Mark Phillips: Bad riding is the problem *H&H VIP*

  • Barbury Castle continues to hold a special place in the calendar with its amazing covering of grass and unparalleled viewing.

    The Event Rider Masters (ERM) class again produced great entertainment. There is nothing better than watching top pairs having a cut across the country — great technique and fabulous riding abounded.

    If anybody thought that Andrew is not back to his best or even better, they had to think again. The Kiwis will miss his undoubted talent in Rio.

    Runner-up Paul Tapner continues to ride in his own very effective style and nobody took a more economical line. Gemma Tattersall, third, is on a crest of a wave as she heads off to Rio. Similarly Izzy Taylor and Kitty King looked on flying form in the two-star.

    William Fox-Pitt was not at his most fluent on his two-star horses but still won on Secret Night and was sixth on Top Biats, which says a lot for his undoubted skills. He was much better on Cool Mountain in the ERM to be seventh, so is obviously increasing in confidence all the time.

    How can riders learn?

    The supporting CIC3* was much more of a war zone, with two horse falls and four unseated riders and six retirees out of the 59 cross-country starters. Although Barbury has terrain, I did not think it was that difficult! But there was some fairly moderate riding.

    It’s easy for me as course-designer to blame the riding, but this is the problem facing those clamouring to make the sport safer, which was also highlighted in the novice.

    The novice water at Barbury was a set of rails 3ft 5in high and then 30ft to an 8in pole on top of a step down into the water. After six hours of competition and seven horse falls at the step down, it was deemed prudent to move the white flag so riders could bypass the step and also to add a long route for the two- and three-star.

    As course-designer, I’m happy to go with the flow. However, nobody thought the question was unfair or inappropriate, let alone potentially dangerous — around the world you’d see the same test at 1.05m level and the same distance at 1m level.

    After we moved the flag 80-85% of riders still tackled the step. The problem is that the 15-20% who didn’t gained their qualification for that level having avoided the question, but they will meet the test again elsewhere.

    The British Eventing officials said the problem is that riders don’t see this question often because organisers don’t like it when they may get falls in the water. So the problem remains: if we keep avoiding the question how do riders learn?

    Horse falls are a problem for the sport — at Barbury the statistics look horrible and nobody likes seeing horses on the ground. However, bad riding will always make horse falls more likely and therefore better coaching is the only real way to make eventing safer.

    We continue to spend huge money on frangible systems, but as with airbags in cars, they can only help rather than be the solution. Better coaching is an intangible, rather than a black and white solution that we can buy. If “risk management” was as easy as that, the solution would have been bought years ago.

    For now Barbury continued to provide great entertainment and ERM is developing a better product for a worldwide audience. But the intangibles of risk management remain; let’s just hope they do not show their ugly face on the big stage in Rio.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 14 July 2016