Mark Phillips: ‘competitions are won or lost by fractions’ [H&H VIP]

  • All credit to International Event Riders Association president Bruce Haskell and FEI rider representative Daisy Berkeley for coordinating the widespread misgivings over the new frangible fence rule. Everyone is happy to see the 21 penalties go, but I believe 11 faults is still a big hit. These days so many of the big competitions are won or lost by fractions.

    The new rule says penalties can be removed “only if an unexpected activation occurred through a light tap”. In the vast majority of events, that puts a huge onus of responsibility on the fence judges, who are volunteers, not experts. Also, we all know that if three people see the same road accident from three different angles, you’ll get three different reports.

    I’d like to have seen a smaller penalty for breaking a frangible fence, but with review only at championships, four-stars and the larger three-stars, where we can use video replay. Then the ground jury can make an informed decision based on a slow-motion review. Is this not the direction most sports are going?

    Even then organisers will not be happy if the video review goes on into the evening, delaying the results. Somehow we need to review the video while the competition is still running so there is not a mountainous backlog at the end of the day.

    Wind and shine

    The weekend before Easter I was in Texas, where I designed the advanced course, and the event ran with spring sunshine, a cool breeze and perfect footing.

    How sad that the second day of Gatcombe had to be cancelled due to gale-force winds and driving rain, as well as other recent British fixtures. The following Tuesday I was at Luhmühlen, where again they had huge winds, rain and waterlogged ground. The next day at Belton we had to survive the bitter wind too.

    It was not a great hardship therefore to find myself back in Miami at Easter for the Global Champions Tour on the beach. It may have been 85°F, but the cool breeze made this a wonderful venue.

    Sadly my commitments in the US prevented me from getting to Richard Meade’s memorial service, but fellow Munich Olympic team member Mary Low (née Gordon-Watson) represented me. How great a tribute to Richard that so many people made the trip to Bath.

    Looking forward

    Now we can look forward to the Rolex Kentucky CCI4* later this month. They have record entries, thanks in part to the likes of Michael Jung, William Fox-Pitt, my daughter Zara, Nicola Wilson, Andreas Dibowski, Francis Whittington and Tim Price making the trip across the pond. The notable absentee is Andrew Nicholson, who is not going for the second leg of the Rolex Grand Slam.

    They have had atrocious weather in Lexington though, and when I was there at the end of March there was still a huge amount of work to do on the course. Course-builder Mick Costello and his team will have a busy month of final preparations.

    Conversely the Badminton entry — or should I say waiting list — is down this year, so it looks as though for the first time in a while all those entered will get in. That will not make course-designer Giuseppe della Chiesa’s job any easier as it may mean more less experienced combinations, although it’s also possible some of those were scared off entering.

    Having said that, it is still a star-studded field, and running a week later in May should mean better weather and conditions under foot. Also, those returning from Lexington will have another week to prepare.

    Before all that we can look forward to Belton next week, where organiser Stuart Buntine reports an increase in entries, sponsorship and tradestands. Sunday has more than seven hours of advanced cross-country over a course that I’ve reversed for the first time in years. A new start and finish area will also give more space for car parking and other activities. It will be a great chance to see many horses destined for Badminton going through their final preparations.

    Ref: H&H 7 April, 2015