Opinion

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As the debate about the future of four-star events — and Olympic and World Championship status — continues, Burghley feels like the real deal. Mark Phillips, the course-designer, provided leadership through action; he laid down a bold challenge and it came off wonderfully, showing that it’s time to stop reinventing the wheel. With the exception of the Olympic Games, this is what the top level of the sport should be.

The course was rewarding to ride, every bit a four-star, but with lines that were clear to horses. Some designers suggest a big fence needs to be a square one, but Burghley offered a variety of profiles. Storm Doris, the Pardubice and the Cottesmore Leap all played to the shape a horse makes in the air, allowing it to jump out of its stride and land travelling, rather than demoralising the horse through endless square profiles that result in more static landings.

The distances were mostly on the longer side, rewarding the bold forward-thinking horse, and the direction of travel was maintained throughout. This constant feeling of progress made it more enjoyable for horses than in previous years.

The Burghley hills and four-star distance require a conservation of energy to get the trip. The less achievable the time — only three made it — the more sensibly people ride because they treat the course as a test of endurance and horsemanship. Above all, the course demanded, and received, great respect from the riders.

I loved being back at Burghley after a few years’ absence, I relish getting stuck into a decent course but realise it’s not so easy for connections. My only dodgy moment was straight after finishing learning that my mother’s defibrillator had gone off halfway through my round, giving her the most almighty electric shock. The reason she has one built into her chest was after a cardiac arrest during my round at Bramham 15 years ago — thank goodness for technology.

An obvious renaming solution

In the proposed renaming of the levels, the FEI has suggested the Olympics and World Championships be referred to as the top starred rating, and the current CCI4*s are moved out of the star system and recategorised as “special events” with a separate name, such as “classics”.

Having discussed it among riders, it seems increasingly obvious that the starred grades should refer to the various levels within the ladder of the sport, including the current CCI4*s, and that the World Championships and Olympics are removed from the star system to become the “special events” — after all that is what they are, one-off special events.

For the purpose of the International Olympic Committee, these could sit above the starred levels so they represent the pinnacle. Furthermore, it makes no sense to give them a star in their name as the class in the Olympics is not a four-star or a five-star, it is “Olympic Equestrianism — Eventing (Team & Individual)”.

Scrap the flawed CIC4* concept

The other item that does not sit comfortably is the creation of a new CIC4*, where the dressage and showjumping would take place at a higher level than the cross-country. This totally unbalances the sport and openly dumbs down the cross-country. We should be encouraging riders to focus more on cross-country both in terms of the type of horse we choose and the proportion of time we spend training — the only way to do this is by suitably weighting this phase of the competition.

In an age when safety is higher than ever on the agenda, is this proposed step in the opposite direction really in the best interest of the sport?

Ref Horse & Hound; 14 September 2017