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Begging for Improvement

Unless you live under a rock at this point you have, at the very least, heard of the Shelley Browning / West Coast Dressage Festival fiasco.  I was one of the many ‘blessed’ to witness the so called “Friday ride” before it was removed from nearly every corner of the internet.  This ride I’m referring to is not to be confused with the Thursday ride that although appalling, was unfortunately significantly better than the one I had the pleasure of witnessing.  For those of you who do live under rocks, I’m referring to a video from the Live Stream, showcasing unfair use of the whip and spurs, which was/is being supported by the FEI/WCDF and provided proof that you can’t buy talent… well, in some ways you can I suppose because lets be real – that horse was sent from the Heavens; talk about tolerable.  As Mrs Browning kicked, yanked, whipped and couldn’t seem to find her seat for the life of her, her horse did his absolute best to do his job and though he did give a few measly “hey, stop that” protests to her one-hand-on-the-reins use of the whip mid-test multiple times and embedded spurs, she got off far too easy.  I would have had an express trip to Sand Town if I tried half that stuff on my horse, I guarantee it.

Now, I would like to pull some information and media from Erica at Writing of Riding to reference.  For those of you who are still on the fence, or perhaps leaning to side with some within the industry who have made recent statements that I will mention later, review her post.  Even if you’ve read it already, please check it again because she was able to secure a copy of her Friday ‘ride’ that was attempted to be wiped off the internet. She also has provided a ton of fantastic research and rulings that are a great read. (Thanks Erica!)

Disgusted? Confused? Disappointed? Me too.  While I am not one to jump on the wagon of Keyboard Warriors, this ‘ride’ made me sick. I’ll be honest, the first time I saw it, I didn’t finish the entire test. I cringed for that horse, and I pondered the literal shit-storm about to rain down on Mrs Browning.  While I wouldn’t wish a mob of angry online-estrians on anyone, roughly 75% of the Equine Community is outraged.  Over the past week or so, the other 25% have peaked out from their piles of ribbons and other winnings to voice their opinions in support of Mrs Browning’s ride and spin it to the Internet Bullying epidemic.  Ironic? 

I am acquaintances with one person in particular who has access to some lovely horses and is a fairly nice rider but seems to feel as though she’s far more advanced than she is, and with that comes a sense of arrogance and entitlement.  She has made a few statements on her various Social Media accounts backing up Mrs Browning’s ride, and how disappointed she is with the Internet Bullying.  While the Internet Bullying in general terms is a disappointing thing that has likely affected many of us at one point or another, let’s set one thing straight. This is not Internet Bullying, this is Horse Welfare Advocacy.  Plain and simple.

I loved the statement Erica made, “The Dressage Community Has Failed”.  While the 25%, including some respectable professionals, are spinning this around to imply the Internet Bullying coming from within the Dressage Community is to blame, get real.  At what point, at any level of riding, is this okay?  At what point, is this type of riding to better the horse? At what point did Dressage sway from striving to look elegant and effortless?  Again I feel the need to reiterate how little this has to do with bullying, and everything to do with horse welfare and the sport I love and cherish.  More than Mrs Browning herself, shame on her trainer and double shame on the industry for allowing anyone to think this was even remotely acceptable.  Mrs Browning is truly, in my opinion, a victim of a flawed system and skewed trainer who clearly hasn't even taken the time to explain the rules to her student otherwise at the very least i'm *sure* she wouldn't have saluted the judges with her whip hand...

Words from Mr Axel Steiner

Dressage Lost --- Bullies Won
Because of the bullying we all witnessed on FB and other sites, WCDF management has decided NOT to stream video for the show this week. Unfortunately some fine amateur riders did not want to show in the big arena fearing "shredding" by the cyber bullies. These riders would win praise from 99.9% of all viewers, but they are unfortunately scared by the nasty .1%. I can understand their fear of this new enemy in our midst. I personally can't fathom the ugliness displayed in recent days by people supposedly interested in our sport. For this week they have killed the enjoyment of thousands of viewers eagerly awaiting the next streaming videos showcasing our beautiful sport. What is next?"
- Axel Steiner, January 30 2018 on Facebook

I want to address this for a moment and Mr Steiner, if by some snowballs chance you stumble across this I want to say, all my life I have only had the utmost respect for you… but really??  

While I recognize there is always a handful of riders, often of the crunchy variety, hiding beyond their computer screens slamming those trying their best (IE the ‘true’ Keyboard Warriers in my opinion), this is not the same as someone still learning and advancing with a few bad habits, or someone on a green or nervous horse.  This is an unfortunate excuse for a ‘ride’ that should have been stopped, and in no way is even remotely relative to the average amateur rider you speak of showing at an appropriate level.  While I would be lying if I didn’t have the odd thought cross my mind over the years seeing a flawed pair come across my computer screen, but I always ask myself “would s/he be better suited to a level or two lower?”  The answer has always been “yes”… but this is not the case with Mrs Browning's 'ride'.  To be honest, I can’t even imagine seeing her produce a smooth test at First Level.  But let me be clear – That is FINE, as long as you OWN it!!  We all have things to improve on and I realize I would probably flop just as much with that much horse underneath me; but would I yank, kick, whip and showcase the evident entitlement she feels with INTENT? Absolutely not.  I would be rightfully embarrassed, and choose to learn from it rather than punish those advocating for change.

When did we become so greedy and develop such an expectation to deserve something from our horses? Last I checked they were still 800++ lb’s with a mind of their own, and I have always been firm in my opinion that until we, as riders, are as good as our horses, we have very little right to be so sharp with them.  Often when we do decide to be sharp with our horses they comply; yet when our horses are sharp with us, we punish. Why is this?
Self Righteous Entitlement; and we’re all victims of it.

A little discrepency has been exposed between Mr Steiner’s initial post, and the official statement released by the West Coast Dressage Festival which followed, reads as:

"Our live stream has quickly become a beacon for our series and for the equestrian community.  We chose to stream our large production to Facebook Live in order to give everyone the opportunity to be a part of West Coast Dressage in a way that was also free.  We have spent that last two shows trying different techniques to fine tune our life stream in conjunction with scheduling and guidelines of a show this size. AWCDF 1 saw only one day streamed and then we bumed ACWDF 2 to stream all three days.

We have chosen not to stream this week in order to make improvements to the stream for our final show.

We are so happy to see how passionate everyone is about the live stream and how much they love it. We cannot wait to have it back better than ever starting on Thursday, February 14th, 2018 and Friday, February 16th, 2018 with Axel Steiner commentating.  We will be streaming the international ring with both national and international levels all through those two days.

Never fear though, we will not leave you completely out of the action this week! We will have our live stream of the FEI jog tomorrow, January 31st, 2018 at 4 pm PST and live interviews and videos for you to tune in!

Thank you for all the support of the equine and human competitors and of course of the festival!"

So essentially they are not showcasing the Amateur’s which lines up with Mr Steiner’s post, however there is no mention of their reluctance being the reason it’s removed and I’m curious to see if their ‘improvements’ will include a removal of the chat log. Regardless, in my opinion this is a fancy statement tricking the unsuspecting viewer but the reality is, they are censoring the event because of the so called “bullying” that has taken place in respect to Mrs Browning’s ‘ride’.  In turn they are directly rewarding bad behavior and closing the curtain on the public to hide the lack of integrity and horsemanship that has been brought to light.

Getting Better!

While I realize and have accepted the fact that my desire for Competitive Dressage to be re-established as it once was is a lost cause and like everything it must evolve, but this type of riding is unacceptable even for the modern-day Dressage trainer.  Those on a ‘plain moving’ but correct horse by the standards set forth, even under a gorgeous rider, will never breach 70% and that is the sad truth and was made disgustingly apparent when Shelley’s rides initially secured scores above those with far smoother rides on more ‘plain’ horses.  When the Equine Community lit their pitchforks her scores were stripped and she was disqualified and for what – because she put both reins in 1 hand to use her whip? Puh-lease.. that was just the cherry on top of a very distasteful cake.
Not perfect but still better!

This post is not to be mistaken for someone trying to rain on a fellow equestrian.  I tried to go through the video and snag some stills that were relatively decent (see above), and though I struggled I did find a few that I thought were big improvements from the others.. Shelley, if you're reading this.. take this situation for what it is. Remember - we do not lose, we learn.  Find a new trainer who truly cares about you, give your horse buckets of cookies, and persevere.  You can do it!

 On the record, I will likely NEVER compete at the level of Mrs Browning simply due to finances and lifestyle choices, but this is in no way, shape or form, Internet Bullying.  We are the voice of the 99%, begging for improvement from the FEI and other professionals in the industry.


  1. So true. This ride was so incredibly hard to watch and while I also acknowledge that I'd be unable to ride a horse of that talent, I can't fathom acting in such a way. That horse is clearly both physically and mentally talented since he somehow had the restraint required to not launch her to the stars. I'm very disappointed with the reception of the remarks from online. Clearly the issue isn't with the horse community critiquing amateurs in general as much as it is with being strong enough to make the right decision when behavior like this is viewed and nothing it done about it. The can't be asked to be accountable if the general public is unaware there is something to be accountable for...

    1. Absolutely! It's incredibly disappointing that we are all taught the guidelines and principals set forth by those who 'run' these types of things, yet when push comes to shove, those guidelines aren't truly followed. Regardless, my concern isn't so much with Mrs Browning's riding but rather in how she and those around her handled the situation, and the shocking amount of expectation on her part, when she does nothing to help the horse.

  2. I personally think the pitchfork and torches crew should be gunning for the professionals in her life (trainers, judges, stewards etc) who let her get this far in this way. They are the gatekeepers after all and they failed her as not only a client, but also a rider. I support SH Productions right to not livestream the events. First of all livestreaming isn't cheap and offering that for free is a boon to the community. She is a powerful person and she could ruin the people who put on this event because of other people's behavior online.

    1. I definitely agree L, and as I said in the post I just hope Mrs Browning can learn from it - which is very hard to do when you have been personally attacked. It's only natural to be defensive, but she has been cheated by the aforementioned professionals. I also agree Scott has done a fabulous job promoting things and while I was disappointed to see the stream taken down (because dressage > work) but can see their reasoning be hind it.


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