Mark Todd: In search of more prize-money and new dressage tests [H&H VIP]

  • This winter I learnt to be grateful that I live on top of a hill. It has remained reasonably dry and our preparation for events hasn’t been affected. I feel for all those with animals who have been underwater.

    For once, I made a sensible decision and entered more northerly events than usual — Isleham and Oasby — and had good runs. It did rain at Oasby and the showjumping ground cut up and was sticky, but the sun came out and it got better throughout the day. They moved the fences between each class and the course jumped better than it looked.

    I go to Isleham every year and we’ve had everything from snow to driving rain, but it always manages to run. This time it was a very pleasant day and the ground was good.

    I’ve never known Tweseldown to cancel before. That and other cancellations when organisers simply couldn’t get on the land to do the work have made other events more popular and therefore more difficult to get into. But hopefully if events manage to run from now onwards, riders shouldn’t have their preparations for the big spring fixtures affected.

    I’d love to compete for £1m

    Prize-money became a red-hot issue last year. I was on the fringes of the debate and some people — a few event organisers, some volunteers and even some riders — got rather uptight about it. While it’s gone quiet again, this issue isn’t going to go away and we need a united effort to address it.

    Like any business, we constantly have to look at ways to improve and that is why the discussions began. But the situation isn’t right. No one is under any illusion that ordinary one-day events can suddenly put up greatly increased prize-money and we know this is a very difficult issue to resolve.

    But it isn’t just about putting more money in our own pockets. Owners invest so much and we have to try to make it so a top 3-finish covers the costs of an entry and start fee. And we lose so many good staff as we can’t afford to pay a proper wage.

    Eventing isn’t a completely amateur sport these days — for many it is their income. Once it’s run like a business, we can seek more owners and sponsors.

    Badminton announced a £15,000 increase in the first prize, up to £80,000. That’s great, but I still think that what is supposed to be the showcase event — not just for Britain but for the whole world — should be worth more like £300,000 to the winner. Showjumpers frequently compete for massive money — eventers should be given the chance to do so, too. All our 4-star events need to look at this.

    We’ve had this silly craze of “Neknominations” — the drinking game that swept the internet — and now we have “neigh nominations”, where people name their favourite horse. I’d like to nominate international organisers to see who can be the first horse trials to offer £1million in total prize-fund.

    I can’t think of a name yet — the best one gets a prize from me!

    Before I eventually retire for good, I’d love to say that I competed in the first event to be worth a million. That’s my challenge to organisers.

    New tests please

    Be assured that my new column is not going to be a perpetual grumble. So much good goes on in eventing and I’d like to celebrate that.

    But another personal gripe at the moment concerns the lack of new dressage tests. We have some alterations to the 2- and 3-star tests from July this year, but apart from those, international tests and some national ones have stayed the same since 2009. Lots of horses have only ever done one set of tests.

    I don’t think the tests reflect the level of training in the sport now. One thing that could be considered is including tempi-changes at 4-star.

    Conversely, I dislike the 4-star test with endless counter-canter loops and I hate the flying change off counter-canter on a circle. It’s very hard for an event horse to be balanced enough to do that well, and it certainly isn’t required at the same level in pure dressage.

    I’m not alone in thinking the tests need rewriting and I mentioned it to various FEI officials last year. I would like to see new ones before the 2016 Rio Olympics, which means they should be in circulation next year.

    Mark’s column was first published in H&H magazine (13 March, 2014)