Harry Meade: Horses were spooked at WEG, not tested *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    This has been an extraordinary season, with the spate of cancellations followed by the prolonged drought. But, at the cost of a lot of effort by event teams, it has worked — and worked triumphantly.

    Once people realised the dry weather was here to stay, ground teams started work early and many produced better going than in normal years.

    To crown 2018 with double gold at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) was a wonderful achievement for Britain. All five pairs, and the Irish, too, stood out — not only did they deliver, but they did it in style. Our new world champion, Ros Canter, is an exquisite rider and such an understated person — she’s a great role model.

    Much has been written about whether multi-discipline WEGs work. Much of the venue at Tryon was a building site, devoid of spectators and therefore atmosphere, and it lacked the features that long-established events boast.

    Watching Burghley and WEG, I couldn’t help but think it would be better to hold championships at separate, existing, well-oiled venues for each sport, as was the case pre-1990. Putting investment into such events would leave a legacy.

    I’m a fan of Mark Phillips’ courses, and when he sets a new, difficult-looking test, riders have faith that it will ride well. Before WEG, I looked forward to seeing the questions he said riders would not have seen before.

    It was disappointing that these fences consisted of waterfalls and fountains, and a great shame to see horses being spooked rather than tested.

    Cross-country challenges a horse’s intellect as much as their bravery and athleticism, and these alien-looking fences addled some horses. Traditionally, cross-country has been about scaring the riders not the horses, whereas the opposite was the case here.

    That said, the pressures — from safety, behind-schedule ground works, weather and the fallout from the cancelled endurance event — must have been tremendous. In addition, this was the first time WEG has been held at three-star.

    At all previous World Championships, 25% to 49% of starters went clear; at this WEG 67% went clear and this would have been higher without the water features.

    At least the course was not reduced in length — I agree with Mark Todd that the endurance factor is one of the remaining horsemanship tests in eventing.

    Ridiculous rules

    The FEI eventing committee is proposing to make the rule on jumping outside flags at narrow fences even more punitive next year, despite feedback opposing it from riders and officials.

    The new wording makes it even harder to jump through clear, so more will fall foul of this rule. The reduction of penalties from 50 to 15 is little consolation. Comparable to four rails down, it still puts a horse completely out of contention. However, it’s human nature that we will see more of these handed out because 15 penalties seems less significant than 50.

    There is support to return to the pre-2017 rule that a pair either jumps clear or is eliminated. The new scoring system gives 200 penalties for an elimination, letting nations complete in a three-per-team situation at an Olympics, so this “flag rule” is not needed.

    The only sensible amendment to the old ruling would be to add that a horse’s hindlegs must make an effort to jump the obstacle, catering for situations where the shoulders jump the fence but the hind end canters around the side.

    Talking of ridiculous rules, the proposed ban on “unattached neckstraps” is not only unnecessary but verging on comical.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 11 October 2018