LINK | Driving - yesterday - today - tomorrow? A very open conversation with the driving expert Michael Freund: "I am thinking about driving a lot ... and worry about our beloved sport!"
Mr.Drivingsport ... Michael Freund, the multiple FEI World Champion in Four-in-Hand has been the figurehead of driving sport for decades ... yes, the Ambassador of German driving sport.
As early as 1976 he won his first gold medal in Four-in-Hand driving at the German Championship in Bad Segeberg.
Eleven more German Championship titles as well as five silver and three bronze medals followed.
1992, 1994 and 2006 - he was Team World Champion three times and in 1994 he was also individual World Champion.
He was Vice World Champion with the team three times (1978, 1996, 1998), and in 1998 he was also Vice World Champion in the individual standings. He also won four more bronze medals with the German Four-in-Hand teams.
Numerous international victories and placements round off Michael Freund's track record: Among other things, he won the Indoor World Cup several times and the German Masters in Stuttgart twelve times in a row.
Since the end of his active career, he has been working as a trainer for various nations.
Let's talk… Driving - yesterday - today? ... a very open conversation with the driving expert...
"I am thinking about driving a lot ... and worry about our beloved sport!
What is the current situation ...?
The development curve in youth drivers, the juniors and young drivers, is pointing upwards in some countries. That’s positive!
But in Four-in-Hand driving sport it is going down in most nations.
The Pairs developing very differently from nation to nation, unfortunately, extremely declining for example in Germany.
When it comes to the organizers of driving competitions, it is also very different from nation to nation - very often an up and down!
But that is certainly due to the high costs associated with hosting a driving event, which also means that there are very large differences in level at the competitions.
To continue to give the organizers the opportunity to offer good competitions, costs must be reduced. I have a few ideas for this:
Is such a large team of Officials really necessary?
Do we need 5 judges for the entire competition?
In addition to the judges, there are many other positions that must be filled – yes, and also financed - according to the current rules. Technical delegates, course designers, veterinarians, stewards ...
But let's start at the beginning:
Is the vet check still up to date?
Not only from the economic point of view - also the time aspect.
Arriving a day earlier for a few minutes is very stressful for many and, especially for the many "non-professionals" in sport who pursue a normal job, it is often an unsolvable situation. It's not just related to the drivers - driving is a team sport. And unfortunately, planned competition participation often falls victim to the time problem.
But let's think further ... the marathon!
Are 8 obstacles really necessary?
In addition to the economic view of this topic ... the obstacle construction, the necessary areas, the obstacle judges ... I also think of the image that driving sport delivers to the outside world ... in times when we must pay attention to the image that our sport in terms of Animal welfare - even for non-insiders - shows. Even the top teams are often no longer lively and not in top shape in obstacles 7 and 8.
And…. In summary ... the high competition fees. Especially in the challenging times that we are all currently experiencing, we should think about it. The competition fees are increasing from year to year ... and now, due to Corona, additional costs are impacting the budgets of those active in driving. For many, this is no longer possible.
This is where the National Federations are called upon!"
Where do you see the main problem that driving is not developing in a "customer-friendly" or rather "athletes-friendly" way regarding these problems?
Let's face reality ... the problem is that for most federations, driving is the “5th wheel on the equestrian car”.
You mean that driving as a fringe sport discipline in equestrian sport is not being given enough attention and with too little interest on the part of the associations "athlete-oriented", nationally and internationally, designed and organized?
"Unfortunately yes. And that's not going to get any better in my opinion - I can see that this is getting worse for driving.
Our sport has so much potential ... the action, the tradition, the teamwork, the different horse races, the opportunity to actively practice driving, from children to the more mature ... which equestrian discipline can offer that?
But… quite honestly, I often get the impression that people come - very quickly - to positions in driving where they not only lack the sympathy, experience, and knowledge to make important decisions. Unfortunately, it is also about the desire to profil as person - also in the FEI Driving Committee.
I don't want to use the harsh accusation of self-interest.
New rules, new dressage tests... you like to put the name underneath. People like to pride themselves on having a lot of stakes in tournaments - based on the number.
But the will to identify and solve problems falls by the wayside. And right at the end of the interest is the active and his team...
Many things only explain themselves to me with economic interest - whether it is innovations regarding the bits or also the weight of the carriages? Why ... it all costs a lot of money ... do you really think that rule changes should be motivated by business interests - for example selling new equipment and carriages?
We are well equipped with bits - why new regulations?
I don't see any motivation "for the well-being of the horses"
The weight of the carriages in the marathon is also a safety issue."
What do you mean? In your opinion, does the further development of driving sport ignore the current situation, the needs and wishes of the active?
Do the "designers" of our sport saw "on the branch we sit on"?
Are you too focused in the relevant places on creating the rules and the further development of driving sport faster - more difficult and more demanding?
"Yes, I sometimes have the impression that the so-called driving sports experts have lost a bit of reality with all the changes, and instead of "driving" forward in a positive and modern way, we are taking steps backwards.
Some things look better on paper than they do. Quite a few statistics about growth ... the picture shows completely different at the driving area.
Specifically ... let's take a look at dressage.
There are always new elements in the frequently changing dressage tests, the 70% - or even more - the drivers, the amateurs, and I mean, for example, 20th place in championship rankings - to 90th ... when we think back to the World Championship for Pairs, overwhelm.
Without these many drivers, who keep our beautiful sport alive with joy and fun, there would be no World and European Championships, and also not the activities in the competitions throughout the year."
Do you think that the "magic" for always doing something new, and something that has never been seen before, to be integrated into sport, too much oriented towards the wishes of the top 10?
"Yes ... too many lose the joy and pleasure of driving a carriage with the new ideas ... and give up!"
Can you specify that?
"Take, for example, the currently much-discussed topic “Collected canter in the Pairs Dressage”.
I've spoken to a lot of driving people. 95% of the active people are against it!
To challenge the assembled canter in the new international FEI dressage test, the national federations will and must follow with their dressage tests for the national competitions, is incomprehensible to me - and I have been in driving for a long time and intensively.
What do they want to see? Correct education?
Has the whole thing been considered in practice?
And I don't mean the top 10 - and not even they, I think, will be able to drive this correctly ...
Has that been considered regarding the carriage construction?
The drawbar that can hit the horses' mouths and we can expect bloody horse mouths.
Or also looking at the normal sequence of movements of the canter... the horses will hit on each other's legs - and safety equipment on the legs and bell boots would be urgently required. But do we want leg protection for horses to be necessary in dressage?
How often are we preached ... Everything for the good of the horses ... "Welfare of the Horse is Paramount"
Where are such dressage tests approved and brought into sport?
One should wake up slowly in the relevant positions and not sacrifice sport for the self-expression of very few!
I see an urgent need for action on the part of the FNs , the active drivers and also the FEI Driving Committee in the case of “canter in Pairs and Four-in-Hands”!"
What do you and your many comrades-in-arms suggest for modern driving dressage
"In order to judge the quality and the performance of a driven dressage, we definitely need more "one-hand lessons" than in the FEI's new dressage tests, for example.
And most importantly - the walk!
We could orientate ourselves on the ridden dressage, and think about a multiplier for the so important gait with regard to the quality, education and training of a driving horse - the walk.
In any case, the dressage tests have to be shorter. This is absolutely necessary for maintaining and increasing the attractiveness of driving. Everyone wants that ... the FEI, the judges, the drivers and also the spectators! Everyone agrees on that!
Why not let a broad group of driving sport experts use their knowledge and experience - in their daily work with horses and teams?
For example, why not call on athletes, FEI judges, experienced trainers and instructors to contribute ideas and suggestions for new dressage tests?
From different nations with a comprehensive view of our diverse sport in terms of horse breeds, tradition, ...
It can't be that you let a Four-in-Hand professional believe that he, and a handful of his fans, have to invent a dressage test and new movements for the Pairs that demands collective canter lessons.
And that this will then be approved at the green table, and prescribed in the FEI rules, which will damage driving.
But there is an urgent need for action not only with the pairs ... let's take a look at the Singles.
A new test has already been carried out this season and many driving fans are wondering ... what is that good for?
The dressage has to be shorter in driving - that is out of the question ... but ...
First movement canter - no definition of which pace and on which hand - right or left canter or cross canter?
No halt for saluting... for me, the lesson “Halt and Salute” belongs to the beginning of a dressage test.
As an obedience test - the quiet, square holding of the horse in sport – especially in driving.
The driver's salute - also shows the respect of the driver to the judging group and the audience!
The first impression of the whole team is lost without.
I have spoken to FEI judges of ridden dressage at the Olympic Games - that this important first lesson is now being dispensed within driving.
And ... they just shook their heads ...
Possible in driving ... what is thrown overboard with the argument that you would save 8 seconds of time!
One can only say - driving sport where are you developing?
Who comes up with something like that?"
Where do you see an urgent need for action to improve the rules for driving?
"It would also be very important to keep an eye on obstacle driving.
The cone courses are becoming more and more difficult due to the lines. It is not necessary, in my opinion, to make 50% of the pairs of cones 5 cm closer. It is not necessary that the horses, our sport partners, have to be parried hard after each pair of cones. The fast maneuverability and also the permeability was mostly demanded and tested the day before in the marathon."
Back to the hotly discussed topic of the gallop lessons in the FEI dressage test "FEI Driven Dressage Senior - Test 3 * HP2 - HP4"
What do you advise the pair drivers?
"I've talked to a lot of people about it - from different angles.
The first reaction from many Pair drivers - but also from judges - was very clear. "That's where I stop!"
But that's not the way to go - we can't let a small group ruin our sport whatever their motives.
We all must react - and act with arguments. Unfortunately, we cannot rely on our national federations because ... unfortunately, it really is ... we drivers are the 5th wheel on the equestrian car!
We are all challenged to fight for the future of our sport.
In the summer I sent an email to the responsible offices of the FEI and presented my opinion with arguments.
I was very surprised to receive a response from members of the FEI Driving Committee the very next day, saying that they would understand my arguments in this matter.
And ... nothing happened!
Nobody is ready to stand up and stand up for our sport! True to the motto “One crow doesn’t poke another’s eye”, this is also how this committee is so important for the further development of global driving.
So what conclusion do I draw from this ...
And I've never said my opinion about my beloved driving sport as openly as in this conversation with Hippoevent ...
I've been involved in driving for over 55 years. Over the years I have been in many committees, at the FN and also the FEI, and I could write an exciting book with the many experiences I had with many interesting incidents.
The reason why I am no longer engaged today?
I am too critical - too steadfast to express my opinion, which I form from the many years of experience and the many things that I see and experience ... that is not welcome!
I think I've found my job ... and one that fulfills me and makes me happy. For me there is nothing better than having good horses in front of the carriage. To feel on the reins what makes trust between man and horse possible.
Carrying out the driving sport that means so much to me, fulfilling it, and getting a lot of positive feedback from my "students" ... and ... yes ... to learn a new every day from every horse I work with.
The whole thing is only clouded by the fact that I notice that driving is not on the right track and that you are about to destroy a lot ... what a shame!
Hopefully our youth will stay on the rein!"
Dear Micha, thank you very much for the interview ... I think you speak to many driving fans from the soul and your words will stimulate thought and will be discussed!
Hippoevent | Jacqueline Zimmermann