Andrew Nicholson: Competition sharpens you up *H&H Plus*


  • Andrew Nicholson on his one worry about the new normal in eventing

    It’s good to be back competing, even if – at my first event back at Aston-le-Walls – four quite well-known riders came up to me, one by one, and said, “We thought you’d retired!”

    It might have been because I hadn’t been at Barbury, my local event, the weekend before; instead, I was in Switzerland training the Swiss team, which I had originally organised round Barbury, but then its date was moved back a week and I was committed to going to Switzerland.

    Mind you, I wished I had retired when I got up at 3.30am last Sunday to go to Bicton. I am enjoying it, though – I thought the horses and I were going well during lockdown, but competition sharpens you up and raises the bar in a way that training at home can’t do. So I’m sitting up straighter, my reactions are quicker… and watching the other riders, at all levels, everyone has got better. The sport looks very healthy.

    The competitions themselves don’t feel very different, but there are definitely some positives to a post-coronavirus sport. The showjumping warm-ups are bigger and more civilised, and being made to ride to your times has perhaps made people take a deep breath – you don’t have to jump the queue and push in ahead of your time. Even old ones like me can adapt to a new way of doing things.

    I loved not having any commentary on the first day of Aston-le-Walls. By the time I returned on the final day it was back, but I admit that the peace and quiet without it was nice.

    The only thing that worries me is that prize-money has been slashed. I understand why, and of course events will be struggling to find sponsorship, but fixtures are being inundated with entries, and I hope organisers are quick enough to restore prize-money levels as soon as it is possible to do so.

    Feel-good factor

    I’m pleased to see that Burnham Market is running Blenheim’s CCI4*-L and eight-and-nine-year-old CCI4*-S, and that Bicton will have an autumn CCI3*-L; good for organisers Alec Lochore and Helen West.

    I had looked at going to Haras du Pin in France, and Pratoni and Montelibretti in Italy, but now that there are British options, it seems sensible to support them and save money. The first prize in the CCI4*-S at Haras du Pin is €750 (£684) – that’s not much more than your entry fee and stabling cost, before you think about the boat trip, so you haven’t got a hope of making a profit even if you win.

    I’m lucky that I am not under pressure to run horses to get qualifications – I wouldn’t like to be an Olympic hopeful, having to keep yourself and your horses up to speed, and all the people involved in team management and selection happy for another year.

    But the Olympic delay is great for my Swiss squad: they’ve got a year to get better. The Germans and the British can’t improve, but we can!

    There’s a real sense of the Olympic feel-good factor there now the Swiss team has its qualification for the Games. The whole system is really buzzing and all those involved, even on the fringes, are living the dream. It’s really nice to be part of that and to see and feel the excitement the Olympics creates.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 30 July 2020