Looking back at the first two months of our sport’s new normal *H&H Plus*

  • Following the first two months of post-lockdown competition in England, H&H speaks to British Showjumping, British Eventing and British Dressage about how it’s gone so far and what’s been learnt along the way...

    What is working well, ironing out teething problems and what changes are in the pipeline for the near future are in discussion as equestrian sport reflects on the first two months of post-lockdown competition in England.

    British Showjumping (BS), which is holding its rerouted National Championships at Bolesworth this week (3–11 August), gave the green light for training shows to return on 2 June and normal shows on 15 June.

    “We have managed to adapt in England, but competition is still not allowed in Scotland and Wales and we are still working hard on that,” BS chief executive Iain Graham told H&H.

    “[During lockdown] we were looking to what the likely rules were going to be and what we could work with. We spoke with organisers before the Covid-19 requirements for the return of sport came into place, so when we got the news about those relaxations [in England], we had models we could work with.

    “We knew there was an appetite from competitors and venues to get up and running.”

    He said which venues have been able to reopen depends on their individual business models and whether they can balance the costs of returning staff from furlough with limited entry numbers.

    “We spoke to them all and there were enough prepared to open and run in a restricted capacity to get training shows up and running, which BS subsidised,” said Mr Graham.

    “As restrictions eased further, more venues came on board and we started lower-level competition, to where we are now.

    “The members are a very resilient bunch and used to adapting. We are seeing positive comments and maybe some of these things will be here to stay, with tweaks.”

    Mr Graham added that BS had discussed pre-entries with its members’ council before the pandemic made it a necessity, and the organisation is looking at possibilities for flexibility in future.

    “This is how it has to be now. The old system did allow a lot of flexibility; at the moment it is pretty strict and the reason organisers aren’t allowing [on the day] spaces is because they are working within a reduced capacity,” he said, explaining that when numbers are restricted, organisers cannot be expected to leave empty spaces in a class.

    “I think there will be scope in future for a few spots for those already entered at a show to have another round.”

    Demand from members across the Olympic disciplines has been high.

    Hickstead director Lizzie Bunn told H&H they were expecting “quite a bit of interest” for the All England Jumping Championships in September, but the response took them by surprise with more than 4,000 entries in 24 hours.

    “We’re sorry to disappoint any riders who have been desperate to get out competing this season, but we are delighted even to be able to run this event after the cancellation of our international shows,” she said.

    Eventing’s return is likewise booming. With so many challenges, there are certain teething issues, which are being addressed.

    Many horse trials have found themselves oversubscribed since the sport restarted on 10 July. As organisers try to accommodate these entries as far as they can – which is widely welcomed – this leads to challenges in juggling requests for extra days, while logistics of last-minute day changes are tricky for riders.

    Aston-le-Walls (4) received more than 2,220 entries by the ballot date for four days of competition.

    “I personally want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to get the sport going again and to everyone who attended, stuck to the rules, and made the resumption such a success,” said BE chief executive Jude Matthews.

    “Demand for entries has been as high as we have ever seen it, and this has brought challenges in relation to fixtures planning.

    “The shortened timescales between entries opening, ballot date and event start dates has added pressure to managing extra days, so the work to add days, and then to move riders around, has been taking place in a much reduced timescale – much closer to the event.”

    She added BE has updated its “additional days protocol” this week to help.

    “This allows us to add days prior to ballot date, if there is a requirement, and we are starting conversations with potentially impacted organisers earlier,” said Ms Matthews. “We are also looking at moving back towards the more normal time frames for entries opening and ballot dates.”

    A British Dressage spokesman told H&H everything seems to be working well so far “and a number are actually quite enjoying the concept of ‘arrive, compete and leave’”.

    “There’s been a real sense of community and, on the whole, everyone is pulling together to make it work,” she said. “We’ve worked closely with organisers and judges where there have been specific issues but nothing has been insurmountable. The positive and flexible approach by all has been key to a successful restart in England.”

    She added that there is no doubt some new measures “will stay for good” and it has given the sport “good insight to other areas we can change for the better”.

    “We’re grateful to everyone concerned for playing their part – we’re not out of this yet so we need everyone to keep it up and stay positive,” she added.

    You may also be interested in…