Mark Phillips: Can we turn back the clock? *H&H VIP*

  • September is always a busy month and this one is no exception. I get emotionally drained after Burghley, but have been encouraged by receiving letters of support. With the rain, the track was tougher than it can be, but riders, officials and spectators seem to have enjoyed it.

    Last week I was at Vairano, near Milan, where I designed the courses for a CCI3*, a CICO3* Nations Cup and a CIC2*. Building far from home always makes me nervous, especially as we had no frangible technology there. But I was surprised that so many riders appreciated big, old-fashioned fences. Even more surprising was how well the vast majority rode it.

    Many people have said for a long time that the greatest aid to a “safe sport” is riders respecting the fences. In a way, it makes me want to try to turn the clock back in terms of size of timber and groundlines. Could it really be that in their subconscious riders have less respect when they are wearing an air jacket and when a fence is frangible and has a large groundline?

    Small field at Nations Cup

    I was a massive advocate of the Nations Cup series when it was first proposed by Laurent Bousquet, then French coach. It is sad that it has not taken off to a greater extent. In Italy, it was competitive between the Germans and French, though it was sad there were only four nations there. But there is a lot of choice for horses and riders in September.

    I had not realised that the FEI ownership of the Nations Cup puts so much extra cost on organisers. The FEI is correct in requiring certain standards, but it would be a shame if the expense of staging the series led to its demise because only certain countries could afford to run the competitions.

    The previous Saturday I walked the Blenheim courses. I was impressed with David Evans’ effort for the eight- and nine-year-old CIC3*. It was his first attempt at that level and he kept it suitably simple for the young horses. I got unbelievably wet as I watched the CCI horses do a good job on Eric Winter’s track. It’s a long time since I’ve just been a spectator in the rain. The resilience of the British public is remarkable as they braved the conditions longer than I did.

    I tried to watch the Event Rider Masters (ERM) on my iPad at home, but could only get the live scoring. I believe that was my technical incompetence rather than a problem on a wider front!

    The ERM has been a great success this year for owners and riders. We can now only hope that the team can make it a commercial success. Certainly the learning curve has been steep. I hope next year they do what they do well and don’t try to be too clever with too many innovations.

    One of the exciting ERM successes has been how many riders tried to go fast across country chasing the valuable prize money. But that isn’t the ideal preparation for Badminton, Burghley or a championship. Riders may need to have a specialist ERM horse while keeping their  four-star mount on a more conservative programme.

    It was nice to see Little Gatcombe well supported and running on good footing. We may be short of British horses at the top end at the moment, but there is no shortage at grassroots, which begs the question as to why more are not progressing to the top echelons.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 22 September 2016