Team chasing is set for growth but needs to continue its drive towards further professionalism, the sport’s annual conference heard last week.

Master of Foxhounds Association (MFHA) standing committee chairman Joe Cowan told the conference at Cheltenham Racecourse that a two-year marketing campaign to find a new sponsor and safeguard the future of the sport was nearing a conclusion.

“I can’t give details yet, but we hope to make an announcement on a deal that will benefit all events running qualifiers for the national championships in the next month,” said Mr Cowan, who thanked previous sponsors the Goring Hotel and Coombe Farm Wines.

But he warned: “If we succeed, the sponsor’s expectations will be high. There is no criticism, but everyone needs to know what we’re taking on.”

Rosie Vestey, who has steered the marketing project, added: “We have the interests of the sport, the events, competitors and everyone involved at heart and we are looking to the longer term.”

The move towards professionalism was marked by an “immeasurable” improvement in courses over the past five years, said Mr Cowan, who paid tribute to the sport’s team of course inspectors and builders.

He said that a course-building seminar at the Fernie on the eve of the national championship in March was attended by representatives of virtually every course in the country. Builders from four potential new events had also signed up, signalling the momentum behind the sport.

Mr Cowan added: “The future of the sport is in building good and challenging, although not necessarily bigger, courses.”

In 30 years, team chasing has grown to incorporate 15 or more regional open championship events where up to 450 competitors will take part on any given day. A rising interest in extreme sports in those aged between 18-30 was indicated by research carried out by the team chasing marketing committee.

A rule introduced last year in line with British Eventing, that any horse that falls (defined as its shoulder touching the ground) should be eliminated, will be continued next year. The conference agreed that enforcement was not the responsibility of fence judges but of riders, and failing that the ground jury. A reminder will be given by the starter to riders that it is their responsibility not to continue.

This news report was first published in Horse & Hound (10 May, ’07)