The end of the equestrian dream that was Stoneleigh Park

  • British Showjumping (BS) and British Dressage (BD) move to new offices near Coventry in late 2013.

    But British Eventing (BE) and the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) will stay at Stoneleigh Park in Warwicks – the first time in nearly 50 years that the disciplines have been split.

    It marks “the end of a dream“, says former H&H editor Michael Clayton.

    He was chairman of the British Horse Society (BHS) from 1998-2001, just after eventing and dressage left the Society and the BHS itself was in severe financial difficulties.

    He has watched Stoneleigh’s prestige diminish – culminating in the loss in 2009 of the Royal Show.

    In the 1960s the British Horse Society (BHS), the British Showjumping Association, the Royal International Horse Show and Horse of the Year Show, were run from cramped offices in central London.

    Dorian Williams, the BBC’s first TV equestrian commentator and then a BHS council member, pressed for a move out of London.

    “Dorian encouraged them to support the vision of offices on the same site as a national “equestrian university” with facilities for training instructors and potential UK team riders, plus courses and conferences,” said Michael.

    The National Equestrian Centre (NEC) opened in 1968 and for many years was British horsesport’s epicentre, with its events regularly televised.

    But in 2004 a consultants’ report described the horse world as “insular, fragmented and dogged by slow and inefficient decision-making“.

    The BHS decided to build a new HQ, with room for the BEF and all 16 member bodies in 2007.

    However in 2009 it went ahead alone, after first the then BSJA (now BS) and then the other disciplines dropped out.

    And now BS and BD are leaving the Pony Club and Endurance GB at Stoneleigh with the BEF, BE and Parelli.

    BEF chief executive Andrew Finding feels Dorian William’s dream has run its course.

    “A great deal has changed in the horse world since 1966, not least the distances riders will travel and the availability of facilities,” he said.

    “We now have so many excellent centres all round the country. We would not want to compete with them.”

    However developers La Salle Investments, who rented the 1,000-acre site from the Royal Agricultural Society of England last year (news, 13 January 2011), says it proposes a “national equestrian centre of excellence” on the site.

    It would include world-class training facilities in the three Olympic disciplines and para dressage.

    Perhaps the Stoneleigh dream is not quite dead.

    This news story was first published in the current issue of H&H (26 April 2012)

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