Thinking outside the box to benefit the British show circuit *H&H Plus*

  • Top riders have been discussing British competition and venues in their H&H columns. We speak to Olympic medallists and equestrian centres to find out how to boost the national circuit for the benefit of all concerned

    INNOVATIVE thinking and round-table discussions could help improve the British competition circuit – as venues strive to offer five-star facilities and “something special” in the UK.

    Kelsall Hill, Cheshire, and Wellington Riding, Hampshire, say they have the facilities and enthusiasm to put on top-level competitions, but they need to know what riders want and receive support from governing bodies to do so.

    The centres have responded to comments made by top riders Nick Skelton (14 May), Carl Hester (3 September) and Laura Tomlinson (17 September) that the UK lacks venues to rival those on the continent.

    Kelsall Hill, which is British Showjumping (BS) accredited and had been due to host its first international fixture this year before the pandemic forced its cancellation, is about to open a £4m “state of the art” indoor complex, which includes two indoor schools, spectator seating, retail space, and hospitality.

    “We’re trying to do something special and hope to work alongside other centres to create a first-class competition circuit,” owner Phil Leighton told H&H.

    Kelsall manager Steph Meadows said it is a shame so many riders look to go abroad to meet their competition requirements.

    “I understand what riders get abroad is beyond just an excellent competitive environment, but as a nation we’ve been known as a front-runner in our sport, so it would be brilliant if we could reflect that in our competition provision,” she said.

    “There needs to be linked-up thinking between the venues and governing bodies as to how we can work together with the riders on what they need here, rather than going away.”

    Wellington Riding had been due to run its first CSI2* showjumping competition, which was cancelled owing to the pandemic, in April. The centre already runs an international horse trials, and hopes to hold international events for all three Olympic disciplines in the future.

    “It’s been really interesting to read Nick Skelton and Laura Tomlinson’s comments about their experiences. We’re here with a very good venue that would be able to run those international events – but it’s not as easy as just doing that and one thing we’ve struggled with is setting dates,” said Wellington general manager David Sheerin.

    “It’s not a bashing of the governing bodies, but when you look at the plethora of events happening it’s very difficult to get the dates in, and when you speak to people you get very little guidance. Governing bodies should have a venue development programme and strategic planning so that we can as a nation offer the same international calendar that they do abroad.”

    Mr Sheerin said it would help venues if they could get a better understanding from riders of what they want from venues, whether it is top facilities, prize money, ranking points, or an international tour, and said a “round table discussion” among riders, venues and governing bodies would be beneficial.

    Prices up

    Olympic showjumping champion Nick Skelton told H&H that while he received some negative feedback for his comments in his column around the lack of five-star facilities in Britain and for suggesting an increase in the cost of BS membership, he believes putting costs up could benefit venues.

    “BS should put the membership up, tell the members why they’re doing it, and the money they get from this should be used to give a grant to show centres to improve their facilities each year. It would mean people had better places to go and so don’t have to keep driving abroad,” he said.

    “I think there should be meetings [between the governing bodies, venues and riders] to discuss all these problems the show centres are having and what they would like. At the end of the day that’s where we do our sport, in the show centres. We need them to be first class so that we can take our horses, produce them and go on and be as good as we were in 2012.”

    Nick added he would like to see governing bodies include more rider input.

    “Looking at the experience of myself, John and Michael Whitaker, Peter Charles, Ben Maher –  do governing bodies ever get us involved to say what they should be doing to have a better facility? No they never ask. It’s our sport and I hate to see it falling by the wayside.”

    Olympic dressage gold medallist Laura Tomlinson told H&H there is room for some “innovative” thinking to help British venues and entice more international riders to the UK.

    “Nick’s idea of costs was interesting – the idea governing bodies could have a kitty towards holding good quality competitions or invest in some of the good venues so they can hold top-level competitions,” she said.

    “People want good surfaces, good stabling and nice facilities; a good place to eat and drink and entertain owners is all important – but the professionals also want prize money,” she said.

    Laura added it was “great to hear” that UK venues are eager to offer riders more.

    “You get some venues working together that could have a tour where people can come over to stay and compete at different venues that aren’t too far away from each other. That’s why people base themselves in Germany for a season because they have the choice of good competitions a couple of hours from each other so the horse sees something different every time it goes out and they don’t have to travel more than a couple of hours,” she said.

    “Without the venues we don’t have a sport – the venues are doing their best, which we all massively appreciate, therefore we need to set up a meeting between governing bodies, a couple of top riders in each discipline, and venues and discuss how we do this.”

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