Event organisers have expressed concern that the British Eventing (BE) autumn calendar is becoming saturated. Many organisers have had to leave their ballots open until the last minute to attract the usual number of competitors, and some one-day events are worried about their financial future if the trend continues.
Jacquie Mason, event secretary for Upton House Horse Trials, believes a crowded autumn calendar means competitors gamble on events having spaces, and enter at the last minute.
She says her autumn event had 12 dressage judges on standby because she wasn’t sure if they would all be needed.
“So many events are putting on extra days that it’s killing off other events,” she says. “There are not a lot of happy organisers around and entries are down on last year.”
Jill Lamont, secretary for the normally heavily wait-listed Purston Manor Horse Trials, says: “It has become swamped. By the ballot date of 25 August, we were 180 entries down on 2003. It’s the last 100 entries that are the profit in small events. Not knowing if you have them puts the pressure on.”
Jill wants BE to look at the schedule, plus the system for withdrawals and refunds.
Alec Lochore of Burnham Market Horse Trials, which ran last weekend, also found he was some 100 entries short at the ballot date.
“People are entering late,” he says. “We weren’t full, but it wasn’t disastrous.”
Alec believes it’s to do with market forces, and explains: “This may sound controversial, but many events aren’t getting punters because they haven’t been investing in their courses. Riders are being choosy.
“If they are balloted out of one event, they won’t just apply for any event with spaces. Riders are voting with their feet, and rightly so: organisers need to give riders what they want.”
But Alec also feels the autumn schedule is too full, and needs a “better balance of events”. He says small events are being squeezed. “Margins are not great at the lower level,” he adds.
But Jan Cottam of the Goring Heath Horse Trials doesn’t think it’s valid to compare this year with last: she says 2003 was a “mega” year for autumn events.
“All our sections were decent sized,” she says. “But we left entries open up to the last minute and took people then, which would have been unusual before.”
Paul Elliott, fixtures coordinator at BE, says his figures do not bear out organisers’ worries, pointing out instead that there is a shift in how people enter.
“Organisers come to BE having reached ballot dates with places to fill but, by the time of the event, they’re full.
“There are localised trends – some events have record entries, like Winkburn Park, Notts, which had to wait-list for the first time.”
Paul also adds that there were 8,104 August entries, up more than 4% on last year. BE is conducting a members’ survey to define their “pattern of competing”; when they want to run, how often and what they travel for.
BE hopes to advise existing and new organisers of gaps in the calendar to be filled or when certain periods are overcrowded.
The survey results, to be published in October, will give a fuller picture.