Peter Charles: ‘Speed is replacing horsemanship’ *H&H Plus*


  • Peter Charles on paying vast sums of money to compete, the 2021 opportunities that might exist for some but not for others and pushing young horses too far

    Next year, there should be a lot to look forward to, with potentially both a European Championships and an Olympic Games. Not only will it be good for the sport, it will give more riders the opportunity to have something to aim for and work towards.

    One of the problems that emerged this season was an inequality in access to the top levels of jumping, with the top 30 in Europe having the ability to compete at a number of five-star shows in St Tropez that were closed to everyone else – unless you were prepared to pay £25,000 to participate. Going into an Olympic year, the FEI needs to ensure that all riders who have qualified for Tokyo have an equal opportunity to compete.

    While there won’t be much of a winter circuit in Europe, in the US shows are still going ahead. The downside is that it’s expensive to get there, visas can be a problem and
    the Covid infection rates are high, especially in Florida, which makes health insurance
    an issue.

    There is also the chance that Biden will introduce lockdowns when he takes office – and cancellations are a big risk if you’re paying out that much money. For many riders, this will not be the year to cross the Atlantic.

    There’s a Nations Cup in Florida at the end of March, though, and if the Covid situation eases up with vaccine distribution, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to send a team to compete. As long as the sport can get going by early spring, we should still be on track
    for Tokyo.

    A blessed lifestyle

    This has been a year in which we should all feel blessed to be in the horse industry. When we’ve had to spend time locked down at home, we couldn’t have asked for a better lifestyle to help us cope.

    There’s been a lot to learn spending time with the horses without the shows – from more time concentrating on flatwork to understanding the horses and their habits. We’ve had Alice Oppenheimer coming in weekly to help with dressage training, when the rules allow, which also helps to open up the riders’ minds.

    We certainly shouldn’t be complaining about shows being cancelled when there are people whose entire lives have been wrecked by the pandemic. There’s no doubt we all now appreciate the life we had before, although people have been quick to adapt.

    “A great shame”

    One thing that’s been clear is the growing popularity of online auctions. Although I don’t always need to sit on a horse, I do like to see them in the flesh to get a feel for their character, and I always prefer to see them with a rider jumping them than jumping loose.

    One of the downsides of auctions has been the extra push to jump horses too young and too often. It was also a great shame to see foals being jumped at a recent Continental sale, which just can’t be right.

    When you combine this with the toll of age classes, where young horses are having to twist and turn against the clock, you find a lot of them are worn out by the age of seven.

    Seeing on a horse’s record that it has won an age class is something that would not impress me as a buyer. If a horse is winning at that stage, then it’s missing out on a proper education, and speed is overtaking the art of horsemanship. If it wins through style and performance, though, that’s a different matter.

    You hear complaints that it’s hard to find good horses, but people need to look at the bigger picture when they’re producing them ultimately to make a top horse. A difficult balance, I know, for any rider when it’s their livelihood and everything is oriented towards results in order to sell horses.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 3 December 2020

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