Eventing came together to look forward and talk about the future in a meeting called at Thoresby following many withdrawals among the top-level classes.
The wet spring – England’s dampest March in 40 years according to the Met Office – has sliced through the eventing calendar.
At the Eventing Spring Carnival at Thoresby Park, organisers BEDE Events, headed by director and course-designer Stuart Buntine, produced a mammoth effort to keep the show on the road. They moved arenas, scrapped all novice and intermediate classes – with the exception of the senior open intermediate and under-18 open novice sections – and rejigged the timetable. The idea was to prioritise the classes for those using Thoresby as a stepping stone on their five-star pathway the chance to run. Many withdrew, and for the ones who stayed, those courses rode well.
Mr Buntine stressed to H&H on Sunday afternoon that he “is not pointing fingers” or “blaming anyone” for withdrawing, but rather called Saturday’s meeting with owners to discuss how to look forward.
“I think it’s probably been the toughest week I’ve ever had organising events in 35 years – and tough because we’re working in unknown territory. That’s the hardest thing,” Mr Buntine told H&H, referencing the fact that this is only the third time Thoresby has run as a venue.
“When you’ve been at an event venue [for years] and you know the ground and how it reacts, you have confidence. I did have confidence in my inner self, that we were going to be right, but I’ve had to dig deep occasionally.”
Riders – whether they withdrew or stayed – praised Mr Buntine and BEDE for their efforts.
“We can’t control the weather, but what Stuart has done this weekend is going above and beyond,” said World Class eventing performance manager Dickie Waygood at the meeting. “I think everyone in this room will appreciate, and I did talk with Stuart, that every rider will walk in their own shoes. It could be a different story in three weeks’ time and absolutely no-one wants you to give up, Stuart, the way you think outside of the box is what we need.”
Mr Buntine added that he was upset and disappointed on Saturday, not at anyone’s individual decision to run or not, but for those who could not come.
“I get that the dressage got cut up. The moment I accepted 160 in the CCI4*-S, that was going to put huge pressure there, so I probably shouldn’t have done that,” he said, adding that he had done so because of pleas for him to take more than the intended 100 four-star entries.
“I think there are lots of areas where we, the three stakeholders – the owners, the riders, and the organisers – have to come together and work out how we develop a sport for the future.
“On Saturday, I got really frustrated and I thought, ‘Well hang on, I have dozens of the best owners in the country. Let me just start to try and get a consortium, a brainstorm of people as to how we do it’. I know the riders are the ones that are risking it, so they’ve got to have the ultimate decision, but we have to know what they want.
“The circle in our sport never gets beyond about half past six, quarter to seven and we’ve got to try to join it up. So my plea is to owners and riders, let’s get together and try to talk about it.”
Bruce Haskell, president of the Eventing Riders Association of Great Britain, told H&H: “Thank you to Stuart for the incredible effort he’s made to run under extreme circumstances, and we look forward to working with British Eventing and all stakeholders to create a sustainable future for everybody.”
The meeting included discussion over challenges including the reducing availability of estate parkland venues, escalating costs, and whether a portable all-weather arena would be possible – although at a cost of £450,000, there was also the question of whether that would come at the expense of parkland venues.
The Event Horse Owners’ Association (EHOA) report following the meeting noted that around a dozen people put their names forward to be involved, while “many others stated their wish to contribute or be informed of the discussions and outcomes”.
“There is a real need for key stakeholders including EHOA, ERA [Eventing Riders Association] and BEOA [British Event Organisers Association] to come together to work on solutions, as time is ticking and these issues need to be addressed as a priority to ensure we have a sport for the future,” added the EHOA report.
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