Talent Spotting – How it started
In 1984 Arnold Morgan, the husband of List 1 & FEI ‘O’ Int Judge Domini Morgan, suggested that she should find a way to give young people opportunities to show how much interest and talent they had for dressage, even if their parents were not able to buy them a trained horse to compete in the very few competitions of that era.
At first the committee were dubious, but eventually agreed that this idea could provide riders for the future and asked her to formulate a plan which, when publicised, would show whether there was enough interest. To everyone’s surprise, when the competition was announced in 1985 the dressage office received over 200 entries!In the first years, each rider could bring any horse, as long as it was sound, to one of several equestrian centres around the U.K., which were made freely available. After the welcome, they rode two at a time in front of the two assessors, both of whom had competed at a high level, some of them internationally.After watching them “riding in” for a few minutes, they asked each rider to show their horse in an easy Novice test which was commanded for them and, immediately afterwards, to come to the assessors and tell them what the horse had done well and what they had found difficult. The test was marked normally and marks were also awarded for the understanding and “feel” shown by the summing up. One rider from every ten riders was offered a free 2-day course the following spring, again with a current or former Advanced rider on the first day and joined on the second by another equally experienced assessor. Both gave their marks for an easy Novice test and for the summary of their performance, with the benefit of the advice they had received to help them. One rider from each course qualified for the Final later in the year: all riders were given some positive suggestions to work on. With enormous enthusiasm Pammy Hutton and her Mother, Molly Sivewright, generously provided Talland Equestrian Centre’s horses, which the competitors had never ridden, together with competition facilities, for many years. The same format was followed, albeit with a more difficult novice test, each rider riding 2 horses, After lunch, the 2 highest placed riders from the morning session each rode 2 trained horses and were asked to try some more difficult transitions and movements and, afterwards, to sum up the good points and any problems that had arisen to the two fresh assessors, who also were current or former Advanced competitors as well as top level judges. Prizes of training vouchers ensured that placed riders could continue to “iron out” any problems with little financial outlay. This system gave about 30 riders the chance to catch the eye of experts on 3 days and the last 8 on 4 occasions. It influenced the careers of Daniel Sheriff, who has produced many Advanced horses, of John Bowen, who has become a respected trainer, Joanna Jackson and Carl Hester, both of whom were given top horses to ride internationally and for whom many doors were opened. Paul Hayler who was narrowly beaten in the Final one year is also training and encouraging young riders himself.
For assessors, the amount of natural talent, and above all “feel” which was shown by riders who had had little or no tuition on inexperienced horses was an inspiration every year. Many people were surprised at how much it shone out.
In 1994 Ian Woodhead set up a Pony Spotting scheme similar to the Talent Spotting, for pony riders between 8-16 yrs riding ponies of 14.2hh & under. Riders who were ‘spotted’ at the days went straight through to the Final which was held at the Talland School of Equitation, but riders rode their own ponies, with the exception of one or two who were kindly lent to them by Talland.
A new format of the Talent Spotting scheme was introduced in 2002. This new format amalgamates all age groups with riders performing a special test that was specifically written for this purpose by Jane Kidd.
The age groups are from 10 – 16 yrs (riding ponies only), 14 -18 yrs, 18 – 21 yrs. The age groups are as close to F.E.I. levels as possible with the exception, that pony riders can take part at 10 yrs old rather than 12.
The British Dressage Supporters Club has been involved with Talent Spotting since its fruition and sponsor the training grants awarded to riders at the Final.
BDSC would be very happy to hear from any past Talent Spotters as to what they are doing now