The championships had their customary friendly feel about them. There was plenty of equine eye-candy on show and the overall standard of riding was really encouraging for the future.
Congratulations to Michael Eilberg for his first national crown — with his natural skill it is bound to be the first of many. But, sadly, due to the timing of the World Equestrian Games and the absence of our top horses, yet again the grand prix class suffered.
Nevertheless, everyone there was battling it out to the hilt and, with the sun shining and the freestyle in full flow, it made for fun and enjoyable viewing.
With two horses qualified for the final, Carl’s decision to withdraw his class winner and let Dan Watson in was commendable sportsmanship. It must have made Michael’s job easier too.
With only one sizeable arena surface, the Stoneleigh venue remains limited and Kelvin Bywater balances the timetable well. But improvements to other areas, such as extra trade stands and the impact of the new title sponsor LeMieux, lifted the ambience.
Chief executive Robert Lemieux sees plenty of potential for the championships and the dressage market as a whole.
“We’ve backed a single class here in the past, but that’s a very different level of commitment to taking on the whole event,” he told me.
“The title sponsorship opportunity came sooner than we wanted but the dressage market is potentially huge and this event has lots of possibilities for development.”
Yet visitor numbers to these championships are only slightly up year-on-year. Given our current and unprecedented success on the world stage, this level of change would be a concern in commercial terms.
I am hoping the combined forces of newly elected chairman Penny Pollard, and British Dressage’s recently appointed chief executive Jason Brautigam, will take us into a new period of significant growth.
Both bring extensive commercial and marketing skills that could deliver Robert’s ideas — and those of others like him — and upgrade these championships into a real media showcase.
This comment was originally published in Horse & Hound magazine on Thursday 25 September, 2014.