No more roads and tracks and steeplechase at Badminton and Burghley. The news is hard to digest but there it is. In a move that will shock traditionalist, Britain’s leading events will adopt the short cross-country format from 2006.
The change was originally proposed by British Eventing, in a bid to bring the two CCI**** in line with the international championships format. “Last year we wanted to take time to evaluate the implications of the international changes of removing the roads and tracks and steeplechase phases, and after much debate the new format has emerged as the preferred way forward for the sport at present,” says BE Chairman Mike Tucker. “We feel that it is right to adopt the Olympic, World and European template to give our riders the best chance of medals in the future.”
The switch was carefully considered and it took a year of consultations before Badminton and Burghley agreed, but the FEI’s decision to drop roads and tracks and steeplechase from all international competition carried too strong a weight to be ignored.
“BE had a meeting a month ago at Stoneleigh with young and older riders, and the general consensus was that if the FEI is going short, there is not a lot of point in keeping the long format. Not least because team managers are suggesting that riders go for the format they are going to have at the championships,” says Badminton spokesman Julian Seaman.
Once the decision was reached, the two events decided to make it public with plenty of advance to allow competitors enough time to prepare. “The production of horses to the level of skill required to compete at Badminton and Burghley takes years,” says Tucker. “Riders, trainers and organisers need time to plan ahead for what some see as a radical development. It is for this reason that Badminton and Burghley made a deliberate decision to retain the existing format in 2005 while the new arrangement settles down at lower level events.”
Seaman is keen to clarify that dropping roads and tracks and steeplechase won’t turn three-day events into one-day events. “It won’t be a one-day event,” he says, “because the cross-country [course] will remain much bigger and challenging.” Running the short format, however, will undoubtedly require both events to rethink their cross-country day. But, says Burghley incoming director, Liz Inman the challenge will be faced with “open and positive minds”.
“By embracing the formula now in place for the international championships, Burghley and Badminton will continue to be the benchmark for events throughout the sport,” she adds.
The two CCI**** are by no means the first British events to make the change, as Blenheim ran the short format in 2004 and Bramham will go short this year. But Badminton and Burghley are widely perceived as the world’s leading horse trials and their decision to ditch roads and tracks and steeplechase in the future will undoubtedly mark the demise of the classic format in Britain and send shock waves rippling across the whole eventing world.
“We have a consensus that all major events are going short,” says Seaman. “You can take it that for the future the format will be short. It seems to be the format the riders want.”
And Badminton Director Hugh Thomas, simply sees the change as another stage in the sport’s natural progression. “Our trials were instigated as an Olympic preparation, and the sport of eventing, as the consummate test of all round horsemanship, has been seen in many guises since it was introduced at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912. The gradual fine tuning of the shape of the competition requires evolution but not revolution.”