British showjumping ‘tours’ added to 2021 calendar

  • As riders travelling abroad are facing difficulties owing to Covid and Brexit, British showjumping venues are planning longer ‘tours’. H&H finds out more from those involved

    Two major UK venues have responded to rider demand by adding two-week show jumping “tours” into their scheduling this year.

    Continental spring and autumn tours have become increasingly popular with British riders, with hundreds heading out to Spain and Portugal to compete each season.

    Spending four or six weeks in one venue provides riders and producers with the opportunity to bring on young horses, buy, sell and network. These are opportunities the domestic circuit – which relies predominantly on county shows and equestrian centres – has struggled to match.

    Now both Hickstead and Bicton Arena have doubled the length of two of their show dates to try to satisfy demand for a tour on home soil.

    Hickstead’s September show will run as two five-day events with a break in the middle, from 1-5 and 8-12 September, with a schedule featuring age classes all the way up to 1.40ms.

    “We took on board people asking ‘why don’t we have tours in this country?’” Hickstead director Edward Bunn told H&H. “We have a lot of all-weather arenas now, and the main arena is all-weather grass and has been for almost 10 years, so we thought if there is something we can offer, we should offer it.

    “People will be able to stay at Hickstead for two weeks, which will save them diesel costs, and we will be doing deals on the stabling for people who stay for the whole show.”

    While Spain and Portugal have the advantage of warm and predictable weather, the UK climate has often been seen as a barrier to running tours in this country.

    Hickstead’s September date has been chosen as it falls at the end of the venue’s season. This means that if weather conditions were adverse, it would not cause damage that could jeopardise the Derby meeting or Royal International.

    “In a wet year, it can put the infrastructure under a lot of strain, so it was the date that worked for us, and September is usually a good month for weather,” Edward said. “The main ring will be used for four days of each week and the grass back rings will be used for three days, to give them a chance to have some TLC in between, and then the all-weathers will be used throughout.”

    Bicton Arena’s four-day July show, which includes second rounds and an area trial, has also been expanded into a two-week event, running from 8-11 and 14-17 July.

    Manager Helen West said the venue had been considering running a tour for a while but it had been spurred ahead by transport issues riders are facing when leaving the UK since Brexit.

    “We made a plan to do this before Brexit but now with that and Covid, and the travel implications they’ve created, it’s going to become increasingly difficult for people to jump on a boat and go across the water,” she said. “Our July show is our big show of the year and offers the chance for us to dip our toe in the water.”

    As well as retaining newcomers, Foxhunter and talent seeker second rounds, Helen plans to add grands prix at 1.20m, 1.30m and 1.40m, with qualifiers during the first week. There will also be young horse qualifiers for four-, five- and six-year-olds during the first week, with a main arena final at the end of the show.

    “We’ve already got some sponsors on board for the young horse classes and we’re hoping we can incentivise those with additional prizes for horses with the most clears,” she said.

    “Hopefully that structure will help to bring the horses on, which is what people have been asking for. I’ve tried to listen to [British Showjumping] members and offer them the format they want.”

    Bicton’s coastal location in Devon also offers some potential to echo the glamour of the Sunshine and MET tours.

    “In July the weather is usually reasonable and when it’s good here, it’s glorious,” Helen said. “I would like to offer a feature class on the beach at the end of the first week. We usually run a high-jump class with around 10 riders. I hope we could do something similar and make it into something special with a bit of prize money to get the crowds in.

    “We’d hope to do it on Exmouth beach as it’s sand and it would be wonderful to take showjumping to the wider community in that way.”