Lady show jumpers have responded with shock and sadness to news that the historic Queen Elizabeth II Cup show jumping class is to be scrapped in its current form.

The competition — Britain’s only ladies’ international class, which began in 1949 and takes place at Hickstead’s Royal International Horse Show (RIHS) — will in future be downgraded to a national class open to both sexes.

Five-times winner of the trophy Liz Edgar told H&H that she was appalled by the decision.

“This is a big shock. I am totally appalled. The Queen’s Cup is a piece of show jumping history we cannot afford to lose,” she said.

“It is the best cup in England to win for the lady riders, something really special. If they couldn’t continue to run it as it was at Hickstead, they should have put it into another competition.”

Di Lampard, who won the cup in 1994 and 1998, said: “When you look at the list of great names on the cup, it’s such a shame that it’s being downgraded in this way.”

But she added that the competition had always been let down by the poor prize-money on offer (£6,000 last year) in comparison to the men’s equivalent class, the King George V Cup (£15,000 last year).

The Queen’s Cup has a long and celebrated history and has been won by many of show jumping’s most famous lady riders, including Marion Mould, who won three times, Pat Smythe, Caroline Bradley and Jessica Kurten.

The move apparently comes at the behest of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI). It said that instead, the men-only King George V international class will now be open to both sexes.

“The idea of having two classes, segregated by sex, was contrary to the way the FEI likes to do things,” said a spokesman. “We were particularly concerned that the prize-money for the men’s class was three times that for the women’s. So there will be one grand prix this year.”

Lizzie Bunn, show secretary of Hickstead, confirmed that the King’s Cup, running for the 97th time this year, will be the only grand prix class at the Royal International in July.

The prize-money for the King’s Cup will be increased to £60,000 — from £45,000 last year — with £20,000 to the winner.

The prize-fund for the new-style Queen’s Cup class has yet to be decided and a sponsor is sought.

“The King George V Gold Cup will now be open to all the qualifying international and British riders at the show and the Queen Elizabeth II Cup will be open to the top 25 riders qualifying through the BSJA’s international trial list,” said Ms Bunn.

“This gives the county shows a prestigious final at the RIHS and offers an opportunity to some of the second-tier male riders who were not able to compete before.”

Nick Skelton, who won the King’s Cup in 1984, 1993 and 1999, welcomed the idea of a single grand prix competition at the Royal International, but would like to see the Hickstead Derby — the biggest cash prize show jumping class in Britain, with £40,000 to the winner — moved from its June slot to the RIHS programme.

“I think this change is as it should be, a single grand prix, with more prize-money, but the highest-placed woman [in that class] should win the Queen’s Cup,” said Nick. “And we should include the Derby in the show. Then more international riders would take part.”

History of the Queen’s Cup

1949: The Queen Elizabeth II Cup is presented in perpetuity to the Royal International Horse Show (held at White City) by The Queen in 1949. It was originally called the Princess Elizabeth Cup. First winner was Iris Kellet of Ireland with Rusty who won £30.

1960: RIHS and the Queen’s Cup competition move to Wembley

1971: A second win for Marion Mould and Stroller. Mrs Mould wins again in 1976 on Elizabeth Ann

1982: RIHS moves to the NEC Birmingham

1986: A fifth win for Liz Edgar on three different horses

1991: RIHS moves to Hickstead

2007: Won by Tina Fletcher on Overa — her third win. Mrs Fletcher won £6,000

2008: Cup to be downgraded to a national class

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (14 February, ’08)