Trailblazers was the brainwave of Show Organisers’ Association (PSOA) chairman Norman Bargh, who saw a need for a national competition aimed at amateur riders who didn’t want to compete against professionals in affiliated dressage and show jumping events.
“People were coming to the centres as total beginners and were wanting encouragement,” he says.
“They were not being served by the affiliated organisations. In tennis, golf, swimming and football, the national organisations have influence all the way down the line, but in the horse world, they don’t get involved with people further down the ladder. The PSOA wanted to give the keen enthusiast something to aim for – Trailblazers is quite achievable.”
There are three levels of dressage – Preliminary, Novice and Elementary – and four levels of show jumping – 75cn, 85cm, 95cm and 1.05m. The competitions are divided into junior and senior sections. Four riders at each level in both dressage and show jumping qualify for the grand final.
Since the first Trailblazers championship, more centres are hosting the first two rounds each year, with a growing number of people wanting to give it a go. “There were so many entrants in the final last year that we were still going in the dark,” says Peter Jeffrey of the PSOA. So this year, it was extended from three days to four.
Some competitors come back to Trailblazers year after year. “Although you’re competing against a decent standard, it’s a lot more relaxed than affiliated events, which can get really stressful,” Peter says.
“The horses go hunting and do a whole range of activities, not just show jumping or dressage. You don’t need an outstanding horse with fantastic breeding that cost a fortune. Everyone has a chance as long as they’ve got a bit of talent.” The judges, he emphasises, are drawn from professional ranks.
Riders often gain confidence in Trailblazers then go on to compete at affiliated level. “We see Trailblazers as a stepping stone between the absolute unaffiliated event and affiliated events, since it gives competitors the chance to improve themselves,” says Mr Bargh.
Trailblazers is the ideal competition for riders who are put off by the “staggering standard of professionalism” in affiliated events, competitor Liz Cooke says.
“Trailblazers makes you feel very special. It’s put a bit of romance back into dressage and is wonderful for people to be able to go and have a chance at glory.”
Since the Trailblazers is held nationally at nearly 50 PSOA-approved centres, with the championships at the National Agricultural Centre, Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire.