The eventing world is reeling from the news that the organisers of the 2006 World Equestrian Games at Aachen, Germany, have been given the go-ahead by the FEI to hold short-format eventing.
The German show requested the short-format due to space and financial pressures as well as demands from German television companies, which will be covering WEG.
The FEI’s decision will surprise many within the sport who thought that the short-format had been introduced solely to keep eventing in the Olympics. No part of the original deal concerned other championship events such as WEG.
American team trainer Mark Phillips told HHO’s sister magazine, Eventing: “If any part of the original deal had been about the World Equestrian Games, we would have thought more about it.”
This news may prove a devastating blow for the future of the traditional four-star CCI, which has always been the sport’s ultimate challenge.
When the decision to introduce the short format for the Olympics was announced last year, Burghley’s former director, Bill Henson said: “The change could have a big impact on the sport in terms of qualification – if the Olympic competition changes then I think qualifying competitions will also change in time.
“It will also have an impact on breeding in the long-term, as the type of horse needed for short-format is different to that which is ideal for the long-format event.”
However, the BEF believes that the decision does not automatically signal the end of the traditional four-star.
“We are disappointed but not surprised by the FEI’s decision,” BE chief executive Andrew Finding told HHO. “It is far too early to say what the long-term effects may be on the sport but we don’t see it automatically signalling the end of the long-format.”
The short-format is at present untried at four-star level and some riders have voiced concerns that the removal of the roads and tracks and steeplechase may have a negative impact on safety, which the sport has done much to improve in recent years.
In a recent column on Horse & Hound, William Fox-Pitt emphasised the unknown challenge of warming up for a four-star short-format cross-country course: “It was when I saw the warm-up area at Athens that the proposed short-format idea really hit home. It will be like warming up for a novice event — a couple of pops and then you’re on. It seems a cold-blooded start in comparision to doing Phases A, B and C, after which warm-up is never an issue.
“This is something we will have to seriously consider. For how long do you warm up? How many times do you jump the practice fence? Would you need to go for a hack?”
A forum on the FEI’s decision and it’s potential effects on the sport’s future is expected to take place during the European Championships in Punchestown signalling that the debate about this controversial subject is far from finished.