Riders reacted angrily in December when the much-discussed changes to the Olympic format were voted through at the FEI general assembly, and the surprising news broke that the World Equestrian Games (WEG) cross-country is dropping to three-star level over a shorter course, leaving us without a top-level (four-star) championship.
I gather the members of the FEI eventing committee were far from unanimous in their support of the WEG change and there is widespread opposition among riders — I was competing in Australia when the news came in and the reaction there was much the same as in Europe.
The principal argument for the downgrade is that WEG acts as an Olympic qualifier so cannot be at a higher level, but surely there can be other means of qualifying for the Games? I hope this change is not a fait accompli and can be resolved.
It’s always interesting to get out competing again — the first events tell you where you are with your horses after a winter of training.
Tweseldown was my first run and there was universal praise for the huge improvements there. Organiser Rachael Faulkner and her team have done a fantastic job. Those who start a new event have a blank canvas to work on, but when you take over a long-standing fixture, it’s difficult to change people’s perceptions. Event riders have been going to Tweseldown since the beginning of time, but it felt like a new place last week.
Huge amounts of trees and undergrowth have been cleared on the cross-country course over the past decade or so, which is a positive, but it did leave the area looking rather like the surface of the moon. Now there is some grass cover and the tracks were all flowing.
The intention is to use these courses on the higher, drier ground at the start and end of the season and to use the other track on the lower ground at the summer fixtures, to avoid returning to the dust paths of old.
Back to basics
I absolutely agree with Mark Phillips that safety comes down to rider responsibility. It’s our job to deal with the problems we’re set on the cross-country and to ride appropriately — position and instinct are key.
We also have to know when not to compete a horse at a certain level. Qualifications are not a guideline indicating when to move up a class and achieving them is not a green light to progress.
New team coach Chris Bartle recently held a workshop with British riders, at which he talked about his approach to cross-country. They were the same principles on which I was brought up working with my father — position, point of balance, bridging reins, control of the shoulder, changing gear without affecting speed, riding the optimum line and the importance of where the rider is looking. Although it was back to basics, the advice felt spot-on.
Ref: Horse & Hound; 16 March 2017