Why Aachen has ruined Hickstead for me


    Hickstead is my favourite British show, but my trip to Aachen earlier this year has set a new unrealistically high bar. Thanks a million Aachen. Where is the hospitality building I am warmly invited to? Where are the media officers giving out free chocolate bars? Where are the gold plated taps in the plush loos? Where is the reserved media seating with convenient little tables for laptops and note-taking? Maybe I should have just handed in my notice the day I got back as nothing else is ever going to measure up.

    Things didn’t get off to a great start when I arrived in the Dressage at Hickstead press office to be told, for the 4th year in a row, that the photos we are asked to submit with our media accreditation were unavailable. Instead the media officer apologises as he hands me my media pass complete with a distorted and elongated web cam picture of the top three quarters of my head. As I look like a very skinny, very short criminal, that’s going to spend the show turned inwards to minimise embarrassment.

    Still, by all accounts my accreditation experience was less painful than what the riders endured yesterday. Bear in mind this is an international dressage show (one of just three in this country) with many competitors arriving from the continent.

    The accreditation office opened late to huge queues and promptly shut their doors when the staff were peckish. Riders watched them chowing down on their lunch for what seemed like an eternity behind the locked door as they continued to queue.  That’s not OK.

    Meanwhile, the failure to produce trot-up lists meant there was horse chaos outside.

    Having been stuck in traffic for an hour today (not Hickstead’s fault, of course) on the final 10 miles of my journey, I went in search of the loo. It’s day one of a four day international — including, incidentally, the first ever Nations Cup team dressage competition on British soil — and there’s only one of the 7 or so portaloos with any paper or water. And 3 of them are padlocked. Not OK.

    For my final whinge: the Dressage at Hickstead press office is a small tent with intimate space for maybe half a dozen. 30 people have been granted accreditation this year, though admittedly it’s not full today. There’s no view of the arenas from the tent or a screen on which to watch the action. Being unsecured and unmanned with zero security, it’s not an ideal place to leave a laptop while you beetle off to interview riders.

    It’s unfair not to mention here that Aachen is a permanent site with chunky government funding to rely on. It also tempts about a quarter of a million people a year to visit, and I’m sure that if Hickstead could generate that sort of footfall and revenue, they would gladly make changes here.

    I don’t wish to just bash Hickstead; as I said it’s my favourite British show. Clusters of people are sitting on the grass around the warm-up arenas (and some are taking pictures since Dressage at Hickstead lifted the ban on photography in that area that was initially outlined in the press packs). They also have live scoring — standard at all foreign internationals I’ve been to, but still a real rarity here, plus there’s a never-ending supply of jelly babies in the secretary’s office — not to be underestimated. The shopping’s been beefed up this year too and the new smoothie stand is doing a roaring trade.

    The lack of ‘buzz’ here isn’t Hickstead’s fault per se; it’s a symptom of the state of dressage in the UK. If it weren’t for the kindness and the cash of the Bechtolsheimers, the situation would undoubtedly be even worse. I long for a big government cash injection for my beloved sport and for its profile to be elevated further on the crest of the wave of Olympic golds.

    May I make one suggestion though, please Hickstead? We have top notch dressage and showjumping at the same venue within 7min walk of each other, yet there is no cross pollination. It would be marvellous to have a big screen at each showing the action from the other main arena and a shuttle buggy to ferry people between the two. A bit more integration would be really healthy.

    Talking of what’s OK — there’s an older gent wandering about next to the main dressage arena with his shirt completely open, and puffy, pasty contents on show. Is that OK at Hickstead? Answers on a postcard please…

    Alice Collins responds: Why Hickstead doesn’t need gold taps…

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