H&H’s showjumping columnist reflects on why Aintree provided us with a slice of positivity
We have been given a variety of excuses to be negative over the past few months. I know my year continues to be exponentially different. This week I would usually be at a tournament in China, before embarking on a 15-hour flight to attend the World Cups in Washington DC, Toronto and then Las Vegas.
As Covid-19 continues to drag on, there seems to be a narrative within the media that this pandemic is temporary and the effects on society will be short-lived. I really don’t share this view.
The consensus of opinion within the medical and scientific communities of when some sort of normality may return seem to look toward the third quarter of 2021, if a meaningful supply of an effective vaccine can be created.
For now, I think we just have to be grateful that equestrian sport is back underway to the extent that it is. Making the best of a bad situation and adapting is something people in our industry do really well. On a positive note, we finally have pre-entry and drawn orders at all national shows, which was well overdue.
Excitement and anticipation
Remaining optimistic can be tough, but I think the recent British Showjumping Indoor Championship Finals provided us with an overdue slice of positivity. Aintree was awarded this event following a tender process, and while they were using the few short weeks they had to prepare, the event became one of the most talked-about topics on social media. There was a lot of excitement and anticipation, a sprinkling of uncertainty and then the usual keyboard warriors who seem to just be fuelled by anger and hate.
I expected that a degree of online negativity would continue throughout the event, but I was wrong. In fact, there was an overwhelming amount of support and gratitude for the organisers who had managed to achieve a championship feel while complying with Covid restrictions.
Organisers had installed an additional warm-up ring and constructed a marquee outside the arena entrance with socially distanced tables and a large video wall so you could see and hear everything that was going on in the ring. The amount of staff they had to ensure everyone was following the protocols was vast.
Security were friendly and the media were looked after remotely with a virtual press room. I was scared of sitting in the same place for too long in case I got sanitized!
However it’s the tiniest details that stood out for me. They installed a tunnel from the warm-up, provided finalist rosettes to all who entered, organised champagne podium presentations, and first-placed athletes were invited to a photoshoot in the racecourse winner’s enclosure.
Integrity of the sport
When it came to qualifying, the time-frame meant there was no perfect pathway. Tickets were offered down the line and if someone pulled out, others were offered a place.
This meant those who may never have normally qualified ended up in the final. I have to admit that I was worried about the integrity of the sport and that the competition specifications may have to be diluted. However, course-designer Mark McGowan did an outstanding job.
Two tracks that stood out for me were the senior Foxhunter championship and the pony showjumper of the year. They provided the perfect amount of technicality but still ensured the majority passed safely over the finish line.
Was it Horse of the Year Show (HOYS)? No, of course it wasn’t, but it didn’t try to be.
What we did see were some elements HOYS could incorporate to ensure it continues to remain relevant and provides a unique, modern and horse-friendly championship experience in the future.
Ref Horse & Hound; 22 October 2020