This year, all roads lead to the World Equestrian Games (WEG), where securing 2020 Olympic qualification is the big goal. The starting point for team manager Di Lampard’s selection process is the Sunshine Tour, which kicks off this week in Spain with some 2,000 horses in action. It’s the only tour with three- and four-star grands prix, which makes it the perfect opportunity for new partnerships to emerge.
I haven’t seen any new combinations of note on the indoor circuit — nobody is firing with what you’d call a championship horse — but, while important, indoor form isn’t relevant for Nations Cups later in the year, now is the time for riders to shine.
However, Great Britain has been dealt a serious blow in its championship preparations and Nations Cup chances because the team’s allocation of point-scoring rounds aren’t until the end of the series — we don’t begin until St Gallen in June, followed by the final four legs in Rotterdam, Falsterbo, Hickstead and Dublin, less than a month before horses have to leave for WEG in Tryon, USA. And, when you add in the London leg of the Global Champions Tour, which sits between the final two Nations Cups, you can see there’s a massive pile-up in the calendar and a logistical nightmare for our chef d’equipe.
In contrast, the Germans have been able to pick early legs of the Nations Cups at which to score points, so they can then put that target to one side and then concentrate solely on the championships — it’s a very clever strategy.
This jam, especially in July, means that, far from saving our top horses for the championships, we will instead be stretching our horsepower to the limit and riders who are on the periphery will need to grasp every opportunity to jump on teams if it comes to them.
Where to next?
Another problem is that any British riders who show good early form on the Sunshine Tour are then going to struggle to find the opportunities to build on that.
We have so far only received one invitation to compete on the new eight-team second division, traditionally a great opportunity for new partnerships to prove themselves and gain experience.
Nowadays, if you’re outside the top 100 it’s difficult to get invitations for three-star shows, let alone four-star, so that’s Di’s dilemma — where can she send new partnerships to avoid the prospect of throwing them straight in to the crunch end of the super league?
Rome is no longer part of the Nations Cup series, but Di is trying to secure some individual invitations to this year’s five-star show to offer at least one more opportunity for riders to be jumping at that level.
We also don’t have any riders in the top 15 of the world rankings at the moment, so the only way British riders can compete on the Globals is as part of a Global Champions League team — and that commitment stretches riders’ Nations Cup availability yet further.
Riders like to have plenty of preparation time for championships, especially when it involves a long journey. I’m sure much of the team will pick itself over the summer, but if Di can’t make her final selection until after Dublin, we could be facing an uphill task.
Ref: Horse & Hound; 22 February 2018