Carl Hester has spoken out on the lack of Olympic qualification opportunities in this country as the Games approach and he and his top ride have not yet qualifed. H&H finds out more
Five-time Olympian Carl is not yet qualified to compete at the Games, due to get under way this July, with his current top horse En Vogue.
Current qualification criteria involve horse and rider combinations achieving a grand prix score of 66% from a five-star judge of a different nationality, and as an average from all judges, at a minimum of two eligible FEI events between 1 January 2019 and 21 June 2021. As Carl only took over the ride on 12-year-old Vogue from owner Charlotte Dujardin in February 2020, his fourth place with 76.5% at the Keysoe CDI in October 2020 is the pair’s only international grand prix result to date.
Charlotte is in the same situation with her newest grand prix horse, Gio. The 10-year-old gelding made his debut at the level nationally in January 2020, but has also only been able to compete internationally at Keysoe in October, where they were second in the grand prix with 79.35%. Charlotte is, however, qualified for the Games with her world bronze medallist Mount St John Freestyle.
“Charlotte and I had planned to compete at Hagen CDI4* in Germany in April, but with the EHV-1 outbreak and of course the ongoing coronavirus situation, it holds a lot of uncertainty,” Carl told H&H.
A new CDI3* is due to be hosted this May at Wellington Riding in Hampshire, designed to replace the cancelled Keysoe CDI that was due to be held this month. But this show is not currently included on the list of FEI-designated events at which riders can collect qualifying points towards Olympic qualification.
The remaining UK dressage internationals scheduled to run ahead of the Olympics – Windsor and Hartpury – all fall after the 21 June cut-off date for qualification.
“If Wellington CDI is not eligible for points that is disappointing, and I don’t understand the logic behind it when there are heightened risks involved in travelling abroad,” said Carl, who is calling for an adjustment to the FEI’s Olympic qualification rules. “It means that to obtain the qualification points needed we are forced to take our horses abroad and put them into situations where they might be exposed to EHV. The FEI is not taking into account the difficulties of this.”
World Class dressage performance manager Caroline Griffith said that although there are “hurdles” to some riders’ qualification, “we’re still confident it’s achievable”.
“We normally target European outdoor shows in April, May and June to get our horses out, so we’re still on schedule with plans in place for each combination,” she said.
“The athletes all know how best to prepare their horses; we just need to work within a more limited competition calendar, but they’re feeling positive and the horses are ready to perform when we’re able.”
For eventers who have yet to qualify, there are still British events considered Olympic qualifiers in the calendar before 21 June: Burnham Market CCI4*-S (16–18 April), Houghton Hall CCI4*-S and Nations Cup leg (27–30 May), while Bramham CCI4*-S/L and under-25s (10–13 June) is expected to be replaced by Bicton Arena on the same dates.
The FEI implemented emergency measures in showjumping on 19 March to allow event organisers to schedule events with reduced deadlines for calendar applications, and without date-clash rules applying. On 22 March the FEI brought in similar measures for dressage, which give national federations and event organisers greater flexibility to organise shows before 21 June.
World Class performance director Dickie Waygood emphasised that although the current situation is challenging, he is optimistic those trying to qualify for the Olympics will be able to do so.
“Covid, Brexit and now EHV-1 have certainly impacted our athletes’ ability to achieve their Olympic and Paralympic eligibility requirements. The performance managers are all working closely with their individual riders on plans which cover both qualification and building performance and each will have alternatives,” he said.
“Our collective mindset is ‘adapt and overcome’ but the challenge is not unsurmountable. We will continue to work with the FEI and our member bodies on exploring contingency plans to ensure that our athletes are ready to perform in Tokyo.”
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