Mark Phillips: The pressures left WEG officials divided *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    The World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Tryon was my first attempt at designing a World Championship. I’ve done multiple Europeans and Pan Ams but this was a completely new experience, yet surprisingly it received widespread acclaim from all that walked it.

    Tryon did not get off to a good start with the endurance being cancelled. This was a complete disaster for all who had spent tens of thousands to get there, compete and finish up with no result. There was blame all round for the farcical mistakes.

    However, to stop it so late in the day for heat and humidity with temperatures going down makes no sense. I suspect we will never hear the whole truth.

    Sadly, it put massive pressure on the FEI and its officials to make sure eventing did not repeat the fiasco.

    For as long as I’ve been involved in the sport, the ground jury, technical delegate, course-designer and vets have all had their say and come up with solutions acceptable to the team. Add in immense pressure from the FEI and we had a decision to reduce the cross-country from 10min to 8min, leaving the officials divided.

    Thankfully, enough of the chef d’equipes publicly objected that the decision was reviewed and reversed 24 hours later.

    I was immensely relieved, as without the hill in the seventh minute, the course would have become a CIC-style track and the picture not so pretty. As it was, riders had to ride responsibly and leave enough petrol to climb the hill and make up lost time, with happy horses over the last fence having got their breath back.

    No groundline needed

    I am way too old to do social media, but for the first time I was pushed into changing a design because of its pressures. People from around the world chimed in criticising the profile of the Moonshine Still (fence 16), so beautifully decorated by Troy & Sons.

    From a one-dimensional photograph the world was an expert, not understanding where the fence was on the course, the ground or the detail of the decoration. Such was the pressure that the FEI and the ground jury made me add a groundline.

    I was so upset I added a minute excuse for a groundline directly under the pole and it jumped superbly all day, not because of the groundline, but because of the “V” pole effect of the barrels and decoration in front of it helping the horse.

    It’s frustrating that some social media experts fail to understand that the bigger the groundline, the less the riders respect the fence and it therefore becomes more dangerous. The whole philosophy of course-design is to help the horse understand the question from as far out as possible. That’s why the decoration is there, not just to look pretty.

    If we allow officials to succumb to these pressures, we are leaving ourselves open to the law of unintended consequences.

    The classic example was Simone Sordi’s fall at the third-last. I had to remove the second element as part of the trade-off to get back to 10min. If that element had been there and he had had to set up for the bending line, I guarantee he would not have fallen.

    I was lucky with the weather both at Burghley and Tryon, but I was mildly insulted when certain FEI personnel told me so!

    What really pleased me at both was that many riders you would not have expected to get round did so, yet some of the superstars came unstuck. This was achieved without any “super skinnies” — there was one 50 penalties awarded at WEG for jumping outside a flag, none at Burghley — and no super-acute angles.

    Formbook upset

    The Brits had a stellar cross-country day with five clear rounds. How good it was to see the Irish back in the medals — all credit to their new chef, Sally Corscadden. The French were on form and if they had selected individual Astier Nicolas to ride on the team, they would have been even closer to the Irish.

    With the Tokyo Olympics coming up, it was amazing to have Japan in fourth. With New Zealand in seventh and the USA in eighth, someone must have flipped a coin the wrong way.

    The current format is always going to produce a cliffhanger of a finish and Tryon was no exception. Ros Canter’s rise to the top has been meteoric under Chris Bartle and his team and she looked the coolest person in the stadium to give a clear round.

    The British will smile all the way home with double gold — the Bartle phenomenon rolls on and long may it continue.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 20 September 2018