Horse sport embraces some positives from the pandemic *H&H Plus*

  • While we come to terms with the new normal for equestrian sport, there are some good things that have come about as a result of the pandemic. H&H finds out more...

    From jumping on hallowed turf and posing in the Grand National winners’ enclosure to calmer warm-ups – there have been positives that would not have come about without the effects of Covid-19.

    H&H spoke to numerous riders and their supporters at the British Showjumping (BS) National Championships (3–11 August), which were moved to Bolesworth Castle at a few weeks’ notice.

    All spoke of their delight at being able to jump at such a prestigious venue; BS chief executive Iain Graham explained that the show could not normally have run at this time of year, as the venue would not have recovered from family music and motoring festival CarFest there in July.

    “Covid allowed us to go to Bolesworth this year,” he told H&H. “Having a purpose-built venue to hold the championships, in front of that spectacular backdrop, was really nice, and the team did a great job in making everyone feel special, as well as safe.”

    Mr Graham said he thinks riders are appreciating the quality centres and shows on offer after months of not being able to compete.

    “I’m sure it felt very special for members to be able to ride in the arenas they’ve seen their heroes in; they all came out with big smile regardless of results,” he said. “I saw the BS Academy children arriving and their excitement made us all remember why we’re putting the hours in to get the sport running.”

    At Aintree International Equestrian Centre’s junior show (14–16 August), normal prize-givings were off, so equestrian centre manager Carly Sage came up with an alternative.

    “It was a spur-of-the-moment thing,” she told H&H. “I spoke to the photographer, grabbed his spare camera and headed for the winners’ enclosure.

    “It was quite emotional as we hadn’t had a horse in there since December, and the kids really appreciated it, more than I thought they would. It was lovely we could do something for them. That area’s normally absolutely out of bounds and the children appreciated how special it was to be there, and without the restrictions, we wouldn’t have done it.”

    Ms Sage said the Covid restrictions may well have made many venues rethink processes for the better.

    “A lot of good things have come out of this,” she said. “Pre-entry and drawn orders with times is a lot better. You know how many staff you need, what time you’ll start and finish; even on a [pre-Covid] Wednesday, we wouldn’t know if we’d be jumping 150 or 300. We’re advertising for four more staff for event days, so we’re giving more people the opportunity to work, too.”

    Rider Sarah Higgins also noticed positives at the rescheduled British Dressage Winter Championships (17–23 August).

    She praised not only the championship feel and organisation, but also changes such as times for working in.

    “That was a huge benefit; from nationals gone by, it’s been a bit of a free-for-all and a bit crazy,” she told H&H. “I think there will have been lots learnt.”

    Sarah added that lockdown was also a good break for horses and humans, with no rushing from one show to the next.

    “I had felt so guilty if the horses had a couple of days off if I’d been away but realised through lockdown I was more relaxed and the horses the same,” she said. “If they have a couple of days hacking or in the field, it’s not a problem.

    “I think everyone’s learnt to relax and look at shows more objectively. It’s so easy to get into a cycle of shows where you’re not particularly thinking about what you’re doing, but we’ve had time to take stock, and a bad test isn’t the end of the world.

    “It’s refreshed my enthusiasm, and has given a different perspective, which I’m going to try to keep.”

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