Like it or lump it, hard ground is a fact of competition life, and it is a topic that has become an ongoing bone of contention between competitors and organisers.
While it is exasperating to travel across England to find ground resembling the M4, riders can — and do &mdash vote with their feet. But, if they have paid a high entry fee to run a valuable horse, what can and should have been done to the going?
Show jumper Di Lampard is unequivocal about not risking her horse’s future.
“You can occasionally get away with it if there’s good grass cover and it’s on old turf, but, regardless of the competition, I won’t jump if it’s hard. Sanding does help but it’s the turns that do the damage. It’s very short-sighted to jump on hard ground, even for £500.”
In general, Di feels that shows could try harder: “Against the cost of competing and the value of the horses, I don’t feel that many shows are aware enough of the ground, although, admittedly, some don’t have the facilities to do anything about it.”
So how much should a beleaguered organiser be prepared to fork out for machinery and manpower? Even basic sanding is expensive and the terrible unfairness of the British weather also has to be taken into account.
Nigel Taylor, an event rider who runs his own horse trials at Aston-le-Walls, once aero-vated day and night for a week, only for a flash flood to halt proceedings.
Alec Lochore, another eventer-cum-organiser, who ran Burnam Market during the April drought, aero-vated and irrigated the entire course, but even after all of this he had to acknowledge that the going was still firm.
“I think that up to novice level it’s not realistically economic to do anything except aero-vate and sand. At intermediate and upwards I think riders can expect more of an effort, with all-weather landings and take-offs,” says Alec.
Philip Herbert is clerk of the course at Burghley, which has become the benchmark for ground preparation and boasts what is probably the best going in the world.
The course is permanently fenced off, which prevents poaching from stock or vehicles, and last year, at vast cost, the event invested in its own underground irrigation system. The result is a verdant, bouncy bowling green amid the yellowing late August grass.
In his role as ground consultant to British Eventing, Philip takes a realistic approach.
“There is a problem in that the more some events do, the more is expected of others. Now that we have an eventing season that runs straight through the summer, hard ground is unavoidable and riders sometimes have unfair expectations.
“However, with my technical adviser’s hat on, I don’t find it acceptable when an organiser makes no effort.”
Top British event rider Tina Cook admits: “I am fussy and if the ground is hard and unlevel at a one-day event, I will pull out. I know some organisers try really hard, but you have to think of the horse.”
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