Mark Todd: Are young British eventers given too much on a plate? *H&H VIP*

  • Burghley, Blair and Blenheim have been and gone and the season is racing towards its conclusion. Burghley is still one of my favourite events. On the first day I was there this year I rode up through the magical park to the main arena and thought, “Wow, we are so lucky to have venues like this.”

    I thought it was one of the best Burghleys I’ve been to. Mark Phillips did a great job with the course, which had everyone talking beforehand about how tough it was. With the permanent track and perfect going, it rode really well.

    My ride, Leonidas II, was lucky even to be there — an infection had interrupted his preparation and he hadn’t run since Barbury. He felt greener than usual across country, but he was brave and honest to finish and I was delighted with his performance to finish sixth.

    But the question of prize-money arises once again. The gate-takings at Burghley must be millions — several of them. As with other major sports, a percentage of the gate should be put into prize-money.

    Look at Scott Brash winning €1m (£720,000) for the Rolex Grand Slam. That is way beyond anything an eventer could dream of — is that right?

    Hungry enough?

    Blenheim is another amazing venue. Jonelle Price’s second consecutive victory in the eight- and nine-year-old CIC3* shows the strength in depth of young horses that she has, and that she and husband Tim are riding the crest of the wave. But with American and New Zealand victors at Blenheim, and a German winning Burghley and Blair, it does make you wonder why British riders aren’t taking more top events at the moment.

    The UK has a huge pool of riders and amazing resources. I’m not talking about the likes of William Fox-Pitt, Pippa Funnell and Tina Cook — you could never fault their work ethic. But are the younger ones given too much on a plate? Are they hungry enough?

    I don’t have an answer, but when foreign riders come over here, they have to make it work to be able to stay here. Not every overseas rider does make it and stay, but in those that do there has to be a real desire to fight their way to the top. Do British riders need to push further out of their comfort zones?

    And it was noticeable that the German horses that have done so well recently have a lot of thoroughbred blood. More, in fact, than most of the British horses at Blair. We have all been searching for horses with jump and movement, but are we neglecting what is on our own doorstep in favour of flashy movers? At the top level, rideability, speed, stamina and bravery are still essential.

    An outdated allocation

    A small gripe about owners’ passes. It is pretty obvious that sharing ownership of a horse between a group of people makes it much more possible for them to be able to afford it.

    So what if that means an event needs to give them a few more entrance tickets? Refusing to increase a standard, often out-dated, allocation creates ill will among the very people they should be encouraging.

    Live-streaming is positive

    Blenheim’s live-stream of the action was great. Lots of riders were involved in the commentary, which received positive feedback.

    This sort of broadcast is still in its infancy and teething problems are inevitable, but I think it does a huge amount to popularise the sport globally.

    The statistics that British Eventing will receive about who watched it where, and for how long and so on, will be very interesting to see.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 24 September 2015