Pammy Hutton: Muddying the wildcard waters [H&H VIP]

  • My comments — or should I say rants — about our qualifying system have provoked quite a bit of feedback. Clearly many competitors, plus the organiser of one of our top shows, share my concerns.

    As riders, owners and trainers, we put endless time, effort and money into trying to qualify for championships. The level at which we are trying to earn those priceless tickets makes no difference.

    Such passion and dedication deserves transparency in the way qualification is allocated.

    I’ve always found wildcards confusing. Gossip had it that wildcards for the nationals were being given out before the regional championships had concluded. How could that be?

    Well, British Dressage (BD) quashed that rumour for me. But I became more confused that at prix st georges (PSG) and intermediate I, wildcards are in fact “free spaces”. What on earth does that mean?

    BD helpfully described it thus: “For PSG and inter I, combinations qualify directly from Premier Leagues and UK-based CDI shows. Two qualify from each relevant class, provided they score 65% or above. But if one has already qualified, it creates a ‘free space’, which is given to the next in line on percentages scored across all Premier Leagues and home CDIs.”

    With this qualification method having nothing to do with the regionals, wildcards for PSG and inter I — also known as free spaces — have indeed been allocated before the regionals have finished.

    Just as I was thinking I had grasped the system, BD threw me into another spin by declaring on its website the following: “The BD board reserves the right to offer places for any championship. This system is used mainly for higher-level classes at the national championships and for horses selectors would like to see in top-class competitions.”

    Does this throw the entire qualifying structure out of the window?

    The next generation

    The Pony Europeans in Millstreet were a great adventure. Watching the 128cm young show jumping championship of Ireland was mesmerising. Children under 12 on tiny ponies and fences up to their ears had me transfixed. Apparently their grand prix was yet to come; how huge would that be?

    Over at the pony dressage, there were many scores well over 70%, not a hair or ear out of place and many grand prix shapes.

    I groaned inwardly on hearing a discussion on pony prices. Hundreds of thousands are required to secure “the pony” if one’s child is to get anywhere, although there were those that had made their international ponies from something cheaper. Children on both varieties must ride; those at the top of the ladders did.

    It was great to see Britain win the team silver medal with each partnership scoring more than 70%. Peter Storr is an excellent team trainer. Well done the whole squad.

    I was in Millstreet helping the Italian eventing team. My pidgin Italian is coming along nicely and, even better, my partnership finished fourth after dressage, fifth overall and contributed to team bronze.

    I love working for Italy. The occasional green error is made, for which one needs one’s wits at the ready, but their trainers really are awarded five-star treatment.

    The atmosphere around the eventing dressage arena took a nasty turn at one point when outside assistance was recognised. As a trainer, I know how hard it is to keep quiet. But on this occasion, a couple of teams were lucky not to have members eliminated.

    Brandy or whiskey?

    Never did I think I would own a horse competing for another country.

    At Hartpury and Hickstead internationals, our daughter-in-law Abi Hutton rode Armagnac, a horse I’ve ridden at home for three years.

    Abi rides for Ireland, so needs must… and I did enjoy the car passes, hospitality and international ambience, with maybe not quite the usual monopoly over team places.

    First published in Horse & Hound magazine on 21 August 2014