It’s a great achievement for Britain to have qualified for the Olympics at the European Championships and it takes the pressure off at the Nations Cup final in Barcelona next week.
The team heads there with some loss of form since winning team bronze in Rotterdam and is missing Ben Maher’s superstar Explosion W. He is without doubt the next Big Star, and although he didn’t win individual gold at the Europeans, pound for pound he’s the best in the world. His percentage rate of jumping clears over 1.60m tracks is unreal.
Instead, Ben will be riding F One USA while Scott Brash has pulled out and has been replaced by Ellen Whitaker.
Great Britain’s best performer is likely to be Holly Smith and Hearts Destiny, who has looked fresh and well since an enforced rest when Holly broke her collarbone.
While the qualifying pressure is off, we need to put a serious plan together for next year. Britain is still not invited to compete in the Nations Cups of Aachen and Calgary and, when you consider they are the two richest shows in the world, we need to be at that table. The four best riders will identify themselves and it will be up to the riders involved to show current form and not rely on past performances.
No disasters please
Looking ahead to next year’s Olympics, there will be a new format in place that the Olympic committee and FEI have put together without much consultation with the International Jumping Riders Club or other rider voices. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn into a complete disaster.
Previously, it took one individual qualifier and two team rounds before reaching the individual final, but now it will go straight to an individual qualifier against the clock, with the top 35 going through.
What kind of course can you build for a speed class but one that is being jumped by championship horses who are not built for speed? The individual final is traditionally built bigger, so how will it affect the less-experienced nations if they are straight in to the toughest tracks?
It’s interesting as riders such as Nick Skelton and Ludger Beerbaum would not have won their medals under this format. It took Nick three rounds in Rio to get into the top 35 and in Barcelona Ludger fell off but ended up Olympic champion. I don’t think it will influence team selection but it will affect the outcome as a lot of horses “grow into” a championship. You could also see a lot of lesser nations torn apart before the team competition even starts.
This is also abuse
Another change coming in is the new whip rule, and you can’t say that a cushioned whip, similar to those used in racing, is a bad idea at all.
I do wonder though whether we should really be addressing riding standards instead. There are some amateurs who would certainly benefit from better education and training, and perhaps some sort of proficiency test would be a more effective move for horse welfare. Missing and crashing on back rails or hanging off horses’ mouths is also abuse, and probably more damaging, too.
Ref Horse & Hound: 26 September 2019