Andrew Nicholson on eventing Europeans: Is Avenches a venue for future championships?


  • H&H eventing columnist Andrew Nicholson shares his thoughts on the Europeans and his own decision to step back from top-level competition

    THE organisers of the European Eventing Championships at Avenches did a great job, I thought. It’s good to have a new venue on the championship circuit; new places always make riders think a bit more, because they aren’t so familiar with the way it rides.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Switzerland put in a bid for a world championships there one day; with eventing on the up there and their well-established excellence in showjumping, they could certainly stage those two sports, and probably slip in dressage as well.

    Avenches is a compact, spectator-friendly site with good facilities and surfaces. There were decent crowds for all three phases, and I should think the event will help raise the profile of eventing in Switzerland and the support for it.

    It’s not ideal for the cross-country to have to keep crossing the galloping tracks and trotting tracks of the racecourse, and those changes of going were
    the only real concern for riders. However, machines were used on the morning of the cross-country to soften the tracks, and I don’t think there were any problems.

    Mike Etherington-Smith did an impressive job as course-designer. It would have been difficult to know how to gauge quite what to do when designing it; so soon after an Olympics, quite a few countries might have struggled to send a quality team.

    Not many nations could field six riders; the Swiss, for whom I am the cross-country coach, could only send four, for example. Mike would have had to keep that in mind, and I thought the course was plenty strong enough and stayed interesting and challenging right to the end.

    The Swiss team did very well – just one penalty away from winning a team medal, which would have been a dream. The British squad were excellent, and I enjoyed watching Nicola Wilson win individual gold as well as team gold. She is clearly on a roll after victories at Bicton, Hartpury and Blenheim, and is riding confidently and positively. She’s got good owners and nice horses, and I was very pleased for her.

    The Brits are so strong at the moment – Olympic and European team gold medals, the Aachen victory, their domination of both CCI4* classes at Blenheim and the CCI5* at Bicton – and you could have put together yet another team from the riders left at home.

    One thing I thought was unusual at Avenches was the fact that the judges could very clearly see the dressage marks – and how they affected the placing each time – as they came up on the scoreboard. The crowd could see one scoreboard from the grandstand area, but there was another one in the grandstand that could only be seen from inside the arena.  I’m surprised the judges put up with it – it must have been a distraction from the pure process of assessment.

    Time to step back

    ON the final day of Blenheim, the week before Avenches, I announced my decision to step back from top-level competition. As in Tokyo, I didn’t wish that I was riding myself on cross-country day at the Europeans – I was quite happy doing my bit on the ground, so it must be the right decision.

    The majority of my horses are out in the field – I might be going to Boekelo for the Nations Cup final with the Swiss, so it seemed the right time for them to go on holiday – and I’ve just got two in at home to ride.

    At the moment it feels completely normal and the natural pattern of my year. I might feel differently in February, when I’d usually be winding myself up towards Badminton, but I suspect not. However, I’ve seen a photograph of a new sign in William Fox-Pitt’s village that says “Nicholson’s Yard” – I can assure everybody that I’m not about to move!

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in H&H magazine, on sale Thursday 7 October

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