Where did it all go wrong? That was the question many riders and fans were left asking last week when Britain, the reigning Olympic and European champions, crashed out of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG).
Not only did they not claim a medal, the team failed to qualify for the 2016 Olympics — the only discipline Britain fell short in.
Britain dropped out of contention early on, finishing 18th of 31 teams — only 10 teams make the final.
World number one Scott Brash was the only Brit to finish within the top 50 — in 44th — and was to jump as an individual. However, he withdrew to save Lord and Lady Harris and Lady Kirkham’s Hello Sanctos for future competition.
Not smooth sailing
It had been a bumpy road in the run up to WEG.
Team manager Rob Hoekstra was criticised by riders for not fielding the best team at Hickstead and having to scrape through to the Nations Cup final at the last minute, as well as taking flack for not sending a team to Aachen.
Both decisions Rob said were made to “conserve horsepower” as the “priority” was to qualify for 2016 at WEG.
But Britain now must work hard to secure their Rio place — they must finish in the top three, of teams that are not already qualified, at next year’s Europeans.
“The reason we got it so wrong is we were so off the pace on day one,” said William Funnell, who was on the gold medal-winning Europeans team last year.
“The second round was a bad day. We needed clears and even Scott couldn’t produce one. It wouldn’t have helped him mentally knowing we were out before he even went in. The upshot is that getting Olympic qualification at the Euros is going to be extremely tough.”
The British Equestrian Federation’s Will Connell agreed it was a “bad day at the office”.
A lack of horsepower
Olympic medal winner Big Star was taken out of contention in July due to injury while Michael Whitaker’s Amai was withdrawn in August.
The team suffered a further blow two days before WEG when Ben Maher was ruled out when Cella picked up a “slight overreach injury”.
“It’s such a fine line between winning and losing — missing Big Star and Cella has made a massive difference,” said John Whitaker. “Having three good championship horses on the team it would have been a completely different story.”
Rob Hoekstra said it was “obviously disappointing”.
“It just hasn’t worked out for us. It’s not been easy, everyone knows we’ve lost a lot of horses over the past few months. We had two horses who were at a championship for the first time and it’s a huge step up and they performed well,” he said. Scott Brash agreed you have to “take the positives”.
“We know it will be tough to qualify next year but we’ll all do our best to get our horses prepared to give ourselves the best chance,” he said.
Irish in trouble too
It wasn’t just Britain that disappointed. Ireland are in a similar position and must also qualify for Rio at the Europeans.
“It’s unbelievable that we had three Irish riders in the top 12 but still haven’t qualified for Rio, it’s devastating. It’s about time we went to another Olympics,” said Denis Lynch.