Szilvásvárad Hungary - August 2022

British Carriage Driving's Chairman, Andrew Counsell, was a judge and member of the ground jury at the recent Young Horse World Championships. He shares his thoughts about the event. Photos by kind permission of Krisztina Horvarth

Jessica Wachter with Best Buddy

Fifty-one horses from nine countries travelled to Szilvásvárad to compete in the FEI Young Horse World Championships. The championships are divided into three age groups – 5 year olds, 6 year olds and 7 year olds. Each of the age groups follows the same process but with increased challenges according to the age.

After the horse inspection to make sure all are ‘fit to compete’, the process starts with the qualification round for each turnout. The four judges all sit together and watch the series of movements in the form of a dressage test. Having the judges sit together allows for really good discussion around the way of going expected from the age range.  There are no marks for the driver, only the horse. The various tests can be found on the BC or FEI websites. Marks are given for

  • The walk, looking for:- rhythm, purpose, gaining ground, active hindquarters, freedom of the shoulder, stretching and relaxation.
  • Working trot, looking for :- Rhythm, impulsion, activity, swinging back over-tracking and balance.
  • Medium trot, looking for :-Rhythm, balance, impulsion, lengthening of the frame, and steps, covering the ground.

Each is marked out of ten and the mark is agreed between the four judges with comments also recorded to support the mark.

What is important is the education of the horse against the ‘training scale’ of contact, elasticity, bending, contact, obedience and suppleness.

Agnes Paulovics

The horses then go directly into a cones round with up to eight sets of cones in the same arena. It is timed to allow for a good rhythm. A mark is given for the flow, balance, bending, confidence. The last mark is given for overall impression and impression, harmony, and then for the performance, the suppleness and potential as a driving horse.

Both the walk and education carry a coefficient of *2. The marks are added together to give a final score out of ten. The top 50% progress to the final test and then the combined marathon. The remaining 50% can run again on the second day with only the top one or two progressing. The rest are out. The 3rd day is the final dressage test judged in the same way.

The key point is this is judged around the performance of the horse, not a series of dressage movements. It is really important to understand the training of the horse and what we look for (training scale).  It is refreshing to look at the horse according to age in this way and have a good discussion between colleagues. It is also important to understand how we train horses correctly giving them time to develop and mature.

The final combined marathon has two mobile obstacles and a set cones course in the main arena. The course for the 5 year olds is shorter with fewer obstacle gates.

Jessica Wachter with Ulf

This is all judged against four criteria:- Obedience, self-motivation, attitude and harmony, plus the perspective as a driving horse, and each are scored out of 10 with any faults being taken off the final score.  The time is set to allow for a forward thinking horse, covering the ground, being obedient, supple, bending and flowing forward.

The competition showed a great variety of horses and many different breeds. The important point being what the horse is doing, not its type. Clearly, some horses are born with more natural ability, movement and mental ability than others.

The 7 year old class ended up having eight horses in the final round. It is really interesting to see the difference between the ages. The final places changed with the American Leslie Berndl moving from third to second by just 0.13 of a mark. Her horse had improved day on day and went really well on the combined marathon.  The winner, however, was nearly three points apart and clearly demonstrated the skills required. It was good to see the horse bending with rhythm though the obstacles and cones.

The 6 year old class was in one way disappointing that some of the horses did not appear to have progressed significantly. However, head and shoulders above all was the fantastic gelding Dream Catcher driven by Jessica Wächter who had 5 horses in total at the event. The horse is by De Niro 6 and Emarla and did not only show outstanding movement, balance and obedience alongside metronomic movement and desire to go forwards, but did so in a calm and relaxed way, gaining several 10s over the week especially for the walk.

Dream Catcher

The 5 year olds had thirteen making to the last day with a variety of breeds and types being shown. This produced a very close finale with less than a mark covering the top six, who comprised, a Swiss Franches-Montagnes gelding, Hannoveraner, Oldenburger, KWPN and a Sachsen-Thuringen.  Others in the top ten included a Silesian (Polish) and a Friesian. I think this demonstrates the variety on view.  After four days, the Swiss horse took the honours by 0.5 of a mark.  Those who have seen Jerome Voutaz with his horse team of Freiburgers will be able to visualise the type. 

So ,over all a very special week looking at some amazing horses and really getting into the movement, training scale, and minds of some wonderful equines.  It is interesting to note that because the scores are on the horse not the driver no medals are given out. The next FEI Young Horse World Championships will be in France in 2023.