Happy new year everyone! I know we are already a week into 2012 and 2011 is fading fast, but I am going to impose my top list for the past year on you anyway, for the reason expressed in the old Scots cliché that serves as this post’s title: for old time’s sake.  I actually came up with my highly unoriginal idea of a top list to wrap up 2011 as I lay in my hotel room in Eureka, CA* on December 31st digesting a Carl’s Jr. Burger (note to brother Matt: stick to Mcdonald’s)  and surfing dejectedly through channel after channel of top lists while searching in vain for anything that would inspire me televisually on the eve of the new year.  You could say I had my ‘eureka’ moment for this post while I was in the town of that very name.

So here is my top list which may or may not be my last words on the past year in the world of all things equine. This is not a top list in the traditional sense. I don’t adhere to any formula, nor do I use numbers. I’m going to stick simply to the events that I believe constitute the  best, worst, most or least  in a range of unrelated categories. I will start out positive, but I can’t promise it will end that way.

Most impressive sporting moment – dressage: hands down, it was the British conquest of the European Dressage Championships. If I had a category for most surprising sporting moment, this would be a finalist for that one, too. Adelinde’s stunning year – which included the World Cup title, individual gold at the Europeans,  and occupancy of the World Number one spot from July onward – must also be mentioned as the most impressive individual dressage achievement of 2011. But I still rank the British team gold, the first gold medal ever for Britain in a major international dressage championship, as the crowning dressage moment of the year. Not only does it represent the emergence of another nation as a dressage power (tally ho! We’re doing Dréss-aj) but it introduced us to a couple of the hottest tickets in emerging stars: Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro and Uthopia, Carl Hester’s Euro Champs dancing partner. Wowee that was exciting! If that was like watching paint dry, then get me to Benjamin Moore forthwith.

Most impressive sporting moment – eventing: Germany’s total dominance of the European Eventing Championships. They were so good that even with Ingrid Klimke’s ‘pick up stix’ jumping round they still took all the individual medals (which, for those of you who are scoreboard challenged, also means they won team gold). It was insane, how awesome the Germans were. And it goes without saying that cute-as-a-button Michael Jung is without rival at the moment when it comes to eventing Top Guns.

Most impressive sporting moment – show jumping: Eric and Hickstead’s l’amazing season which climaxed at the Masters with their second victory in the CN one million dollar Grand Prix. Jenn Ward’s Horse Sport coverage of the Masters was fittingly titled ‘The Eric Lamaze Show’. If there were a rival to Eric and Hickstead, it would be the pair that won silver behind them in Hong Kong, Sweden’s  Rolf-Göran Bengtsson and another diminutive jumping machine, Ninja La Silla, who won individual gold at the Europeans and took over the number one world ranking this week.

Most sportsmanlike act (I nearly called this one ‘most generous act’): Canadian Para Dressage rider Lauren Barwick’s lending of her mare Ferdonia II to team mate and close pal Ashley Gowanlock – first to compete at a London qualifier in Portugal (the team won everything and shot from ninth in the world rankings to fourth) and then to declare Fergi as her London mount. Lauren has her wonderful mare Off To Paris for London, and by giving the ride on Fergi to Ashley she is double dipping in the giving department – helping her team and team mate at the same time.

Lauren and Off To Paris in their usual winning form

Least functional equestrian organization: tell me you haven’t been waiting for this one. Dressage Canada wins this by such a wide margin that if I had a top ten in this category I could be forgiven for awarding all ten places to DC. If I were David Letterman I would have a top ten list of ways you know your equestrian organization is in trouble. I won’t re-hash what I’ve already hashed out ad nauseam over the past year. DC also gets my award for providing the most blog fodder in 2011, a distinction it seems determined to hang onto forever.

dysfunctional cartoons, dysfunctional cartoon, dysfunctional picture, dysfunctional pictures, dysfunctional image, dysfunctional images, dysfunctional illustration, dysfunctional illustrations

Most ironic situation: the role EC’s fearless leader Akaash Maharaj played as Chair of the FEI’s Constitutional Task Force from March until the FEI GA in November. Firstly, it was ironic that the CEO of EC would be tasked with identifying what the FEI needs to change in order to better serve its member nations and get invited over to dinner more often, at the EXACT SAME TIME that EC was struggling to herd the cats that are 11 provincial and territorial associations into one corner so they could be persuaded to put their paw print on a service agreement. The second irony was that one of the areas identified by Akaash and his committee was a need for communication and transparency in the FEI. Why is that ironic? Surely Akaash is the most transparent CEO Canada’s equestrian federation has ever had. Ah, here it is. Akaash, in his belief that transparency and accountability to members is paramount, posted the findings of the FEI Task Force on the internet so that EC members and FEI member nations alike could read it; he was immediately told to take it down by the FEI, who deemed that information to be confidential.

Most pointless research findings: the International Society for Equitation Science’s study on pirouettes practiced in the warm up. I didn’t become aware of this fascinating bit of fluff until a couple of days ago, when Astrid posted it on Eurodressage, but technically it qualifies for my list because the study was conducted in 2011. If you need something to help you fall asleep at your computer, you can read the article here; but you might just want to take my word for it that the result of this hair-splitting exercise was that there is no correlation between what is done in the warm up and what marks the judges give in the test for the pirouettes . The value of the study was expressed in terms of preventing unnecessary strain on horses in the warm up, and the team of researchers concluded that further research would be a good idea. No it wouldn’t. If a rider can’t tell if he or she is drilling an exercise too much, he or she doesn’t need an indigestible and inconclusive study to show him the right way. He or she needs to quit riding and take up motocross.

Most tragic moment: Eric and Hickstead are the only ones to make my list twice, I’m saddened to say.

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to end 2011 on such a downer note. Here’s something from 2012 to cheer you up. It’s a video of Akaash talking about Canada’s dressage team going into an Olympic year. I had never heard of www.horsejunkiesunited.com until a couple of days ago, even though my good friend Alison Martin is one of their bloggers. Which just goes to show that if you  want to get noticed in Canada, put up some juicy videos of someone talking candidly about the state of the sporting union. That’ll get you some attention lickety split. The video is the first in what we might call a webcast mini-series. There is already a follow up video of Akaash sharing his reflections on show jumping. I’m no rocket scientist but I suspect tomorrow’s installment may be about eventing…

One final note about 2011, in reference to Liz Steacie’s ‘clarification’ comment left on my previous post:  here is some clarification of my own, Liz. Firstly, you were never identified anywhere as an ‘acting chair’ of HP (though the initial press release did explain you were an ‘interim chair’ until an election for the position could be held), most notably right at the top of the list of HP committee members, where the single word ‘chair’ sat beside your name. Secondly, you weren’t even on the HP Committee before you became what you call ‘acting chair’, which means that by taking up a post that never existed you then migrated to being a member of a committee of which you had not already been a member, at least not since you quit it in 2010. Forgive my ignorance if that is what it is, but I would say verbal and political sleight of hand better defines why my version and yours seem so different.

Following my several weeks of absence from Straight-Up I plan to catch up by doubling down a few times over the coming weeks. You can expect me to dust the cat hair off the crystal ball no later than Wednesday so that I can bring you K-Rob’s 2012 predictions, as well as a schedule of upcoming travels that will colour the pages of this blog over the next twelve months.

*For those of you who don’t know, Eureka is the weed capital of the US, voted year after year as America’s Most Stoned City. The nearby Humboldt woods are the sasquatch-sighting capital of the world. Coincidence? I don’t think so.