New-look eventing has many positives and a few tensions, says H&H’s eventing columnist
Organisres are doing brilliantly in putting on events in line with the strict guidelines and it’s great to be back competing. Everyone hopes that some of the innovations are here to stay, such as paying start fees online, printing your own number and bigger warm-up areas. There is a huge demand for entries which is unsurprising, given that some events aren’t running and the maximum number of starters permitted per day is reduced, leading to heavy balloting.
Organisers who provide good courses on well prepared ground have created a sought-after product, and the clientele is there in the form of competitors queuing up, yet they have to be turned away because the cap for entries is reached.
I appreciate it’s important that eventing doesn’t become too centralised at fewer venues, with marginal fixtures struggling for entries, but we may have become too restrictive. It’s great that British Eventing (BE) is being so flexible about adding extra days; hopefully this marks a move towards a more free-market model going forward, where riders vote with their feet and events which attract high entries are permitted to accommodate them.
Many different stakeholders
The current return-to-sport regulations have led to positive developments, as well as highlighting underlying tensions.
Eventing has a lot of co-dependent, essential stakeholders: organisers run events – reliant on volunteers, the backbone of the sport – for the customers, which is made up of three groups; amateurs, professionals and owners. Each group must be catered for and their needs understood.
Amateur riders want to know they can get into the events they enter. Time-poor, they juggle many balls, so being balloted or moved to a different day and having to alter work, training and childcare plans causes problems.
Professionals need to compete efficiently. Times have changed and most are running much bigger strings than in previous eras.
There may come a day when the maximum number of horses we can compete per day is raised from five to six or seven at the lower levels. This would enable riders to compete over fewer days, easing the pressure on how often staff are travelling. Almost all events now allow riders to cycle the cross-country rather than walking, which is a big help – not having to get there so early to walk can be the difference between a 3.30am and 2.45am start for grooms.
Perhaps at the time of entering, riders could also pay for a certain number of entries at whatever level and decide which horses use the spots later.
The third group of clients is the owners. They put in so much, yet their expectations are actually quite simple, so it’s vital that these are not misunderstood.
Rather than wanting corporate hospitality and the like, owners’ requirements are typically three-fold: they need to be able to get into the venue without a complicated process, they like to have a programme and they want to be able to park by their rider’s lorry, whether it be a professional or their granddaughter.
Of course we need to have a separate owners’ car park in the current situation, but in normal times most lower level events have lorry parks that can easily accommodate a car in front of each lorry. This gives owners a base from which to enjoy a picnic with other owners, without traipsing to and fro for the right clothing or food.
We’re lucky to have great events in Britain; a combination of this and our owners is why we attract riders from so many nations. The sport has many masters to serve, but it’s in all our interests that Britain remains the epicentre of eventing worldwide, the place from which to train and compete.
Ref Horse & Hound; 6 August 2020