Outcry after Chatsworth forced to drop novice sections again: British Eventing responds

The interim chief executive of British Eventing (BE) said it is possible the fixtures and balloting process could need review after Chatsworth had to drop its novice sections due to large entries across the popular fixture’s classes.

Having followed the BE balloting procedure, in which the international and higher-level classes are the priority, organisers of Chatsworth International Horse Trials (10 to 12 May) were unable to run the novice sections.

Chatsworth asked BE for permission to run an extra day of cross-country to accommodate the novice entries, but was refused.

In a statement, BE said it was “very disappointed” the class would not be running, adding that the decision was “not taken lightly”, and that an important factor behind it was the impact an extra day would have on the “viability of other fixtures in the calendar”.

Chatsworth event director Patricia Clifton told H&H this is the third year the novice sections have been dropped.

“Last year a lot of events had been cancelled so we got more entries; we didn’t think it would be the same this year,” she said.

“We applied for an extra cross-country day at the end of last year so we didn’t have to ballot as many people and it was turned down, but we were told if we had enough entries, we could bring it up again after ballot date.

“That was last Tuesday [16 April] and while it would have been inconvenient to organise an extra day as the event’s only a couple of weeks away, we’d have been happy to do it.”

Mrs Clifton said that had the event run 15-hour days, it might have been possible to run “half a novice section”.

“But then who would you ballot out?” she asked. “People really want to come to Chatsworth; it’s their dream, and it doesn’t mean we’re taking entries from an event next weekend that’s miles away.

“It doesn’t seem logical to say we could have run the novice sections on Saturday without affecting the other events, but that an extra day would affect them.

“I think if people want to enter Chatsworth, they enter it, and if they want to enter X event, they enter that; they should be able to go where they want to go, if organisers can cater for it.”

BE released a statement explaining its reasons for denying the extra date.

Interim CEO Jude Matthews told H&H she sympathises with riders and Chatsworth’s organisers, but that the processes for deciding whether extra days are viable has been developed for a reason.

“It is essential to balance the needs of organisers and riders and BE has the responsibility to maintain this balance,” she added.

“I have asked the fixtures team to see if there is a way in which this particular set of circumstances could be incorporated into the fixtures protocol,” she said. “It works for some but – and there’s no doubt from the social media outcry – it doesn’t for others. But the process has been developed to help all events be viable and ensure competitors have the right level of opportunity to compete.

“But equally, if there’s demand for extra days of competition, BE needs to be sure it can deal with such circumstances and that the right outcome is achieved.”

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Ms Matthews said that without the BE-managed calendar, which is supported by organisers, fixtures would become a “free-for-all”, with popular, central venues doing well and others becoming unviable to run.

“Such a situation would have a devastating impact on so many of our members,” she said.

“I can see it from both points of view,” she added. “If you enter Chatsworth, that’s where you want to run, and if you’re an organiser and there’s demand for a class you want to run, I understand frustration when you are unable to do so. But BE has an overall responsibility to the whole sport, and all organisers are fully aware of the process when they sign their agreements with BE.”

Ms Matthews added that it would be wrong of BE to “bow to social media pressure”.

“Chatsworth is an iconic venue, but we have responsibility to balance the needs of all organisers and members,” she said. “It may be that the time is right to change, but should change be required we will need to involve all stakeholders and ensure we are really open and transparent in what we’re doing.”

Read Ros Canter’s thoughts on every fence on the Badminton course in today’s Horse & Hound magazine (dated 25 April). Full Badminton form guide in next week’s issue (dated 2 May).