Bramham was a great event earlier this month — superbly organised and welcoming. Ian Stark’s cross-country course was outstanding — tougher than Badminton in some ways, but still flowing and the questions were clear to horses.
The park has ideal terrain — gradual rolling hills, rather than a steep rollercoaster.
The downside was that nearly one in four finishers in the senior CCI4*-L received 11 penalties for breaking a frangible and this was higher in the under-25s. These penalties have been ruled non-negotiable this season and such high statistics might suggest either the course was inappropriate, or the riding was diabolical, but neither was the case.
Nearly all the penalties came at fences with MIM clips, and in most cases the clips broke under too little pressure.
The clips are usually fitted so the two fixed green pieces have the breakable red section between them set horizontally. But on some upright fences at Bramham they were positioned so the red section was vertical. This meant the pins broke under forward pressure, which is not right, as such pressure rarely leads to a fall. Frangibles should only be activated by considerable downwards pressure, which is associated with the most dangerous type of falls, rotationals.
When frangibles came in, everyone agreed they shouldn’t change the nature of cross-country — their job was to prevent a serious fall, but not to affect the competition otherwise. At Bramham, we had a knockdown contest, with the leaderboard shuffled by the 11 penalties for horses who hit fences in a safe way.
Perhaps in certain places reverse frangible pins may be a more appropriate device to use?
This also shone a light on the automatic penalties — do we want championship medals and five-star wins determined by frangible devices that may not always act as intended? A non-subjective judgement does provide an immediate outcome, but what good is this if it’s the wrong result? We should allow ground juries more freedom to remove penalties.
Add an age factor
Working out the second half of the season, the Festival of British Eventing has traditionally played a part in horses’ autumn campaigns. But numbers have fallen recently.
The extreme undulations and camber of Gatcombe’s cross-country don’t suit every horse. But we should also look at the novice and intermediate championship qualifications.
Horses have to be in novice points when they qualify for a novice regional final. A smart young horse can end up over-qualified before he lands the top-three novice result required.
Horses then end up caught in a gap where they can’t contest the novice title (run under intermediate rules), but riders would not choose to put them into the testing intermediate final, which is run at advanced — not a level one expects seven-year-olds to tackle.
I wonder whether the rules could be tweaked so seven-year-olds can’t be over qualified for the novice nor eight-year-olds for the intermediate. They would still have to qualify in the same way as any other horse, but could have any number of points when they did so.
These championship classes are a great concept, but only if they continue to draw the best at each level, without inadvertently excluding a proportion of those likely to be the most competitive.
Ref Horse & Hound; 27 June 2019