‘Nothing for riders to aspire to’: loss of Blair Castle and other eventing concerns come under discussion

  • The cancellation of Blair Castle was a major talking point at the British Eventing (BE) Scotland AGM on 20 March – as concerns continue for the sport in Scotland.

    H&H reported this week that Blair Castle Horse Trials had announced that this year’s event will be the last. A Blair Castle statement said the land on which the event is held “is increasing its involvement in regenerative agriculture and in future the land will require to be managed all year round in a way that is in accordance with its environmental aims”.

    The event, which is host to international eventing from CCI* to CCI4*-L, the Scottish Grassroots Eventing Championships, showing and British Showjumping classes, will run for the 35th and final time on 22–25 August. The news comes just weeks after it was announced that the Festival of British Eventing has been cancelled for 2024, owing to viability issues.

    Discussing Blair’s cancellation at the AGM, it was agreed that this was “not a BE problem” but an eventing problem.

    Blair event director Alec Lochore said that land management and farming is changing UK-wide.

    “Now that the farm subsidies are changing, and the way that farmers use the land, I think that is a challenge for everybody; farmers, landowners, and therefore the sport,” he said.

    “I tried on a couple of occasions to make a claim for the sport to continue [at Blair] and it is with regret that there is a line in the sand.”

    It was discussed whether a new Scottish venue could be found to “replicate the Blair experience”, and Alec said there is “not a yes or no answer”.

    “It’s a case of, let’s explore that if that opportunity comes up. Blair is a huge event, and to transpose it straight onto another event is a fantastic notion, but let’s see if that’s even possible by finding a venue in the first instance. There would be the requirement for quite a considerable amount of investment because there is so much infrastructure now at Blair, which one takes for granted,” he said.

    BE chief executive Rosie Williams agreed with Alec and said it is “a nigh-on impossible thing to transport something with 35 years of history and just put it somewhere else”.

    “Those things don’t ever really work, so we’ve got to get our heads together and make sure we can find that iconic event that is right for Scotland,” she said. “We’ve got to make these events viable for landowners to be able to say, ‘It’s worth me holding a horse trials’ and not necessarily heading down an agricultural route.”

    Ms Williams added that BE’s immediate focus will be trying to “increase the amount of good-quality events that are relevant to the Scottish membership” – and finding a replacement for the Scottish Grassroots Eventing Championships. BE is also training more coaches in the region to help “develop the talent”.

    Other discussions included the limited number of events, and that there is no current Scottish representation on the BE fixtures committee. Concerns were also raised that Scotland does not hold any classes at intermediate or above – and those who have a BE premier membership pay the same price as riders in England, but for less opportunity.

    Ms Williams acknowledged frustrations, but highlighted some of the challenges including event viability and entries for upper-level classes. Of Scotland’s 700 members, 575 are grassroots, and Ms Williams said it would be “irresponsible” to put on intermediate classes with limited numbers of horses to run in them.

    This was met with response from the AGM attendees that how can BE expect to grow the Scottish membership, if there is “nothing for riders to aspire to” – and that decisions to run upper-level classes in Scotland and northern England should be based on figures across Britain, not just Scottish numbers.

    Ms Williams said BE is “not shying away from the fact we need to do something”, and reiterated that there will be a full fixtures review, that will undergo public consultation, plus a governance and membership categorisation review.

    The meeting concluded with a presentation to outgoing BE Scotland chairman John White. Recruitment will begin for his replacement.

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