Many of the young riders signed up to take part in Express Eventing — the competition touted as the “one-seat-sees-all showcase for three-day-eventing” — are undecided whether to compete after a series of broken promises.
The event on Sunday, 11 July is being run as part of the Royal Festival of the Horse at Stoneleigh (9-11 July), as a joint venture between event company E3 and the Royal Agricultural Society of England.
Last year, former E3 director Clive Hetherington told H&H that riders would each be paid £2,000-£3,000 to appear, and that prize-money would be in excess of £50,000 (news, 31 December).
He said each rider would be sponsored, and followed in their preparation by a TV crew. But just after being signed up, the 19 young riders were told prize-money was £3,000.
It is now back to £5,000 to the winner, but eventer Angus Smales said riders are “very unhappy”. “For my owners it’s a waste of time now. For the amount we stand to win it is not going to be worth the effort and cost of putting the show on the road,” he told H&H.
“A lot of training is involved for dressage to music and there’s the risk it’ll blow the horse’s brain. It’s changed the whole complexion of the event for me.”
Devon-based Aaron Miller is also reconsidering taking part. “The publicity and sponsors never materialised, and the appearance fee hasn’t been mentioned since we signed,” he said.
“They could at least meet us halfway — but they’ve dropped the prize- money and won’t cover our expenses.”
Riders also say organisers changed their mind over training days and what should be included in the dressage tests.
“They tried to organise training for the day after Bramham when everyone had competed. They also took the [flying] changes out of the dressage and then put them back in again,” said Gemma Tattersall, adding: “They don’t seem to be that well organised.”
Two dressage training days took place on 8 and 23 June at Richard Davison’s yard, and E3 director and festival organiser Gill Gratton-Smith told H&H more prizes in kind had been gathered for the winners.
But she denied any knowledge of an offer to cover riders’ costs. “There never was any suggestion of appearance money — I’m sorry if we gave that impression,” she said.
“The prize-money we wanted to give was based on a level of sponsorship we wanted to achieve. In the economic climate it wasn’t easy and hasn’t been achieved, simple as that.”
Lined up to compete and “looking forward to it”, is Alex Hua Tian, who said the drop in prize-money was unfortunate, but understandable.
“If they don’t have the money, they don’t have the money,” he reasoned. “We’re used to a structured format in eventing, but this is new so there are bound to be a few changes of mind. They’re very brave to run the event again and deserve our support.”
While Ms Gratton-Smith said ticket sales were “going very well”, she declined to release numbers to H&H.
Entrance to the Festival of the Horse is £20, allowing access to the showing rings and shopping. If spectators want to watch events in the all-weather grandstand — dressage on Friday, showjumping Saturday and Express Eventing on the Sunday — they must buy another ticket for £15-£20.
This article was first published in Horse & Hound (24 June, ’10)