Carl Hester: It won’t be like clicking a switch *H&H Plus*


  • On the day I am writing this, New Zealand has just begun to ease restrictions and emerge from one of the world’s most stringent lockdowns. Meanwhile, the UK has held a minute’s silence to remember those key workers who have given their lives during the coronavirus pandemic.

    It is not over yet, and a lot of patience will be needed. Now is the time really to focus on the good things we have and to make the best of those. At the same time, there is a lot going on in the background to prepare for the time when restrictions ease in the UK.

    The sport operations team at British Dressage (BD) are working on various models for a return to competition when it is safe to do so.

    While the equestrian industry often falls through the net in classification terms, all the work behind the scenes to get the government to accept our sport as part of the leisure industry has made a huge difference when it comes to help for equestrian centres, and has saved a lot of jobs. Thank you to all those involved.

    A big “if”

    Although a return to competition is still way off, and dependent on government conditions, it could be the one time we will actually be grateful that ours is not a mainstream spectator sport.

    Apart from the national championships, our dressage shows are not reliant on spectators. Theoretically it takes maybe 10 people to run a show. But consider how we can introduce social distancing for judges and writers – they can’t sit in a car together, but some form of voice communication aid such as those that trainers and riders use might work.

    This is just one example of all the factors that need to be considered when it comes to restarting competition. It won’t be like clicking a switch and the light going back on.

    BD planners are working under the mantra: “Ride, train, compete, qualify”. While no decision has been made about the nationals in September as yet, one problem would be how to get riders and horses qualified.

    It is all a big “if” and, personally, I can’t see the nationals going ahead. We must be realistic: competition for the rest of this year may be out. How lovely it would be if we could reintroduce it in time to have the biggest party at Olympia just before Christmas – but health must come first.

    I also wouldn’t bet on competing internationally this year due to different countries’ restrictions. I heard news that next year’s postponed Tokyo Olympics may be in doubt unless a vaccine is developed. If that is the case, they would be cancelled rather than postponed – and this brings everything sharply into focus.

    I can’t imagine the nightmare involved in policing whether every competitor and all their supporters, let alone the officials, had been vaccinated – and that’s just for starters. And of course, as yet there is no vaccine.

    “Do the right thing”

    But for all this, I don’t see just doom and gloom. Instead I see sunshine, and people pulling together to support their communities by volunteering, supporting our NHS and supporting each other. We have a lot to be grateful for and to appreciate.

    If you’re riding at the moment, please be careful and sensible. We all share a responsibility to do the right thing, and to avoid giving ammunition to those who consider horse riders to be toffs who think the rules don’t apply to them. I dread to think how utterly mortifying it would be to be carted off to A&E!

    Stay at home, stay safe, support the NHS and stay well. We’re all in this together.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 7 May 2020