Mark Phillips: Is this really what we want? *H&H VIP*

  • As we start 2017, eventing faces changes of a magnitude not seen since the steeplechase phase was dropped. I fear the unintended consequences.

    All the championships — Olympic, World and European — have now been reduced to a 10-minute three-star track (5,700m), with 45 jumping efforts. The Europeans have been at three-star for nearly 20 years now and the Olympic Games have in effect been a three-star in practice if not in name, to enable developing countries to participate.

    We bemoan the fact the last true four-star championship, the World Equestrian Games (WEG), is now history.

    The FEI says riders should not compete for the first time at four-star at a championship for safety reasons. I can see that, but that is why WEG has many more alternatives than other four-stars. Anyway, qualifiations could be changed so riders have to qualify for WEG at four-star.

    Nobody I’ve talked to wants to see three in a team with all to count at the Olympics, while the idea of substituting a combination contradicts the sport’s underlying principle — the same horse and rider finishing all three phases.

    FEI president Ingmar De Vos said no other sport has a recipe for failure so we should lose the drop score. But a drop score is simpler for the public to follow than introducing another horse and rider part-way through the competition.

    The number of penalties for a substitution is still to be set, but it should be high enough to rule the team out of medal contention. Tactics will change as teams prioritise completion.

    Another concern is that championships and four-stars have historically been run at at least 140m per jumping effort. We are now proposing to come down as low as 126m per effort — halfway to the CIC ratio, but over a 10-minute course rather than a six or seven-minute CIC  track. Isn’t that a safety worry?

    A better solution

    I understand the FEI wants more nations at Olympics so that equestrian sports appear more global. Surely the easy solution is to involve more qualified individuals from around the world rather than trying to get more teams in?

    The FEI cites the 18-nation showjumping Nations Cup final as a successful event with many countries. But after the first round, the wanna-bes ride in the consolation final and the top eight teams contest a nail-biting showdown.

    Neither showjumping nor eventing have 18 teams that can compete at the top level.

    Will this kill four-stars?

    Finally, what effect will three-star championships have on existing four-stars? Will they retain the same customer base or will riders focus on the three-stars and Event Rider Masters?

    Will coaches send riders to a four-star in preparation for a three-star championship? Maybe only the top riders will have enough horses to do both.

    If four-star entries drop, will Badminton and Burghley be down to one day of dressage, or be forced to put on two part-days, plus other entertainment, to provide four days of footfall in the tradestands?

    The Eventing Riders Association is due to continue the debate this month and they, like the International Jumping Riders Club, have requested a meeting with the FEI and hopefully the International Olympic Committee. I rather fear though that the dye has been cast and only time will tell us the consequences.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 12 January 2017