H&H’s dressage columnist discusses ways in which the British show scene could be made more appealing
It was interesting to read Nick Skelton’s column earlier this year (14 May issue), followed by Carl Hester’s more recently (3 September issue), discussing a lack of competition venues here in the UK that truly rival the big ones on the Continent.
We have fantastic training facilities and smaller competition venues here, which serve an invaluable purpose, but inevitably, to get a top horse accustomed to the serious atmospheres that a championship will throw at them, we have to travel abroad.
With the loss of Dressage at Hickstead and all it stood for, we now only have Hartpury, Windsor and Bolesworth left as outdoor international shows in the UK. And of course, it has always been hard to entice top European combinations across the Channel – after all, when they have so many top-class venues at their fingertips, why come here? We need to find a way to make our shows worth the extra effort, from arenas to stabling, atmosphere and hospitality – which includes not only wooing sponsors and owners, but also taking better care of grooms.
I liked Nick’s idea of having more money from our governing bodies flowing into the venues. I also wonder if there could be ways of sharing the load with more of our bigger shows holding more than one discipline, like Bolesworth and Windsor do. Certainly at the big competitions in Germany, there are high-class jumping and dressage classes one after the other. Families can have a day out and children can see their heroes from different disciplines in one day.
The shops, too, are second to none and the hospitality is usually impressive. I can name countless venues that do this in Germany, whether they combine dressage and eventing or dressage and jumping, and even driving, too.
I think back fondly of the times I took my horses to stay at Klaus Balkenhol’s yard near Münster in my school and university holidays. There are at least six top international shows within two hours from him, so you could compete all the time and when you weren’t competing, you could pop to watch world-class sport after finishing your own training. It was a fantastic opportunity for learning by doing and watching.
Maybe if we had a venue that could offer a series of two or three shows in consecutive weeks, we could entice more foreigners over to enjoy what we have to offer here. This, however, needs coordinating between the disciplines and the individual governing bodies.
There are many opportunities coming out of this year’s enforced standstill, but the danger is that as we get going again, we all go back to doing our own thing and our good ideas and intentions get forgotten.
Try to be innovative
Having just returned from competing in Germany myself, I can report that things are different as a result of coronavirus and a little strange, especially masked prize-givings. Yet the team at Donaueschingen still delivered a super-friendly atmosphere and were helpful in all matters.
The arena, although not surrounded by big crowds, still gave a bit of hustle and bustle with cameras, tents and spectators at safe distances from each other. Let’s just hope we get to keep going in this vein as the Covid case numbers are rising again.
I do hope there is a chance for the equestrian community as a whole to be innovative in the way we move forwards, and find a way to create some magic at our top venues so we don’t suffer more losses.
Ref Horse & Hound; 17 September 2020