An affiliated one-day event at Aston Le Walls that was organised at short notice to help give British Eventing (BE) competitors a run has been cancelled after the governing body refused to grant it minimum eligibility requirement (MER) status.
The Northamptonshire venue added an extra day (Friday, 6 April) to their unaffiliated weekend schedule to allow BE members plagued by wet-weather cancellations the chance to compete.
Further rain meant Aston decided to run part of the cross-country on its massive all-weather surface and as a result, BE said the course would not be eligible as a qualifying event, leading organisers to pull the plug.
“After consideration, the cross-country advisory group recommended for safety reasons that the speed [for the cross-country] would need to be reduced and therefore the competition would not meet the regulations so the results would be non-qualifying and MERs could not be awarded,” a statement from BE said.
“We thank Nigel Taylor and the team at Aston Le Walls for their support in hosting additional days for members.”
In a social media post, the venue confirmed that BE not allowing the competitors to achieve their MERs had been behind the decision not to go ahead and that they had otherwise been “happy to run”.
The post continued: “The whole site has been re-arranged in order for this event to run, however all efforts are now focused on running the unaffiliated competition on Saturday and Sunday, which will go ahead.
“The team wishes to thank all the volunteers who had kindly changed plans and given up their time to try and make this event work.
“Sorry for any inconvenience caused… we tried.”
Aston Le Walls team member and elected BE board member Nigel Taylor added that he was “extremely disappointed by BE’s decision in this process”.
“With over 30 days currently cancelled, and no events to replace those days lost, it is BE members that remain most affected,” he said.
Competitors have also expressed their frustration at BE’s decision, especially as many are looking to step up their horses at their next events, but haven’t been able to bank sufficient early runs.
One competitor said on Facebook that whoever made the decision not to award MERs “had a lot to answer for”.
“This is a decision made by someone who doesn’t have the interests of the members or their horses at heart or at worst appears to be ignorant of their needs,” she said.
“I have two horses entered at Belton, both stepping up a level and both with two abandoned early season runs. I would have bitten someone’s arm off to have my horses run on a surface in the current conditions.
“I hope BE will be on top of the carnage this decision could cause at Belton and that BE will ensure the courses there are tempered to reflect their inability to provide us with any events for the first six weeks of the season.”
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Another commented: “I believe the issue being cited by BE is that they would need to run at a reduced speed and so this would not meet the required regulations. However, there have been classes run at a reduced speed in the past, eg Oasby previously ran intermediate classes at novice speed because of fog.
“Surely BE should be looking at ways to run an event rather than ways not to.”
Responding to the criticisms, BE’s chief executive David Holmes noted the sport was facing “unprecendented weather conditions”.
“We have had to completely abandon 15 events and partially abandon seven due to the weather, and Larkhill is now the only event running this weekend,” he said.
“As the national governing body of the sport of eventing, our paramount concern is the safety of riders and horses, and as such we were unable to award qualifying results towards MERs. As a consequence of which the organiser decided to cancel the competition.
“The organiser could have still run the event on Friday, in addition to his unaffiliated events on Saturday and Sunday, however decided not to do so.
“Given this weekend’s challenges the FT are continuing to work 24/7 to see at what options there are for the coming weeks, especially in relation to riders requiring qualifications.”
In response to Mr Holmes’ statement, one BE competitor posted: “It’s the organisers’ curse; damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I can’t believe that people think these matters are decided on a whim. With all the time and effort required to put on an extra day it can never be an easy call to have to cancel it. Well done BE for all your efforts.”
Another person said they were sad to hear there had been criticism of the decision: “We are experiencing wet conditions and floods from one end of the country to the other. Well done BE for all your efforts.”