Mark Phillips: The promise of 2017 *H&H VIP*

  • I was glad as I watched the wintery squalls blow past my window last weekend that I no longer have aspirations to compete.

    Aston-le-Walls cancelled both days and Moreton one, so only Isleham and the new Epworth fixture survived unscathed. Is it right to start the season quite so early, except at venues with sandy soil?

    The year promises a lot, though. We look forward to seeing what inspiration the Chris Bartle-Dickie Waygood partnership can conjure from the British team before the European Championships in Strzegom, Poland, in August. There were no real surprises among the new senior selectors, but Jeanette Brakewell could be an inspired choice.

    Eric Winter makes his debut as a four-star course-designer at Badminton this spring. I went around the park with him at the back end of last year and discussed several of his conceptual ideas. Hopefully he will have a conservative approach this year and build on it in the future.

    Let’s embrace this

    The FEI’s safety forum at Tattersalls was a surprisingly positive experience, with many good presentations, including those by Chris Bartle and Andrew Nicholson. We saw some interesting new ideas that could be part of the next generation of frangible technology. It was good to have input from so many ground jury members and technical delegates, as well as course-designers. It remains clear, though, that rider responsibility remains the chief factor in the quest to reduce the inherent risks of cross-country.

    Sam Watson and Diarmuid Byrne’s EquiRatings Quality Index is the one idea we could adopt immediately. Their system scores every horse at every level and can highlight when riders are trying to run at a level when they probably shouldn’t.

    Their traffic light system — where green means good to go, amber indicates a rider should be careful because they are at a marginal standard and red means horses are refused entry because they are not proficient at the level — seems simple and understandable. There is no opinion, just data and facts.

    Eventing Ireland have embraced the system with good effect and I believe the FEI will adopt it. I hope British Eventing (BE) don’t drag their feet on this one as it is a ready-to-go system that could bring immediate benefits.

    More positives

    BE do have their new IT platform up and running, which is way too complicated for me, but I’m told it is “future-proof” and can talk to our mobile phones and iPads. Tied into this is a new commercial strategy, so that BE will be able to provide hard data to help organisers, and also demonstrate a return to potential sponsors. The aim is to have a new website up and running by the end of the year. If it all adds up to making the sport more affordable to members, that’s good news.

    The second year of Event Rider Masters (ERM) is another positive. Owners and riders will really enjoy the prize money again this year and all hope for the long-term success of the venture.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 9 March 2017