Mark Phillips: Safety demands better riding *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    Last year the Event Rider Masters (ERM) class at Barbury was very much an experiment, with everyone feeling their way. This year Barbury was organised by the ERM team and received the full ERM treatment and it was an impressive and entertaining display.

    Word on the street has been that the future of Barbury was hanging in the balance depending on the financial success of this year’s event. Sponsor St James’s Place and new owner Christopher Woodhouse seemed to enjoy the weekend, so fingers crossed for the future.

    Barbury ran north of 300 novices and amazingly around 250 CIC2* horses.

    We’ve had a hot, dry summer, but the Barbury turf is amazing. More fool those riders that withdrew before they saw the print the lower-level horses were making and before they had walked on the grass after the verti-drain had been used. Ironically, some of the worst complainers still ran multiple horses! Those that withdrew must have forgiving owners, as this is an expensive dressage practice.

    My cross-country courses were big, but relatively straightforward technically, with riders having many options as to how they rode the combinations. I was therefore amazed that so many people found trouble, especially in the CIC3*.

    Normal business resumed in the ERM, which emphasised that the more experienced pairs need to be challenged more. However, that means more fences and budget to show the difference between the normal CIC and the ERM type.

    The FEI is proposing a new 1.05m one-star level next year, with the current one-star becoming two-star and so on up the levels, with our current four-stars forming a special category outside the star system. There will also be a new, higher-level CIC. That might help, but the devil will be in the detail, about which we know little.

    I do think the sport needs to take a long hard look at itself as we currently stumble from one bad decision to the next.

    A sliding scale for entry fees, as we have for prize money in Britain, would be a good idea. Linked entry fees and prize money happens in grand prix showjumping, with cheaper entries at some events, but more expensive ones at the more prestigious fixtures.

    Increasingly people are asking whether we charge spectators enough at the more prestigious events that put on an array of other distractions. Compared to many other sports, we provide a very cheap day’s entertainment.

    Low standards

    Hours of debate continue about how to make the sport safer. Having spent all weekend watching at Barbury, I was appalled at how few riders galloped in balance and how few jumped their cross country fences out of a rhythm. If I had a pound for every time I saw riders pull, then kick, then change their mind again and pull for a chip-in stride, I would have left a very rich man.

    As designers we continue to work overtime with the profiles, structure and positioning of fences, but at the very least riders need not to handicap their horse and give it a chance. This sport will never become safer until the standard of riding and training improves.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 13 July 2017