Too bad nobody went there! It would be interesting to know what exactly they asked in the tests and how the participants performed. Not in terms of the results, but how exactly they stimulated
the horses to produce those results.
It's interesting to see pressure-release based trainers who go at liberty at some point in their training, always seem to have the rule that liberty is only a test of the responsiveness of the horse, and you should always go back to on-line stuff between liberty sessions because otherwise the horse will start to ignore the cues, or at least you will need to keep using a whip, rope or round-pen in order to keep your horse on his toes.
I too think there's a big difference between working at liberty from the start, and using pressure methods to get your horse to do things first, teaching your horse by pressure increase-release that he should listen to the tiniest pressure-less signals because else... and then let the horse perform the same things at liberty because now he knows he should follow those tiniest signals because else...
Sure, the final picture looks about the same, but inside the horses head it is a totally different story.
The saddest thing I think that the public probably looks at such a trainer perform at liberty and thinks 'Look, there's somebody who has a real
bond with his horse, because he isn't bribing his horse with treats to let him do all those things!!'
That's how that fantasy is sustained that if you have a real bond with your work, your horse won't need any reinforcement at all to do the things for you because he does it all in order to please you. The public simply doesn't see that in such performances the motivator is in the horses head: if I don't get this right, I will have to pay for it in the end and will be made to do the right thing anyway. Resistance is futile...'
I think it would be impossible to check if all the horses were trained on a positive, pressure free and liberty basis only, but I do think that you could stimulate such training methods by forbidding tools like whips and ropes during the competitions. Because when the horse realises that the human is weapon-less, the people who did use that tool as a weapon against the horse in training (if only by giving 'clearer' signals, or by slightly increasing pressure if the horse doesn't respond fast enough) will be confronted by that fact sooner in the ring. And the judges and the public as well.
I think that competitions like this are really good for the public to see this way that you can also work with your horse without tack, without force or violence. But at the same time I also know that you can give a wonderful show with a horse who is physically at liberty, but who is also mentally worried about, or even terrified of making mistakes.
New horse book: Mandala horses!
Never stop making mistakes! Natural Dressage