Andrew Nicholson comments on early-season courses and Burghley hopes
ALEC LOCHORE’S cross-country course for the CCI4*-S at Burnham Market was the best since I’ve been competing there. It was difficult enough, but nice to ride round with good distances and lines.
I thought the intermediate track had been made for the open intermediate horses, rather than the “normal” intermediate horses, though, and it was the same at Weston Park and Tweseldown. I might be getting old, but some of the questions at all three events were pretty strong for proper intermediate horses.
At this time of year – and especially considering that the riders who weren’t in the “elite” bracket have had very little opportunity to go cross-country – you do need intermediate courses that aren’t just designed with older, experienced horses in mind.
I’m a big fan of Weston Park. It can be wet in the spring, but I’ve always run my top horses there and they have come out of it well. But while a few years ago there would be three full advanced sections, the event has struggled to get advanced entries recently.
Janet Plant’s tracks are strong and run across proper old parkland with natural undulations. The terrain in the showjumping arena at Weston isn’t easy to ride, there’s a five-minute hack to the dressage… it seems that the modern generation of riders favour events that are more cramped and which pose less of a challenge.
What happens when they get to Badminton and Burghley, though, to which all of the above comments about Weston apply? Riders don’t learn and progress by keeping clean records; making mistakes sharpens you up and challenges you.
Weston has always been a good preparation for those five-star events, and I was fascinated to hear that its organiser, Janet Plant, had offered to put on a CCI4*-L and CCI4*-S during what would have been Badminton week this year and had the support of the Weston Park estate to do so.
She would have had to use a different course-designer who was qualified to design at that level, and it would have given a fresh look and feel to the track – and may have kept the long-standing event in the calendar for another few decades.
For British Eventing (BE) to say no to her, and to say yes to Aston-le-Walls holding a CCI4*-S and Bicton a CCI4*-L and CCI4*-S was a surprise. I get on with the organisers of both events, but they are both BE board members – isn’t there a bit of a conflict of interest there? I would have thought there were enough horses around to fill the entries at all three events, and there’s a real danger that we are losing the variation of events which makes the sport in this country so strong and so competitive.
IT’S great that Kentucky is happening this weekend. Who knows – it may be the only CCI5* to run this year, and it’s a good, bold move by British-based riders to go. Their presence gives it a proper international flavour and competitiveness. Top horses don’t have endless time at that level, especially having missed last year, and good competitors need good competitions – that’s what we thrive on.
I’m very much hoping that I will be taking Swallow Springs to Burghley in the autumn.
We don’t seem to have heard much from Burghley yet about their plans; it will take bravery to run in this uncertain world, but I, along with all the other riders with five-star horses, hope they grasp the nettle and make it happen.
SHE’S AN ADVERT FOR HORSE SPORT
I’M a big fan of National Hunt racing, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching Rachael Blackmore’s run of success at Cheltenham and Aintree in the past month. She doesn’t just win races; she looks very good doing it and is an excellent race-rider. You don’t pick her out in a race as being physically any different to her male counterparts – she’s just a very good jockey. She’s a great advert for horse sport in general.
This report is also available to read in this Thursday’s H&H magazine (22 April, 2021)
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