The first British Eventing fixtures since lockdown have been held attracting attention from mainstream media. H&H finds out how they went and seeks reaction from both event organisers and top riders...
The first British Eventing (BE) fixtures since lockdown have taken place successfully. Riders praised the efforts of the governing body and the organisers to get events back up and running with new protocols, and organisers in turn have thanked riders and supporters for following the guidelines.
The three events which took place were Tweseldown, in Hampshire (which concludes with a final day of competition today), Barbury, in Wiltshire and Aske, in North Yorkshire.
“The riders and owners and grooms were fantastic – they listened to all the instructions and maintained social distancing at all times,” said Jenny Meiklejohn, from the Barbury organisers Musketeer Event Management.
“People were responsible and there were absolutely no problems. Everybody was on such good form, delighted to be out and about, and with perfect going there were lots of happy punters.”
Stuart Buntine of Aske organisers BEDE Events said: “We had a really good weekend and the ground was top of the world. We tried to make things as normal as possible and everyone was desperate to get out.”
Tweseldown organiser Rachael Faulkner added: “It’s been amazing – the competitors have been incredible, all really well behaved. And our teams have been phenomenal. We did have a very, very good plan on how we were going to run everything, and we stuck to it like glue.”
The events attracted mainstream media attention, with Barbury featured on BBC Breakfast at 6.30am, 7.30am and 8.30am on Saturday and BBC Points West also attending in the afternoon, while the BBC also sent a crew to Tweseldown on Sunday.
One of the measures in place to help social distancing was larger warm-ups and control over numbers in these areas. At Tweseldown, there was a designated area for flatwork before competitors entered the main showjumping warm-up, which had five fences instead of the compulsory three. Similarly, Barbury put on two warm-up arenas for this phase and Aske had a huge warm-up area with six fences.
“According to the rules, we could have had 66 people in there and the same for cross-country,” said Stuart.
Volunteers were also taken into account, with dressage judges either bringing a writer from their own household (“if they could put up with their husband in the car,” joked Stuart) or doing their own writing. At Tweseldown, the dressage scorers usually sit in a big trailer, but this time there was a scorer sitting in a car for every two arenas, with sheets then collected and one volunteer loading all the results straight into a computer. Live scoring was provided by Miranda Collett’s eventingscores.co.uk, which also integrates with the BE website.
For cross-country, a scorer listened in to the fence judge radio network for faults and loaded any penalties and times straight into a computer, so provisional results went up online as horses came through the finish. Fence judge score sheets – usually collected through the day – were all collected at the end of the day as back-up in case of any disputes.
“It worked amazingly and was great for competitors as well – you can be waiting hours for results usually and in this day and age, it isn’t good enough. We need to be able to get results out straight away and it’s taken Covid-19 to sort it out,” said Rachael.
If fence judges at a jump were not from the same household, they sat 2m apart, and a PPE pack was provided for use in the case of a fall. Fence judges were briefed by zoom and video and picked up their packs at a drive-through point, while riders and owners were all checked in on arrival.
Commentary is not essential under the new guidelines and Tweseldown and Aske ran without it. Rachael said they wanted to keep the information on the fence judge network as clear as possible to help the scorers, rather than extra information being given for commentators, as well as the difficulty of having extra people in control with both a commentator and provisional scorer to supply them with information.
Stuart said: “We just opted for a few easy things that we didn’t have to put time, knowledge and thought into, so we could put the effort into other things. The key thing was to get it right for sport. Things change every week, but if we were starting organising an event now for next week, we’d probably have commentary.”
Similarly, Rachael said she plans to have commentary for her next event.
Barbury did have commentary, with a double decker trailer used so the control team sat upstairs and commentator Spencer Sturmey and his plotter worked separately downstairs.
“The owners appreciated being able to hear what was happening on course, especially the older ones who find mobility difficult,” said Jenny.
Dani Evans competed at Tweseldown on Friday and at Barbury on Saturday, saying: “Both ran really well and it was great to be out. It was a credit to both events that they made it work and at times it ran more smoothly than usual.”
Harry Meade rode at Tweseldown on Friday and said: “I thought both BE and Tweseldown had done a great job. It was pretty seamless, to the point where it felt virtually unchanged, other than the fact it felt more relaxed because there were fewer competitors and fewer people around.
“It was well set up so there were never too many people in one place and had all clearly been well thought out. We were able to operate completely unaffected.”
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