Well done to young Irish international Bertram Allen for highlighting how wrong it is to expect grooms to work late into the night. He’d been competing at a show in Belgium that didn’t end until after midnight. Many of us can remember when that was the norm for indoor shows, but those days should be confined to history.
When Chris Parker took over Addington last year, he had the right intention to finish shows no later than 8pm, apart from gala evenings. It’s something he’s mainly stuck to, keeping riders as well as officials and staff much happier.
With good stewarding, Addington easily gets through 300 horses in a day. Although some British shows do pre-entries and have times available, why can’t they all do this? European shows have been doing so for decades.
We are fortunate to have good staff, who I hope believe they’re fairly treated. But if we had to go back to those late finishes, it could be a case of last man (or woman) standing.
A ridiculous system
Far from criticising British shows, our yard has supported them more than most over the years. This remains the best country for producing horses; not least because British course-designers retain the principle of putting the fences up for a jump-off.
And before everyone starts clamouring about how good two-star international shows are, I’d argue that some of them now represent the worst value for money — and the most ridiculous system for anyone trying to produce a nice horse.
The whole idea of producing horses is to maximise their ability. But at a CSI2*, every class is ultra-fast and competitive, so when you get to the grand prix, you’re expecting a course that’s only 1.45m but challenging in its format.
These shows should be a stepping stone to enable riders to prepare horses for the next level. So when a start list of 100 is reduced to 20 for the jump-off, it seems logical to make it bigger and more difficult.
But nearly every FEI course-designer narrows the oxers, ramps them; in fact, they do everything possible to ensure the jump-off is stupidly fast. With usually only connections watching at these shows, there is no crowd to thrill — so why?
Of course, horses must learn to turn up to jumps and increase their overall pace — that’s part of the production process. But to ask them to go at crazy speeds, skidding round corners, just to finish in the first 12 is ridiculous.
I watched a two-star jump-off in Spain, with 29 first-round clears and 18 clear in the jump-off — and the only reason any poles fell was the sheer speed. If the course designer was trying to replicate a Cheltenham hurdle, then they succeeded. But as a showjumping class, it didn’t feel like a proper test.
It doesn’t have to be like this. Italian course-designer Andrea Colombo built at both Chepstow two-stars last year. I’d seen him in action at Vilamoura and recommended him to the Broome family. He built nice, flowing courses over the first three days, and made both grands prix more of a test with four double clears in each.
Sadly, his way is the exception, which is disappointing for our sport when top horses are needed to meet the demands of a growing number of five-star shows and the astronomical prize-money.
The current system is hindering horse progress. It’s also adding to many more needing veterinary treatment. In my book, it’s high time some of these reputedly good FEI course-designers started using their brains for the good of horse production.
Ref Horse & Hound; 6 February 2020