Mark Phillips: ‘British Eventing faces a huge dilemma as costs spiral’


  • Rising costs and bad weather are tough for all involved in the sport, says Mark Phillips in his exclusive Horse & Hound column

    I never thought I’d live to see the day that we would have to cancel cross-country on the free-draining Cotswold slopes at Gatcombe.

    My son Peter, who is the event director, the British Eventing (BE) steward and the technical advisor all did everything they could to be able to put on the Magic Millions Festival of British Eventing, but eventually after more than an inch of rain in 24 hours from Storm Antoni, it was impossible to stage the five British championships.

    On Saturday, the cross-country was cancelled as even the fleet of Land Rover Defenders struggled in the conditions. This meant the demise of the regular novice and intermediate classes, but we hoped that all the championships could run on the Sunday. A whole new ring was created on higher ground for the Pony Club so that their Mars Arena could be used for better ground in the showjumping warm-up.

    Once again, those BE members not in the more prestigious divisions took the hit. This repetition of losing the regular classes must be truly galling for members just trying to get a run, in a year that seems to be unprecedentedly wet, apart from the heatwave in June.

    BE, awaiting its new CEO on 18 September, faces an extraordinary dilemma. The cost of staging an event on a greenfield site has escalated by 30–40% since Covid. BE membership numbers are holding their own, but horse registrations are down, largely as people cut back on numbers because of cost-of-living issues.

    BE anticipates that there will be 30,000 less “cross-country starters” this year compared to the halcyon days before Covid. That equals circa 100 cross-country days. Yes, we are losing some events as organisers find it increasingly difficult to balance their books, but not that many!

    The irony is that the popular events, particularly those with infrastructure, want to put on more days as they have fewer overheads, but that puts more pressure on the greenfield and parkland sites, especially the peripheral ones, as it is harder for them to attract enough entries to balance the books.

    In short it is difficult to see the solution, as all the stakeholders – owners, riders and organisers – struggle to deal with spiralling costs. If only we could find a cheaper model for affiliated eventing.

    With the site at Gatcombe completely trashed, making the gut-wrenching decision to abandon the event completely quite simple for the BE steward, Peter faces months of wrangling with insurers to mitigate the amount of money he will lose.

    Other organisers who have faced the same situation this year, despite their best efforts, have received unacceptable abuse, both on social media and on the phone. Hopefully, despite their frustrations, people will appreciate how hard the team tried, with the consequential financial penalty, and spare us that. I’m not holding my breath as a senior rider was abusive beyond reason with BE officials last Saturday.

    Looking forward to the Europeans

    I leave the chaos at Gatcombe behind me this week and drive to Haras du Pin in France for the eventing Europeans. Such is the strength of the British squad we must start red-hot favourites and could even sweep the individual medals, but that brings its own pressures.

    Never underestimate Michael Jung and company – and the French are never harder to beat than when they are on home territory.

    It’s going to be a fascinating, nail-biting weekend. Warm weather is forecast, so let’s hope we can leave the rain behind so our girls and boys can extend further our remarkable record of European success.

    ● How can eventing adapt to meet the needs of all its stakeholders? Let us know at hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and county, for the chance to have your views published in a future edition of Horse & Hound magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 10 August, 2023

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