Mark Phillips: We Brits can’t afford such largesse *H&H VIP*


  • With my British selector hat on, I enjoyed being at the European Championships, where the tension was unbelievable. Taking away the co-efficient in the dressage was supposed to make the dressage less influential, but an unintended consequence is the showjumping is now so nail-biting, with it being common that four faults cost 10 places.

    Germany deserved gold. If Kai Rüder hadn’t been over 40 seconds late leaving the start box, their winning margin would have been even greater.

    Ingrid Klimke was so unlucky not to win the World Championships last year when she had the last fence down, but there was no mistake this time and justice was finally done.

    The Brits tried to give away team silver in the showjumping just scraping home in front of Sweden by less than one point. With the margins in championships now so tight, we will not be able to afford such largesse next year.

    On the brighter side, Oliver Townend rode fantastically to get the team monkey off his back. He will be a serious player in championships to come.

    Piggy French was also outstanding, but received a yellow card for use of the whip in the cross-country. She said she gave the horse a couple of reminders when he backed off “in order to ensure his safety and mine”. I agree the horse needed that reminder, but it’s not acceptable to mark him when doing so — as a sport, we need to look at how we use the whip, so it is definitely a tool of safety and encouragement, not a tool of admonishment or speed.

    In racing the rules are about to change; we too need to get ahead of the game before the critics of horse sport prevent us from enjoying what we love.

    It was great to see Pippa Funnell back to her best. Kitty King rode fantastically for the first eight minutes across the country. Nobody will be more aware than her that the five seconds she lost in the next two minutes cost her the bronze.

    Tina Cook will be disappointed with her glance-off and her time, and similarly Laura Collett with her early bath. British team trainer Chris Bartle and performance manager Dickie Waygood have many positives to take away from Luhmühlen, but will know we have to be better in Tokyo.

    The right time

    This week is Burghley, my most stressful week of the year. The fact we are lacking some of the top cross country riders in Mark Todd, William Fox-Pitt, Andrew Nicholson, Nicola Wilson and Harry Meade, all absent for well-documented personal or equine reasons, makes it more traumatic and it feels like a depleted field.

    Nonetheless, the course this year is big — Burghley always is — so let’s hope many first-timers step up to the plate.

    The FEI 70-year-old age limit for course-designers has finally disappeared. The uncertainty has caused stress for me and many organisers I work for, including Burghley.

    Next year’s event seemed like the right time to stop designing at Burghley, though, with Derek di Grazia able to give it his full attention the year after Tokyo. I’ve always believed in trying to step down while still at the top of my game, whether it be rider, coach or course-designer. I continue to design in many places and want to do more consulting in my role as course-adviser, to help bring on the next generation of designers.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 5 September 2019