The British dressage team selection policy for this September’s World Equestrian Games (WEG) has come under fire after selectors made a sudden about-turn.
Early last week, H&H learnt that three riders — Laura Bechtolsheimer, Carl Hester and Maria Eilberg — had been told they were on the WEG team, while another three — Fiona Bigwood, Emile Faurie and Henriette Andersen — were asked to compete again in Germany this month.
But in a sudden change of heart, Fiona Bigwood was named as the fourth member of the team — amid rumours that she had challenged the process.
Another bone of contention has been that Carl Hester, a relative newcomer to 2010 WEG selection following the surprise return of his ride Liebling II, was allowed to bid for selection at Hickstead — while the other riders have had to prove themselves with several international scores away from home (at events deemed tougher than Hickstead).
After the full team was announced, Emile Faurie spoke of his “incredible disappointment” to H&H.
“I’m on a younger horse with less experience, but I was looking forward to proving ourselves in Germany,” he said.
So why the change of heart?
BEF World Class performance director Will Connell said Fiona was picked two days after the first three riders because selectors deemed it to be “in the best interests of the team to make their final decision on all four”.
Fiona Bigwood did not return H&H’s calls, but British Dressage (BD) chief executive Amanda Bond denied the selection policy had been challenged, echoing Will’s comments.
She said: “The selectors initially felt that they wanted to select three riders and see other horses perform again before making a decision.
“However, in follow-up discussions, it was agreed that it was in the best interests of preparation to select all four riders at this stage.”
According to sources, selectors originally said they would make their decision post-Aachen (15-18 July). But the announcement was then delayed until after CDI Hickstead — two weeks later — to allow Carl Hester and Liebling to prove themselves first.
Had they not done so, Fiona Bigwood was looking good for a place.
BD’s selection policy states that shows are “weighted” so that some results carry more significance than others. Some riders feel it unjust that Carl was able to prove himself at a less atmospheric home international.
Richard Davison, who is not a selector but team manager, admitted there are “harder and easier CDIs [top-level shows]”, but argued: “Carl and Liebling scored 75% at the Europeans last August and plus-70% on his only grand prix this year. Would you not take that horse and rider?”
He added: “It’s not about being fair, it’s about winning medals.”
This article was first published in Horse & Hound (12 August, ’10)