Nina Barbour: ‘Safety shouldn’t be about ego, it’s about minimising risk’

  • I’VE just returned from the (actually quite wet!) Sunshine Tour in Spain where I bumped into Angelie von Essen – a great friend and top rider/business woman – who was wearing an air jacket. The next thing I did was to invest in one myself.

    Safety was brought into sharp focus for me in the aftermath of tragic accidents last year involving close friends and other than the unforgivable thought – “Will my air jacket make me look fat?” – I urged myself to remember that safety shouldn’t be about ego, it’s about minimising risk.

    I overheard one official saying that wearing hats for hind-boot checks should be made compulsory by the FEI – nothing stopped her from putting that hat on, but she continued her job without. It’s our duty to remind people that horses on the ground are at their most dangerous and need respect.

    Grooms are often at most risk, so it is equally our duty as employers to make sure they’re provided with safety gear and we listen to their concerns. I feel strongly that there’s more to do as show organisers, employers and federations to limit risk and increase awareness.

    The importance of facilities

    MY dreams very nearly came true in Spain – jumping two ranking classes with unlucky mistakes. My ambition is a top-10 place, although
    that’s a tough goal! Could I have achieved these results back home this winter? Unlikely. The incredible facilities on the Sunshine Tour allowed me to build up confidence over several weeks, meaning I punched above my normal weight in terms of performance.

    There has been discussion recently about certain UK venues hosting international shows that have not been well supported and it’s hugely important we understand why. I strongly believe that there is a straightforward formula to make an international venue work.

    Both arena and warm-up arenas need to be big enough, the surfaces need to be good – with not too much wax and the course-builder needs to test – and be horse- and rider-friendly. Good infrastructure is needed for parking, stabling and owners’ facilities.

    This comes with huge expense, but results in venues that support production of horses for the top sport. If we can achieve enough international dates at UK venues fitting these criteria, then maybe we can start reversing the extent of the outward migration of UK riders to Europe.

    The opportunity is now

    I AM in awe of the Global Champions Tour, which John Whitaker rightly likened to the “equivalent of Formula One” in showjumping. It leaves a huge opportunity for our industry to feed that machine.

    Given that UK living costs and international travel costs have risen exponentially in the past 12 months, both due to Brexit and global unrest, I believe that the opportunity is now for showjumping here in the UK.

    Our team is working hard to find a formula to deliver more international sport – could we look at a three-week tour in 2023? We are crunching the numbers and would appreciate feedback. We understand our shows are expensive for participants, not helped by rising costs of infrastructure, and are working hard to make the experience the best it can be.

    It’s important to understand that many shows – including those often referred to by Nick Skelton in his H&H columns – seen as the most aspirational to attend in Europe often run at six- or seven-figure losses, and don’t need to be commercial to be sustainable.

    We remain committed to showjumping at Bolesworth and optimistic that we can play a part in shaping the next chapter for British Showjumping. But I would urge all involved to support venue owners willing to invest to really understand what good looks like.

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 7 April

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