Opinion

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There was a notable and infectious enthusiasm among the volunteers at Tweseldown; like the riders, owners and grooms, they were clearly thrilled to be out again.

The teams behind last week’s events made great efforts to run in difficult conditions and it’s a shame to have lost 12 days’ sport across the first two weekends of the season. It’s also bound to have the knock-on effect of increasing balloting at upcoming fixtures.

The Badminton entries have just closed; for those entered, the pre-season build-up and early events are shaped around Badminton preparations. Horses aiming for the four-star tend to be out of sync with the rest of the yard — they start their walking before the others come in and begin galloping well before the rest. This different routine ups the sense of anticipation and focuses the mind all the more on the big one.

Snow doesn’t help progress, but I learnt long ago that the art of being snowed in is to do it in the right place; last month, having studied the weather, I was wilfully stranded with my top horses at Chris Bartle’s for five days.

We worked as usual in the indoor school and I left feeling we had made great progress, which was particularly positive as the alternative was clambering around in snowdrifts on fresh horses.

It was excessively cold staying in the lorry, but luckily the thaw came before my head girl, Jess, and I ran out of food and resorted to eating one of the horses.

New flag rule

For this season an old rule has been reinstated, which entitles pony, junior and young riders to wear the Union flag on their jacket only for two years after a rider’s most recent squad appearance, after which it must be removed. Only senior championship riders can keep their flag for life.

Riding on a senior team and gaining the flag is a huge achievement, but is perhaps slightly diminished if every second person in the collecting ring has a flag on their jacket and hat silk. The youth team riders have earned their flags through hard work and talent, but it’s appropriate to relinquish them when you are well into the next age category. In case you were wondering, I felt this way even when I had to give up my junior team flag!

Perhaps it would also be appropriate to limit the wearing of the senior flag by riders selected for a home European Championships, which allows the host country to field 12 riders — double the usual number. Being 12th on the European selection list is a long way short of making the three-rider list in Olympic selection. Perhaps all 12 riders from a home Europeans should be given the flag for two years, while the right to keep it indefinitely is restricted to the team of four and two best-placed individuals.

Other sports have similar policies with their capping of players so that they deliberately retain an element of exclusivity, thus maintaining the inspirational magic of the cap, shirt or flag.

Talking of honours, in December, senior team chef d’equipe Dickie Waygood awarded a new badge of honour to owners of championship horses. This recognition is a fitting tribute to those who give so much to the sport and are pivotal to British success.

Ref Horse & Hound; 15 March 2018