Pippa Funnell: ‘Don’t let Covid dumb down our sport’ *H&H Plus*


  • Pippa Funnell appeals to eventing’s iconic venues to preserve eventing

    LAST week’s monumental fixture at Aston-le-Walls gave many top horses the run they so desperately needed, but it’s left me with mixed feelings. I don’t usually stick my head above the parapet with my opinions as I’d hate to offend anyone, but if it does resonate with others, consider this a cry for help to those who can assist our sport.

    Firstly I commend Nigel Taylor and his team for running two very successful four-star sections at Aston. He did a fantastic job, the going was excellent and the sections featured the very best horses in the country.

    I was delighted with my four boys all posting sub-30 dressage scores. They showjumped well and felt amazing across country. Was the cross-country as demanding as Chatsworth? Probably not, but we are grateful for it filling the gap in this strange season. But is this the permanent shape of things to come?

    Aston – like Burnham Market – plays a huge, vital role in our sport, but for the sake of eventing and the safety of future generations, we must do everything to preserve the spectacular iconic venues.

    I understand the colossal impact Covid has had on all aspects of life over the past 15 months but we must not let it change our lives forever. Yes, I sympathise with Badminton, Burghley, Bramham, Chatsworth and Gatcombe’s reasons for cancelling. I’m sure the financial risk was the overriding factor, but I feel very saddened that riders, owners, sponsors and so on were not put in the picture. We only knew once the official statements of cancellation went public.

    Everyone wants the same outcome – the resumption of these key, historic events – so we all need to pull together. Maybe there are people out there with magic wands – the more of us looking, the more likely we will find them.


    AT the risk of holding out my begging bowl, I am pleading with these iconic events and their land owners, who have so generously allowed our sport to take place on their land over the decades, that Covid should not be their reason not to hold future horse trials.

    Arguably the most special thing about our wonderful sport is that we have unbelievably beautiful locations in which to compete. Many hundreds of thousands of people hear about, visit or watch our sport on TV in these historic country estates. It gives us an opportunity to see and be proud of the beauty of these parklands.

    But it goes much deeper than the aesthetics and privilege of competing in front of these splendid houses. The changing terrains of these venues is what teaches us to be horsemen. The challenge of cross-country is not just jumping daunting fences, it’s also being able to balance horses over different terrain.

    Before Covid, many riders steered clear of the likes of Gatcombe Park because it is so hilly; it’s tough to ride and you’re more likely to blemish a horse’s record by picking up 20 penalties. But this terrain is what teaches us the most crucial lessons, much more than practising angles and skinnies in all-weather arenas.

    It is the Chatsworths, Gatcombes and Bramhams that prepare us and tell us if we are ready for the challenge of Badminton and Burghley.

    Please, please let us preserve these venues. By dumbing down our sport, horses will be ridden faster and faster; they will not have time to think, riders will take too many chances and none of us wants to see that. I’d rather see fewer but properly prepared combinations at our five-stars. What will do our sport irreparable damage is images of tired horses, or partnerships that aren’t equipped to compete at that level.

    It is absolutely essential that there is no easy passage through; that riders have the opportunity to find out for certain if they and their horses are ready for every aspect of the ultimate test of horsemanship.

    On a positive note, let’s all get behind the Jockey Club in their new role of running what will be our only top event this year, Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials. We must all pull together. We need everyone – owners, sponsors, riders, organisers, landowners and the BBC – to keep our great sport special and in the public eye so it can continue to be enjoyed by all its enthusiasts for years to come.

    You can also read this exclusive column in the 20 May issue of Horse & Hound magazine.

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