Dickie Waygood reflects on the way forward after Badminton’s cancellation
There was the inevitable knee-jerk reaction of shock among riders, owners and staff when we heard Badminton was cancelled; people naturally dislike change. Then the dust settles – these guys are competitors and we soon start looking at the new options and finding what positives they can and a way forward.
We have 17 event riders on the World Class programme and then there are lots more I work with closely. You have to walk in everybody’s shoes, with horses and riders at different stages of their careers.
At the time of writing, the options aren’t fully clear – hopefully we’ll know more next week or the week after. One of my key sayings at the moment is that what’s right today is not right tomorrow – the news of Bramham’s cancellation came in as this column was on the verge of going to press in the magazine on Monday (8 March). Things are changing so rapidly that the best advice is to remain as flexible as possible.
That said, it’s hard when you’ve worked towards a certain event. Badminton isn’t something you start preparing for in March – from December when horses started walking, their programmes in terms of teeth, worming, shoeing and so on were designed to work backwards from Badminton.
Options and decisions
In normal times, Kentucky (22–25 April) would be an option for five-star horses and even before Badminton’s cancellation, quite a few riders were thinking of either Badminton or Kentucky, or both if they had sufficient horsepower.
The impact of Covid and variables beyond our control such as quarantine has made that trip complicated, but some will still consider it. With Brexit in the mix, we hope horses can fly to the US direct from Britain, rather than via Europe.
Luhmühlen (17–20 June) is another good five-star and four-star short option, depending on how the EHV-1 situation develops. There are also several four-star shorts in Britain – and long and shorts abroad – through the spring. These will help provide possible pathways to the Olympic Games and Europeans, if we get one.
For horses established at five-star, riders and owners will ask themselves if there is a need to test them at a lower level long format – the shorts are good pathway events, but running round a four-star long could prove to be unnecessary mileage.
It’s my job and that of coach Chris Bartle to give riders and owners the information we have available at the time, and then it’s key they make the decisions around the right pathway for their horses to be best prepared for a championship.
For the elite events in March, British Eventing (BE) had to draw a line in the sand somewhere to define elite. In the end, the easiest way was to open them to riders – of any nationality – qualified for five-star, with those riders able to bring horses below five-star too. All credit to the BE team for creating a comprehensive pathway.
A selfless role
With my World Class performance director hat on, we are making an unprecedented effort with owners across the disciplines in the run-up to Tokyo and beyond. Owners are the biggest sponsors in our sport and have to be part of the journey.
We send a monthly owners’ newsletter and we wrote to 150 owners and thanked them for keeping their horses in British ownership for the Olympics after that deadline. We recently had a video call with 71 owners.
All the disciplines are down to three-man teams for Tokyo which is a different ball game. In the past, once the eventing trot-up was over, the travelling reserve knew they would not compete and stepped out of the team environment and might do some media work, for example.
This time, with the new substitution rules, they could be brought into the team at any time – it’s a massive ask for someone to stay mentally prepared, along with their horse and connections. It’s an utterly selfless role and I’d like to pre-thank whoever that athlete ends up being and their owner(s) – they will have a massive positive impact on the team’s performance in the way they embrace such a challenge.
Right now, as we go through Covid, EHV-1 and Brexit, the world feels pretty chaotic. But looking forward, we hopefully have three equestrian disciplines at the Olympics, a Paralympics and three European Championships. It could be the most unprecedentedly exciting year for horse sport.
Also published in H&H 11 March 2021
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