Opinion

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The issue of the World Equestrian Games (WEG) cross-country being downgraded to three-star keeps rumbling on.

Currently WEG is a qualifier for the Olympics, but the International Olympic Committee apparently stipulates that a qualifier shouldn’t be at a higher level than the Olympic Games, the cross-country of which is three-star. Separately, the FEI wants to increase the clout of the Nations Cup series, which lacks kudos because top horses can only run so often. With most aimed at four-stars, the annual championship and now the Event Rider Masters series, there is limited appetite for the Nations Cup.

A suggestion, which could solve both problems, is to cut WEG out of the Olympic qualifications and bring the Nations Cup into them.

By running WEG in isolation at four-star, it doesn’t have to conform to any pressures outside the sport. The FEI doesn’t want people to debut at a level at a championship, so the WEG qualifications could demand a horse and rider had gained a four-star minimum eligibility result at some point. This might mean a smaller field, but the World Championship would genuinely be for the best in the world.

Meanwhile, the top three teams in the Nations Cup league in the two years before could be given an entry to the Olympics. More non-European events would need incorporating in the series, but making it an Olympic qualifier would up the quality of the field and encourage national federations to target the series, rather than it being an empty concept.

Of course, there would still be other avenues to qualify for the Games, as currently.

Surely with qualification for Tokyo 2020 not starting until next year there is still time to implement both concepts.

Variety is key

Through history different fences come into fashion. The 1990s were the era of corners, then it was arrowheads; right now we are seeing increasingly steep angles.

We want to test a horse’s bravery, accuracy and rideability, but it’s vital the horse can “read” the fence. There’s no problem with faults if a horse opts not to jump, but a well-ridden, naturally good horse can fail to read an excessively acute angle. There are situations when an honest horse takes off blind, without clearly locking on to what they are jumping.

The same goes for tight turns — we want to reward forward riding and if you have to manhandle the horse on landing, the bolder horses are punished, while cautious ones get a smoother ride.

Corners, arrowheads and angles are all good tests, but variety is key. A four-star course should involve a top-level version of each, but not too many of any one. Above all, a direct route should be straight and clear.
Badminton build-up
Talking of four-stars, I had an early viewing of Badminton’s course when filming the preview videos. New designer Eric Winter has changed more than I expected and there was much to like. It’ll be interesting to see how some of the questions ride.

The track itself looked very good — the specialist groundwork there over the past 10 years has worked wonders. All events are struggling with the current drying conditions and Badminton is watering, but we can be confident the going will be first-class.

Finally, congratulations to Oliver Townend on his phenomenal 10th CIC3* win at Burnham Market since 2007.

Ref Horse & Hound; 20 April 2017