Mark Phillips: What does the future hold? *H&H Plus*


  • I normally think of myself as a positive person. However, as we start to come out of the wettest winter ever and with coronavirus dominating the news day after day, I’m struggling to be confident about the upcoming season, Badminton and the Tokyo Olympic Games.

    I write from America where we never hear about anything that happens in Europe. But 2020 is different! Hearing Switzerland is cancelling events of more than 1,000 people, airlines are calling off flights, the money markets are taking a dive and there is the possibility of the virus killing millions worldwide, you can’t help wondering what the future holds.

    On a brighter side, I hear the virus likes cold weather and that it will become less virulent as the weather warms up.

    On the home front it is no surprise that Aston-le-Walls, Epworth and Moreton all cancelled last weekend, and Pontispool and Stafford later in the month are already off. Surely this is the tip of the iceberg unless it stops raining soon?

    On the farm at home, we haven’t turned a wheel in weeks as the ground is completely waterlogged and we are 600 feet up in the Cotswolds. So I really feel sorry for those organisers struggling to get their fences out on their cross-country courses, never mind actually running their event.

    In good news, riders seem to be broadly happy entering events via British Eventing’s website, though there have been delays as entry secretaries struggle to get sections sorted and times out.

    One scenario that the system won’t allow is for riders to enter a horse at different events on the same weekend, hedging their bets against a cancellation, for example in the hope of getting their pre-Badminton runs. Those people will have to “phone a friend” at Stoneleigh for help.

    Rider responsibilty

    Much of my winter has been spent rewriting cross-country guidelines both for America and the FEI and working on a new frangible standard for the FEI, which will inevitably follow on into America and Europe.

    The overriding principle is to try to dramatically reduce the number of rotational falls.

    The good news is that later this year we will have a different-coloured MIM clip for a front rail jumped on an angle, for instance at corner fences, which should be more effective with the different forces here.

    However, no system will ever be infallible and we will always have some unlucky riders when a frangible breaks when it should not, and others who are unluckier when a device does not break when it should.

    The overall principle is that frangible fences must always be safer than if the fence was not frangible. However, the bottom line is that it is still the rider’s responsibility to give their horse the best chance of jumping every fence cleanly.

    In the meantime, let’s hope that everybody Badminton-bound can get enough runs for their horses and that new director Jane Tuckwell and her right-hand man Andrew Tucker can have a great first event.

    Beyond that, talk of cancelling the Olympic Games seems inconceivable. Let’s hope it stays that way and the Brits can bring back team gold for the first time since 1972.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 5 March 2020