Mark Phillips: The biggest issue in eventing today *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    Last year, Mike Etherington-Smith’s Luhmühlen cross-country course was a two-star at four-star dimensions, but this time he stepped up to the plate and delivered much more of a four-star track.

    I designed the German event for 12 years. It’s recently always been necessary to include at least one loop to find enough distance on a compact site. I went for one big “roundabout”, while Mike went for six small ones. It’s very difficult for a horse to gallop at 600mpm on a turn, so the less galloping there is on a straight line, the tighter the optimum time.

    Mike also doesn’t set many open distances in his combinations, so slowing down to jump them also makes the time harder. Only five made it. The death of Chloe Raty’s ride Axel Z, at a fence that had a MIM clip which didn’t activate, was unlucky on an otherwise successful cross country day.

    Review the rule

    The biggest current issue in eventing is the rule awarding 50 penalties if one of the horse’s shoulders misses a a flag.

    At Luhmühlen, six such cases were reviewed by the ground jury, who now look only at official footage. Cathal Daniels’ horse’s shoulders went between the flags so his penalties were removed, even though the back legs went around the outside of the fence.

    Michael Ryan and dressage leader Tim Lips jumped the corner in the arena with all four legs, but the outside shoulder was fractionally outside the flag. Their 50 penalties stayed, although they made a better jump than Cathal. This doesn’t feel right.

    These cases are so marginal it’s difficult for a rider to know where they stand. Maybe it’s time we changed this rule?

    When a fence has only 4ft of jumpable width, the margin for error is minuscule — around 6in either side of a rider’s foot. Could a minimum jumpable width of 4ft 6in be preferable, but with a penalty for riders who knock down a flag?

    Bartle magic

    Looking at the Luhmühlen result, I feel sorry for Boyd Martin, who led after cross-country but then withdrew Shamwari 4, who has suffered injuries in recent years.

    I also felt for Jesse Campbell, who was having the round of the day when Cleveland tripped in the Messmer Pond. I’m not sure if he trod on an overreach boot, but it was bad luck.

    The Chris Bartle magic is working for the Brits — Laura Collett, Kitty King and Ros Canter looked solid. I’ve always thought Willa Newton was a good cross-country rider and this result reflected that.

    The bad news as we look to WEG was Piggy French’s 50 penalties for missing a flag — she was a class act otherwise — and Nicola Wilson’s struggle for control on Bulana.

    The vital ingredient

    I went from Luhmühlen to a good old-fashioned English one-day event at Catton Park on Sunday — sponsorship from local businesses and an educational course without too many extreme skinnies. It was relaxed and they had done a remarkable job on the footing.

    At Luhmühlen, the good horses and riders made the course look easy, while others shouldn’t have been there. There was some appalling riding at Catton — better coaching for better riding is the most important ingredient as we seek a safer sport.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 21 June 2018