“It was spectacular, but there were lots of problems,” was how one spectator summed up Sunday’s Express Eventing International Cup as she left Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
The “one seat sees all” competition was devised and organised by Stuart Buntine as a “showcase” for eventing. The three phases took place in the arena, with dressage to music in the morning followed by show jumping and cross-country — run back-to-back with a pitstop kit change against the clock in between — in the afternoon.
The day was horribly marred by the loss of a much-loved British team horse, Call Again Cavalier, who, with Mary King, was the penultimate to jump (see below). And while the concept of Express Eventing was received well by riders, spectators and organisers, the overwhelming reaction was that — with only six finishers from a world-class field — the event needs work.
Mark Todd, who was eliminated for three stops, said: “It won’t replace eventing as we know it, but it’s an interesting sideline. The end result wasn’t what we were hoping for, but I hope the organisers don’t lose heart.”
Andrew Nicholson concurred, adding: “When only six finish, something is wrong. What happened to Call Again Cavalier was devastating, but even if you take that away, too much went wrong.”
After the event, organiser Mr Buntine was pleased with how things had gone, but admitted there were “a lot of lessons to be learnt”.
“I am disappointed with the number of eliminations because we had the best riders and horses in the world here, so we need to look at everything in the debrief.”
Afterwards, the top three placed riders Oliver Townend, Lucy Wiegersma and William Fox-Pitt were very positive.
“Working for the music test helped our dressage massively,” said Lucy, who added that a lot of horses who went early on seemed “quite fazed by approaching an alien situation”.
But others were not so impressed. While they all maintained support for the concept, riders expressed a number of concerns.
One was over the going — turf laid over eight to 10 inches of topsoil on a pallet system.
While William Fox-Pitt maintained that it was better than the riders thought it would be, Andrew Nicholson argued that it was “greasy and false”.
“Because of the size of the studs we used, they weren’t slipping, but it made the horses unsure.”
The final course changed from the one walked in the morning and many competitors could be seen running around the 39 jumping efforts in the 30-minute lunchbreak trying to relearn it.
Irish rider Austin O’Connor was eliminated after jumping the third fence. It would have been the correct course in the morning — but not in the afternoon.
“I felt very stupid, because the audience didn’t know the facts,” he said.
European champion Nicolas Touzaint was eliminated after going wrong show jumping between flags that were put up at the last-minute.
After the event, spectators said on H&H’s online forum how “uncomfortable” they felt watching the top riders go wrong.
Afterwards, some spectators said they enjoyed a “fantastic event”, but complained the stadium was under-prepared.
“We were all frozen and couldn’t get hot food and drink,” said Barbara Slater from Hertfordshire. “I queued for 45 minutes for a cup of tea, missing Carl Hester’s masterclass, and then gave up.”
This article first appeared in Horse & Hound (4 December, ’08)