Mark Phillips: ‘We must all do our bit’ *H&H VIP*

  • Outgoing Badminton director Hugh Thomas and I were at the Montreal Olympics together in 1976; I was reserve rider and he rode Playamar.

    Since then, he has worked at British Equestrian Promotions and chaired every committee in the sport. His contribution to eventing has been unequalled and outstanding over the past 40 years.

    As director of Badminton, he took over the legacy of Frank Weldon, vied with Bill Henson to try to keep Badminton ahead of Burghley, and was a pioneer of moving the sport and one of the world’s largest spectator events into the modern era.

    I had a long chat with Hugh on the Sunday of Badminton and there was no whi of the news that hit the next day. That is so typical of the man who has always been crystal clear about how and when to do things.

    His boots are big ones to fill, but he will make a wise choice for his successor — and if they have enough sense, they will take the odd bit of advice, too!

    Tickets for Tokyo

    In replacing the vital Belton fixture, British Eventing (BE) propose to send a team of three people to each potential venue and discuss all issues, including the springtime footing and long-term viability.

    How much better it would have been to use that method for the 2020 review of FEI competitions and championships, instead of the paper-based approach. This is a positive step forward in BE regaining organisers’ faith.

    On the other hand, the FEI eventing committee continue to dumbfound me. For years, they’ve told us it’s key to staying in the Olympics to have more nations at the Games.

    Last weekend, Thailand, China and Hong Kong competed at Saumur at CCI3*-L (previously CCI2*) for two Tokyo spots. Thailand and China won the places, but will only be able to take them up if enough of their riders can gain their two minimum eligibility results at the new four-star level (or one at five-star).

    Further east, Poland beat Russia and Belarus to one qualifying spot in Baborówko. As that was at four-star, would it not have made more sense to grant all three of those nations a Tokyo ticket? They’ve proved they have riders at the level, while we must hope Thailand and China can get there.

    It’s everyone’s job

    James and Lizzie Saunders Watson put on a top-drawer event at Rockingham with excellent footing, despite the dry spell. I was lucky enough to become their FEI cross-country course-designer three years ago, but had a bad weekend this time, with three horse falls on each of my days and one rider taken off in the air ambulance.

    I pride myself on keeping horse falls to a minimum as in the modern era they are less and less acceptable. However, as a course-designer I do need a bit of help! There were no incidents at the technical fences, only the straightforward ones. I ask all riders today, “If you can jump the technical stuff, why are you wrestling your horse to the ground over the straightforward fences?”

    With social media, we are under increasing scrutiny over what we do with our beloved horses. We all have to take a careful look in the mirror and make sure we are doing our bit to make the sport as safe as possible.

    Ref: Horse & Hound magazine; 30 May 2019

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