Andrew Nicholson on why course-designers must stick to the required level
I’ve agreed to join a virtual discussion with the FEI on the subject, “When do you know you are ready to go up a level in eventing?” They are worried that too many uncategorised riders are moving up too quickly and before they are ready, but it’s not a black-and-white subject.
You can’t stamp on young riders for being hungry to get on; if I had an 18-year-old pupil with the correct qualifications who didn’t badger me to go up a level, I’d think they were never going to make it as a rider. If course-designers are making the cross-country tracks too soft, that isn’t the riders’ faults – and that’s why we do need parity in design and build. A course is either a four-star or it isn’t, and if half the field are going round clear inside the time, then that rather indicates that it isn’t.
This applies to national courses as well. Some of the events I have competed at this year have had some odd course-design; too many small fences with no character, which might suit some people who want an easy time, but they aren’t educational. Is it that some event organisers think that they have to have as many clear rounds as possible so that the competitors come back next year?
So many riders are obsessed with their horses having impeccable records that maybe they do flock to the easier options, but they aren’t going to learn or improve themselves or their horses that way.
South of England used to have very good courses for educating horses and riders. They weren’t easy and they had lots of natural features. I always came home thinking that if things hadn’t gone to plan, then at least I knew more than before I left that morning. I kept going back there, though, but maybe other riders didn’t, and the event lost its international status, which was a shame.
This year I thought the courses were a bit too soft, but perhaps organisers are scared that they won’t attract enough entries any other way. I wonder if organisers are busy worrying about next year’s event before they have finished this year’s?
Dauntsey, however, was a breath of fresh air. Good on Beanie Sturgis, the organiser and course-designer, for sticking to her guns. She uses what terrain she has available very effectively, and I thought her track was really good. The really difficult fence had an option that was still educational. There have been plenty of occasions when my young horses haven’t gone clear at Dauntsey, but I keep going back – I think it’s great.
I know this is a difficult time for the sport and for organisers, but do the job properly or don’t do it at all.
Texts to landlines
It was a great pity that Dauntsey lost its Saturday and Sunday to the weather, and Little Downham abandoned most of its national classes in order to run the CCI4*-S. There’s a disconnect in the information chain that needs fixing; I get bombarded with start times sent to my mobile phone, but when an event is cancelled I seem to get text messages sent to my landline. It isn’t much help when I’ve left at 4am to go to an event and a message saying it is cancelled is sent at 6.30am to my house phone…
Ref Horse & Hound; 15 October 2020