One evening last week, I had three jobs to do. The first was to enter Badminton, which seemed futile; the second was supplying information for Olympic accreditation, which now proves to have been futile, and the third was to answer questions from my solicitor who was drafting my will, which with any luck will be futile!
We’re trying to carry on as normally as possible since the shutdown of British Eventing competitions. The horses’ preparations are continuing as if they have events coming up. The aim is to have them ready to hit the ground running when we’re given green light, but also to make progress in the meantime, so that when we start eventing they’re all half a season further on in their training than they are now.
We’re all coming off the back of a long pre-season, battling through what felt like six months of rain. Now that pre-season has been elongated indefinitely, it will take self-discipline to maintain focus.
We’re trying to replicate as best we can some of the experiences the horses would gain on the circuit, by adding competition conditions to our existing training. Thankfully our system is designed around our natural facilities; working on grass, hillwork and the like will be key – anything not to be too restricted to a school.
In the past I’ve sometimes opted to take established horses to Badminton off the back of a single open intermediate run. In these instances their preparation is done at home and most of it before the season even starts. Now, we have to replicate that with the younger horses.
With any luck eventing might get going earlier than some activities, once we get to the tail end of the pandemic and the NHS is no longer overstretched. The smaller national events have negligible crowds and unlike sports such as rugby, competitors are not in close physical contact.
One challenge is that many volunteers – the backbone of the sport – are elderly and therefore at greater risk. Once it is safe to restart the season, there may be a shortage of volunteers. In the short term, perhaps riders should have to provide a helper for every fourth start. A professional running four horses at each event would have to provide a volunteer every time, while an amateur with just one horse would have to provide someone every fourth outing.
This break is tough for anyone running a business, but we have to be positive and use the time to be proactive, with owners, sponsors – many of whom face real challenges – and staff. When I was in hospital in 2013 after shattering both elbows, I learnt to cope in a situation of uncertainty with limited income and an unknown recovery time. I learnt that a clear plan as well as good and regular communication with those involved with our set-up was key.
This is an opportunity for us to invest time in our own teams – putting emphasis on individuals’ development will help to keep morale up.
For many, this is a time of recalibration with children at home and jobs interrupted. Seeing our two playing games outside is a reminder of the blessings of a rural upbringing and the joys of a childhood shaped around horses.
Ref Horse & Hound; 26 March 2020