‘We need to pull together’: major organiser speaks on how to secure future of landmark events

  • Thoresby organiser Stuart Buntine has called on eventing to pull together and support fixtures following a successful weekend in an uncertain landscape.

    The cancellation of Gatcombe and the news that this will be the final year of the international horse trials at Blair Castle have sent shock waves through the eventing world. H&H has also reported on other cancelled fixtures, with costs and insurance big factors in the loss of these events.

    The Eventing Spring Carnival at Thoresby (28 to 31 March), which joined the calendar as a replacement venue for Belton, is the first international eventing fixture of the 2024 season in Britain. Its four-star sections, which incorporate the prestigious Lycetts Grantham Cup, serve as a major milestone on the pathway to spring five-stars and championship selection. It also runs CCI3*-S and CCI2*-S, plus national classes from novice to advanced.

    BEDE Events, which runs the fixture, has worked hard to build this parkland venue into a destination event, and was rewarded with strong fields and a record crowd on Easter weekend. Easter Sunday, in particular, was targeted at families and bringing new people in to enjoy the sport. Riders praised this year’s fixture, particularly the beefed-up courses.

    But the current international fixtures list, which sets out events from 2020 to 2025, expires after next year. Mr Buntine, BEDE Events director and Thoresby course-designer, said that the uncertainty of not knowing what will happen after 2025 is “one of the biggest challenges” he faces.

    “We can’t invest if we don’t have longevity,” he said. “I’ve been saying to the sport for years, if you want us to invest, we’ve got to have a longevity of tender.

    “At the end of this year, all internationals go up for re-tender and I could lose it. So I can’t invest any money in the future of this event until I know I’ve got it.

    “That’s not a dig at British Eventing. I run [many events] and I’m prepared to invest further into the sport, because as a business, that’s what I do. But we have to have longevity, and we’ve got to be able to invest with confidence.”

    Last year, Thoresby was granted permission to run a second four-star section, owing to huge entries. But the wet spring then added a further headache. BEDE Events rejigged the timetable and scrapped many national sections to prioritise the classes used by those targeting five-stars. Many withdrew, but the courses rode well for those who stayed.

    Although this spring has also been very wet, Mr Buntine said last year had “done us a favour” as riders knew that the ground would withstand the rain.

    It was still a challenge – organisers made the decision last Thursday to move the showjumping to a more compact, drier patch of land than the main arena – and further changes are planned for 2025.

    “It’s only the third time we’ve run here, so we learn a lot every time,” said Mr Buntine.

    He added that getting insurance to run destination, spectator events, is increasingly challenging, and that if Thoresby had been forced to cancel, the claim would have been mid six figures.

    “You just can’t carry that loss,” he said. “What I have to try to do now is try to get rid of the risk factors. So there’s a huge change going on for next year. I went to Badminton last Saturday to walk the course, so I had six hours in the car and I came back and I said, ’Right, I know what I’m going to do’. I’ve actually spent the last few days walking next year’s track – I’m reversing it, which will be really fun, because you get completely different terrain.

    “But we have to find out what the sport wants, because the biggest challenge I have is that I don’t have a contract beyond next year.”

    In the EquiRatings Thoresby preview podcast, the hosts called on fans to make an effort to go and support destination events if they can.

    When H&H asked Mr Buntine how important spectator footfall is, he said that these events “rise and fall on the gate”.

    “I’ve always said an event [like this] isn’t profitable until you get over 10,000 through the gates,” he said.

    “That’s the number where you can invest with confidence – 10,000 is a big crowd. In the latter years of Belton we got it and it became a good crowd. But to do that, you’ve to take some big risks. So what we’re trying to do is remodel where I’m going, so I can create the destination, because riders need this.”

    He explained that one of his aims has always been to create an environment where horses get experience of competing in a big atmosphere as they progress up the levels before they reach the top.

    “We do all have to pull together as a sport,” he said. “It’s not owners against riders against organisers, we’ve all got to get together, sit in a room and say, what’s the future and what do we want it to look like in 10 years’ time? Then let’s work back from that to how we get there.”

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