Horse & Hound columnist and US eventing chef d’equipe Capt Mark Phillips (pictured) has told prominent figures in American eventing that saving the classic “with steeplechase” format at international level is not an option.
Phillips, a vociferous defender of the long format, said at the US Equestrian Federation’s (USEF) annual meeting in Kentucky: “This train has left the station. This short format is here to stay. If you want to win, you have to learn how to do it.”
He explained that the FEI had left national eventing committees no option but to commit to the Olympic format. It was far too late to argue for saving the classic event on an international level, he added.
More than 30 prominent figures from US eventing — including eight current and former Olympic riders — gathered to offer their views on what should be done for the sport, both nationally and internationally, to increase its popularity and foster American success in competition.
A grass roots movement caused a stir in the US last autumn by producing a 2,500-signature petition to “save” the long format. But the USEF delegates concluded that emphasis must be put on improving American performance in the short format.
Nationally, the group determined that all one-star events should retain the steeplechase, while giving two-, three- and four-stars a choice.
But Jane Atkinson, who organises the Rolex Kentucky four-star fixture, wants to find a way to keep the classic format there. One solution involves staging an individual international classic format championship every other year.
“There’s no reason why we can’t have parallel horse trials and develop two types of horse and rider — one does not preclude the other,” argued former Canadian coach Jimmy Wofford, a US Olympian.
The group also discussed working with like-minded countries to have greater influence within the FEI, with the FEI general assembly in April in mind. In this context, the group wished to urge research on how horses are affected by the Olympic format and request that there be a vet check in the Olympic format before horses go across country.
Delegates also agreed to consider changing to a modern style of dress — in the dressage and show jumping phases — to appeal to the public and television. They also favoured a change of name to “equestrian triathlon”.