The last-minute introduction of an FEI 160km class at last weekend’s Euston Park, following an offer of sponsorship by Sheikh Mohammed, has been met by mixed reactions from British endurance riders.
The Sheikh is one of equestrianism’s most generous sponsors. Aside from his impressive racing and bloodstock operation, he supports a broad range of events from Punchestown’s European Eventing and Endurance Championships last year, to the UAE Windsor Horse Trials and a number of other endurance events – including Thetford Forest FEI ride.
“I think people’s biggest concern is that this sort of move could be seen as sponsors creating an extra opportunity to qualify their horses,” says regular competitor and Southdowns Festival organiser Gilly Paton.
Each country may send a maximum of six riders to the World Championships (January 2005, Dubai), and to the Europeans (August 2005, UK). Teams are decided and submitted to the FEI about a month before each event; rider/horse combinations qualify by completing a 160km ride.
Any country with a serious endurance campaign – for example Britain and the UAE – will have already qualified as many as double the number of entries required. To qualify a large number of riders is advantagous, since the more riders available, the bigger the pool from which to choose a final team.
“About a month ago, a sponsor [Sheikh Mohammed] came forward to offer money for a two-day 160km ER at Euston Park,” explains Endurance GB vice-chairman Maggie Maguire.
“After discussing it with all parties, we agreed the class would be to everyone’s advantage. There aren’t that many two-day FEI 160km rides on the calendar, and this is a qualifier for Dubai, so it would have been foolish to say no.
“The extra class [the 160km will run in addition to the original ride] wouldn’t have been put on unless we thought it was of benefit to the wider endurance world. There are one or two riders with concerns – but then there always are.”
Maggie admits there were fears that competitor numbers would be low for such a late entry to the calendar, but now that 14 British and five UAE riders have entered, these have proved unfounded.
Last-minute sponsorship is fairly commonplace, according to Maggie, but she admits that there has not recently been a situation when an extra class has been added.
“I understand that there is a anxiety about the influence of monied sponsors in all equestrian sports,” she says, “but EGB needs sponsors for rides like this.”
FEI official John Robertson helped organise the new class.
“An FEI class has to have FEI officials who wouldn’t normally be at this ride,” he says. “And now that it’s a two-day ride – there are 130 people coming for the original ride on the Sunday – we’ve put in an additional trot-up area.”
No representative of Sheikh Mohammed was available for comment.