The sport of eventing is preparing to get back underway on the weekend of 4-5 July with three events scheduled, including the high profile Barbury Horse Trials. H&H finds out how the fixtures are planning to comply with government guidance and seeks reaction from eventing representatives about the plans...
Organisers and riders are preparing for the “new normal” as eventing gets ready to return on 4 July.
British Eventing (BE) set its hoped restart date based on the government’s recovery strategy from the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown.
Social distancing measures will be in place; entries will open seven to 10 days ahead of a “decision to run” date, balloting will continue as normal, entry fees will not increase, and the number of people on site will depend on government restrictions.
In addition to this, a new “pandemic refund policy” will be in place; competitors will receive at least 30% (+VAT) of their entry fee for coronavirus-related cancelations. Abandonment insurance will still be payable.
Barbury (Wiltshire), Buckminster (Lincolnshire) and Aske (North Yorkshire) are among the modified fixtures scheduled on the sport’s re-opening weekend. An updated fixtures list for July and August is expected shortly.
“Firstly it is very exciting to have something positive to look forward to,” Barbury organiser Alec Lochore of Musketeer Events told H&H.
He added he expects everybody to take the social distancing requirements “very seriously”, and has spent a lot of time working out how these will work safely for all involved.
Mr Lochore said as eventing is set to be among the sports to resume competition early, and Barbury one of the first fixtures with the added factor of high-profile riders entering, it is important to get it right.
“I feel quite a responsibility as the organiser to make sure we do,” he said. “I think [the extra measures] will be fine and the riders will do what they can to make sure it all runs in a socially responsible manner. It is very exciting and will be great to get going.”
There will be no international classes at Barbury; it will run two days of national classes at novice and intermediate.
“We might not have as many frills and there will be no hospitality, but it will be a proper event,” he said, added the team will be doing “everything they can” to get the ground “ as good as it can be”.
“[The courses] will still be up to height and technicality, they are still what I consider to be absolutely right and proper, maybe one combination lighter than they might be and certainly a little bit shorter, while remaining within the rules and regulations.”
Paul Tapner, former Badminton winner, vice-president of the Eventing Riders Association (ERA) and Event Rider Masters (ERM) operations director, told H&H the restart date is “great news”.
“It’s very welcome for BE as an organisation, and event riders as a sport stakeholder and everybody involved,” he said. “It is such a fluid situation we are in, but now we seem to have light at the end of the tunnel.”
Mr Tapner added while the 2020 ERM series is not happening in terms of events, the team is helping organisers with what they could offer online in terms of digital or even livestream coverage.
“Over the past four years, ERM have been making eventing consumable for a digital and online audience. Covid-19 has forced everybody to consume even their social lives online – we have all become Zoom experts,” he said, adding it means organisers are also considering how to bring the sport to the audience and its fans.
“In terms of what we do at ERM, we have a huge amount of expertise and skill set in that. My phone this week has been running extremely hot!”
ERA president Bruce Haskell also welcomed the return.
“There is no normal sport. This is modified sport and your only other option is no sport,” he told H&H.
“Every complaint or criticism has to be balanced against the fact there is no normal in the rest of our lives and we are very lucky and privileged that eventing is continuing.
“Eventing going ahead is entirely based on government relaxation of the rules, but it is very good to see our governing body being prepared for the worst and best-case scenarios.”
Mr Haskell said it is also a “big plus” that even though there are likely increased costs for organisers, these have not been passed on to competitors.
He said while BE has rightly focused on getting the national calendar going, FEI events are highly important particularly given there are riders based in the UK seeking Olympic qualification.
“We are very happy that Jardy is running [in July], which is relatively on the doorstep,” he said, adding while plans will hinge on travel and quarantine restrictions, there is also good news in the form of a schedule for Strzegom and the possibility of a winter tour in Portugal in November and December.
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