Mark Phillips: The format’s impossible to follow *H&H subscribers*


  • The end of the European season draws near with just the young horses in Le Lion d’Angers and Pau left to go.

    The evolution of the sport into the modern era has produced unbelievable excitement and entertainment, but having spent two days watching FEI TV from Boekelo, I find the Olympic format for next year impossible to follow.

    This is not something that the International Olympic Committee, national federations or the FEI eventing committee want — it has been imposed on us by higher authority within the FEI, in an attempt to get one format for all disciplines. Not even the commentators on FEI TV could make head or tail of it.

    This is not the sport I’ve grown up with over the past 50 years. We had riders showjumping, having fallen and not finished the day before.

    We had substitutions with a team penalty of 20 faults, so commentators had no idea if the standings after cross-country would be the same the next day or whether there were going to be tactical or veterinary substitutions.

    Anyone trying to convince me that this format is easier to understand is pushing water up hill. I cannot come to terms with the possibility of someone winning a medal having not even started the cross-country — and why go to the expense of flying a reserve horse to Tokyo and then not running it?

    Having said that, three in a team and three to count, while completely impractical for eventing — as opposed to dressage and showjumping — puts unbelievable pressure on riders and ups the excitement. One glance-off or fall can spell total disaster for medal chances.

    Meanwhile the FEI say they want more flags at the Olympic Games. Yet in Boekelo, Switzerland grabbed the last straightforward team qualification over Belgium and the Netherlands, both of whom have many riders capable of representing eventing in a good light at an Olympics.

    There are so many rider from around the world who could help the FEI with their declared “more flags” policy. Yet the FEI continue with an antiquated zone-based qualification system that precludes those who don’t get the chance to compete enough to be well-ranked, and which qualifies nations at three-star level, not knowing whether those riders can even get a certificate of capability for a four star Olympic Games.

    Hopefully it is not too much to hope that some common sense is applied, beyond political agenda, before the Olympics in Paris in 2024.

    Ditcham does good

    I was thrilled to see Adrian Ditcham make success of his inaugural CCI4*-L course-design in Boekelo. I wanted his undoubted talent to succeed me at Luhmühlen, but he did not think it was the right moment for him. He had Sue Benson as course advisor, with her experience of designing under the cloud of Dutch politics, but hopefully this will kick off a long career at the higher levels.

    On a personal level I was thrilled to see my daughter Zara come to terms with how she has to ride Class Affair to get a top-10 finish, after glance-offs at Burghley and Blenheim.

    Similarly, Laura Collett’s victory on London 52 was an excellent performance, totally unrecognisable from her ride at the Europeans.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 17 October 2019