Stuart Buntine’s team did a great job at Osberton. At lower level three-day events, there isn’t a big crowd or a high-level feature class, so the priority is less about showcasing top-end sport to the public and more about putting on a well-run and fun week for the many riders and connections.
The organisers made a real effort with entertainment every evening: welcome drinks with a mechanical surfboard, a pub quiz, A Question of Sport-style panel show in aid of The Brooke and the traditional Saturday-night party. All were very well attended and it was like a three-day event of old, when the riders’ tent was the focal point after dark in the days before lorries had such comfortable living!
Principle vs reality
The proposal to appoint an official responsible for ensuring consistency in the level of international courses is a good idea. This would ensure that a two-star in France is the same level as a two-star in Mexico. However, it would only treat the symptom and not the cause of the issue of varying standards between the four-star events. The reason why the likes of Luhmühlen are not comparable to the big three (Badminton, Kentucky and Burghley) is not because of designer error, which can be monitored and corrected through an independent adviser, but because a course has to reflect the quality of the field, and the risk that local media and sponsors are prepared to accept.
We currently have six events at this level and this is too many; there is a finite number of four-star combinations in the world and horses generally only run in two CCI4*s a year. The supply of four-star events has long outweighed the demands; we have created inflation and devalued the level. Luhmühlen and Pau are wonderful events, but it would be in nobody’s interest (organisers, their sponsors, TV audiences, competitors or the sport as a whole) to build a Badminton, Burghley or Kentucky course at these events. Insisting on levelling the standard of courses could do more harm to these events than good.
There is prestige attached to running a four-star; but while dropping a star rating to reflect their actual level might be a bitter pill to swallow, some events could be better served by being recategorised than by being brought up to a standard the field is unable to cope with.
Younger riders are growing up with ever-increasing pressure. It is not uncommon to hear of 20-year-olds being bought £200,000 horses, and they must feel a need to deliver.
What’s more, with instant online results available and social media, the world can see what you are doing and today’s competitors are more focused on results than their forebears. It wasn’t so long ago that you had to pay £5 to receive a faxed printout of a horse’s record!
Riders of yesteryear went to events with a personal aim, which was sometimes to win, but often to produce the best result to set up that horse for its season’s aim. If something went wrong you learnt from it, made adjustments and moved on, but now, worrying about an E or R on databases can be debilitating. There comes a point when you need to put it all together to get a big result, but the focus between big runs should be on the process rather than results.
The likes of William Fox-Pitt and Tina Cook are an ever-increasing rarity; they have been masters at producing horses quietly to peak for the big occasion, rather than “using them up” on the way. The quest for perfection is one thing, but winning should not become addictive at the expense of producing our horses — and ourselves as riders.
Ref: Horse & Hound; 5 October 2017