I’m glad I made the long haul east to Montreal this year, even though the weather during the Blainville CDIs is always a grab bag of hot, humid, wet and downright stormy. I got to meet Cees Slings, though I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams how would turn out. I found him to be charming and personable one-on-one; he was generous with his time and gave thoughtful answers to my many, many questions – which were primarily about EqMusync (which the creators have given the acronym EQM – kind of an acronym of an acronym). But the lectures he gave on two evenings to a group of judges and riders? Now that was another story.

I actually missed the first evening due to a glitch in my sleeping arrangements, but since Cees gave me my very own private showing of the DVD that describes EQM anyway, I didn’t end up missing out on anything in an informational sense. I did miss the dynamics which led to what happened on the second night, however. I attended that second lecture, and I have spent the last week wondering what the hell I could say about the evening that manages to walk the fine line between my ‘nothing sacred’ attitude and outright character assassination of people I have no desire to turn into enemies. I think I have enough of those already. Also, if I told the story in a purely journalistic way, most of you wouldn’t believe me anyway. So, I have decided the best way to describe the evening, in order to give you some idea of what went on, is by way of a parable. Here goes:

Once upon a time, in a land with many summer thunderstorms, there was a grade 8 high school class. Some of the students were athletic types, and others were more judgmental types, if you get my drift; most of the students were respectful and well-behaved, but a few of them could be quite naughty. One day the class had a substitute teacher. This teacher knew a great deal about the subject he was teaching, perhaps even a little too much for the level of interest or understanding of the class. Anxious to make sure he got off to a good start with his students, the substitute teacher (The Sub) made sure that on the first day he demonstrated to the class just how much he knew. Unfortunately, some of the judgmentals took exception to The Sub’s manner of speaking about his knowledge.

On the second day of class, a few of the students drank beer in the parking lot at lunch time before class, which made them brave and insolent. When they went to their class, one of them brought a fart machine and put it under a chair. Every few minutes the machine absorbed a certain amount of air, and once full, discharged the air with a loud, rude noise. This disruption, combined with whispering, snickering and occasional hostile questioning from these few naughty students, caused the class to become a place not of learning, but of discomfort. By the end of the class, it could be said that more had been discovered about some of the students than about what The Sub had come to teach them. The Sub really did have a lot of knowledge, but he was unable to overcome the bad chemistry. The class eventually disintegrated, with some people going away puzzled, others self-satisfied, and no one having learned very much.

In a proper parable, the story ends with a moral. Here is the best I can come up with:

It’s true that some gifted and creative people don’t have the very best style of delivery, but if students don’t want to listen, perhaps they should just skip class and keep drinking beer in the parking lot.

I did learn a great deal about the EQM technology in my one-on-one with Cees, and while I still have a lot of concerns about implementing the technology in a judging situation, there is no doubt that it would have value in the sport. Just the video capturing alone would meet the needs of a possible new judging education program which will include video analysis. I recently finished a series of interviews with five of the six Dressage Working Group members as well as David Hunt, president of the IDTC. They didn’t all agree about the answers to most of my questions, but the use of video and computer technology to improve the training of judges and the objective standard of judging was something they all agreed should be part of the sport’s future.

I still remain skeptical about the use of EQM in live judging situations (and it isn’t clear who would be footing the bill for this very expensive tool), and in that I’m not alone. One of the people who attended both lectures commented that with EQM being used to assess the music, one would need different music for hot weather, windy weather, cold weather, hard footing, soft footing, etc. The technology is too sophisticated for what it is measuring, in other words. Even Anky doesn’t stay on every beat of the music, not even on her best days. Here is another problem: people who are clever and use sections of a song with no apparent beat for an extension (to mask any quickening of the horse’s gait) would be punished for not being on the inaudible beat that the technology nevertheless tracks.

Ah I’m getting too technical – I don’t want to get too teacher-y and I certainly don’t want to bore you. I still contend that the real risk of using EQM would be that the art and beauty of freestyles would go out the window, and everyone would just get music that gives them the best result according to what the technology applies as criteria – and spend a crap load of money doing it, I’m sure. Cees did say to me that he sees EQM as a judging aid, but not a replacement for the human being’s assessment. Judges would have to be trained on how to interpret and give appropriate weight to what EQM tells them – but as judges’ training is already woefully lacking when it comes to freestyles, are they really going to be taught how to use the technology appropriately? Since I haven’t actually seen EQM in live use, I will climb onto the fence for now. I do see benefit, but I see a lot of pitfalls too.

The shows at Blainville were heartening this year. Now that Dressage Canada is on Facebook and Twitter, and merrily posting the press releases from the shows on their pages, it would be redundant for me to bother with details, so let me just share a few impressions. I saw some very talented horses, both young and mature. Cheryl Meisner looks fit as a fiddle 7 months after giving birth to baby Scarlet – who by the way is adorable and melted even my baby-phobic heart by giving me a smile. Cheryl and Paganini really gave Jacqui and Gran Gesto a run for their money. It was too bad during the freestyle Gala that Nicho’s computer froze and Cheryl had to wait almost five minutes by A without any idea what was wrong, while keeping her horse thinking about the job at hand until her music finally started. I predict some even bigger things from Cheryl and Paggi in the months to come. Belinda Trussell is also back in the GP ring with her young Anton – a horse that has some serious chops for the piaffe and transitions. I really enjoyed the GP Special ride of Ute Busse during a monsoon on the second Saturday morning. She and Jaimey Irwin were the only two riders who braved the weather. Ute’s horse Lindor’s Finest is by Eastern Ruler – to see an FEI dressage horse with TB in the first generation of parentage is a rare thing these days, but he had arguably the finest canter work of the whole lot in the CDI. His passage is not yet as bouncy as it could be, but piaffe is good and trot tour solid. I enjoyed watching Ute because she really went for it, in spite of the awful conditions.

In FEI young horse action, Diane Creech showed a wonderful five year old named Hallmark – he is by the Leatherdales’ His Highness, and has his father’s stamp all over him. Evi Strasser rode a six year old named Renaissance (by Royal Diamond, so yes, he’s grey) that Evi is pretty excited about. Her legs barely come past the equator of his barrel, but in spite of his size he looks like an exciting FEI prospect for her. There were tons of juniors and young riders, though none rose to the top through the two shows. There was much jockeying for top placings, but it can be said there was also some good consistency. A few of them will head to Lexington for NAJYRC in July and to them I say go kick Canuck butt, kids!

Cara had plenty of obstacles to overcome, but she managed to keep the show on track and on time. The venue is beautiful, I love a chance to practice my French, and I should think it will be even more exciting next year as WEG approaches and a few of Canada’s best will be gunning for those 67% + scores they will need to qualify for the team. Who knows? Maybe next year there will actually be more than 4 who make the threshold for the Canadian team…