Mark Todd: ‘I’ve never known such unrest’ *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    The Nations Cup in Aachen was, as ever, a strong competition. The New Zealand team went there without high expectations, having lost a few horses to injuries recently. But we still beat the Brits!

    Aachen is an amazing show, no matter which discipline you are competing in.

    The organisers don’t rest on their laurels; they keep trying to make it better and better. There is always something going on and it was packed.

    Governance is playing catch up

    I have never known such unrest in horse sport as that which I perceive now.

    No one — in any discipline — seems happy with the FEI, and I see that the British Equestrian Federation chief executive Clare Salmon has just resigned.

    The FEI has just sent out a list of major proposed changes to eventing for next year (news, 20 July), and the more I read them, the more confused I got. If they are trying to simplify the sport, they are going about it the wrong way. And the current CCI4*s are left on the sidelines in their own “special event” category — what on earth does that mean? The sooner they stop calling international classes CCIs or CICs the better, in my opinion. If they want to simplify things, call it long format or short format.

    But what is happening? The level of professionalism among the participants seems to have outgrown the level of professionalism in the governance of horse sport and it needs addressing. When I first started eventing 40 years ago, it was a hobby sport with very few professional riders. Now probably 90% of people competing at international level earn a living from the sport in one way or another.

    I really question the leadership direction from those at the top of our sport.

    Let’s try to work together

    I had an interesting discussion with other riders in Aachen about the fact that CIC3* cross-country phases are becoming “steeplechases”. Modern fence design with friendly profiles and groundlines is encouraging riders to go faster, which isn’t safe for the less experienced riders at this level. Riders are encouraged to take more risks as they think they can get away with it.

    Why, if we can ride down to a 1.30m vertical with no groundline in the showjumping, is it thought that we can’t on the cross-country, given the fact we have frangible pins and so on? Are course-designers just protecting riders from themselves? In doing so, they are taking away the responsibility from the rider. Nothing makes you ride with more care and caution than if you tip up. If you know you can get away with it, you are more likely to take more and more risks with speed.

    There was a course-designers’ FEI course in Jardy recently, run by New Zealand’s John Nicholson, of whom I am a great admirer. But why not get some senior riders to come and give their opinions? We’re the ones riding the courses, week in and week out. We have valuable years of experience of tracks all over the world and have educated opinions. It shouldn’t be a “them and us” situation — we are in the sport together and we are the ones course-design most affects, after all.

    H&H, 27 July 2017