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Andrew Nicholson: ‘The final selection battle for Paris is well underway’

*Opinion*

  • Andrew Nicholson, winner of two Olympic team bronze medals plus a team silver, on the build-up to Paris, plus a surfeit of four-stars this spring

    We are six weeks away from the Paris Olympics, and the final selection battle is well underway. The CCI4*-S at Bramham, and the same class this week at Luhmühlen, are proving hotter than the respective CCI4*-L and CCI5* competitions as a result.

    Well done to Kitty King for being first off the blocks and winning at Bramham riding Vendredi Biats. I shall be in Luhmühlen watching with interest as the likes of Laura Collett, Tom McEwen and Yasmin Ingham face the top Germans, New Zealanders, Italians, Dutch and so on.

    As I write this, I am on my way back home from Avenches where the Swiss team, for whom I am the cross-country coach, won their home Nations Cup. Robin Godel scored his second four-star win of the year, and Felix Vogg, who won the CCI4*-S in Wiesbaden last month, finished runner-up. This was their main Olympic trial and the results were pleasing.

    It’s interesting to see the different countries building up to the eventing at the Olympics. The standard there will be much higher than the average British-based person will think; there are quite a lot of nations looking very good.

    I think when it comes down to it, there will still be a limited amount of those who can do all three phases very well and go fast enough across country around a nine-minute track – that intensity is nearly harder than doing so round an 11-minute one – so there could well be a surprise winner.

    “There is no excuse”

    The knock-on effect of these ultra-competitive CCI4*-Ss must be one of the reasons that the long-format classes at Bramham, Luhmühlen and others have suffered in terms of numbers of entries.

    There have been too many four-stars this spring. I know that riders wanted them, as they were keen to get qualified for the Olympics as soon as they could and with as many options as they could, so they started campaigning early at the likes of Montelibretti, Kronenberg, Strzegom and so on, but that meant that the likes of Bramham were left with slim pickings.

    It does, I think, demonstrate the extent to which British events have been supported by riders of other nationalities in the past. Perhaps British Eventing has spent too much time worrying about the grassroots level of the sport and taken its eye off the ball as regards the top end.

    Riders are hiking off abroad to events with flatter ground and all-weather surfaces, hoping for – but not always getting – better weather conditions, but that isn’t typical “British” cross-country as we know it, and I do think the effects are being seen at the major events.

    Disappointing riding at Badminton

    I thought some of the riding at Badminton was very disappointing. Horses looked more like show horses than top-level event horses; too fat and not fit and streamlined enough to do the job. I don’t understand why.

    Badminton at the end of a wet spring wasn’t ever going to be about the dressage – riders had plenty of warning. There is no excuse for not having horses sufficiently fit – we have tons of gallops in the UK and lots of racehorse trainers keen to help.

    Lucy Latta, who finished second for Ireland, was a breath of fresh air, riding lightly and positively. Alexander Bragg, third, looked very secure in what he was doing, and of course my compatriot Caroline Powell was a great advert for what she does – she rode her horse her way at her speed, stuck to her game plan and won.

    Thoughts and sympathies

    We are all deeply shocked and saddened by the tragic death of Georgie Campbell at Bicton. Our thoughts and sympathies are with her family and her husband Jesse. They’ll know, however, that unfortunately nothing can ever make our sport totally safe. All we can do is prepare ourselves and horses in the best way possible, as Georgie did.

    ● Which riders do you think will have a good chance of succeeding in Paris? Let us know at hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and country, for the chance for your letter to appear in a forthcoming issue of the magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 13 June

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