Harry Meade: A new age of British team horses? *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    We received the good news last week that the World Equestrian Games (WEG) cross-country course will be full length, after some doubts due to ground preparation problems.

    The organisers have faced challenging conditions, but had the course been significantly shortened and we’d ended up holding a World Championship on a sub-standard track, it would have been totally inappropriate, given there are plenty of other suitable events in the world. It would be like marathon runners being told to compete over a half marathon for their World Championships.

    Newfound depth

    The Brits have waited for confirmation of the course distance to name their team, with the announcement now imminent. Selection will be difficult as very little separates the top eight combinations, who are likely to make up the squad and reserves. This is a welcome problem that reflects a strength in depth that we’ve not experienced for several years.

    Britain had an illustrious run of eventing success in the decade or so at the start of this century, winning eight consecutive European team golds and a team medal every year from 1999 to 2012.

    At that time, we had horses who were squad regulars — Over To You made eight appearances, with a further 12 horses contesting three or more championships for Britain: Supreme Rock, Tamarillo, Shear H2O, Shear L’Eau, Captain Christy, Toytown, Call Again Cavalier, Spring Along, Flint Curtis, Miners Frolic, Opposition Buzz and Imperial Cavalier. Each of these were easy picks for selection.

    However, we have since lacked a depth of horsepower — since 2012 the squad has seen a spate of one-off appearances and only Chilli Morning has started at more than two championships. For whatever reason, the Brits have seriously lacked championship horses who can maintain form and soundness.

    Excitingly, we now have a newfound depth of both horses and riders. It bodes well for WEG, and for the next few years if we can campaign them in a way that maintains their longevity.

    Keeping horses as the priority

    The Festival of British Eventing is such a special event and the team did a terrific job on the ground this year.

    Gatcombe is a specialist course, and has perhaps become even more so in the past 10 years. The fences themselves always ride well, but the route between fences in recent years has come in for some analysis regarding the number of turnbacks.

    While we need good viewing for spectators and decent camera angles, too many circles and steep descents reduce the horses’ desire to travel forwards, a quality that is essential to any cross-country horse.

    It’s a difficult balance for designers and organisers, but it might be better to have half a dozen fewer fences within camera shot, but a more flowing course.

    With eventing’s comparatively modest prize money, the greatest upside is that a rider’s decision of where to run is generally based around what best suits their horse, rather than their bank balance.

    When a decent cheque comes along — as at Gatcombe, where the good prize money is much appreciated — that mindset is not forgotten so quickly as to change priorities. If the route of the track could be tweaked then Britain’s top one-day event will again be a major target for more top horses.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 16 August 2018