Pippa Roome: New audiences, different concepts *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    The inaugural fixture at Osborne House was a great success. As with all new events, there are tweaks to be made, and Stuart Buntine’s organising team and event chairman and initiator Diana Bown will know that. But they did a fantastic job for a first shot.

    The venue is beyond beautiful and made for horse trials, with perfect sites for all phases within spitting distance of Queen Victoria’s mansion.

    The flat Durbar Lawn is ideal for dressage and showjumping — a 20x60m arena could just be squeezed between the gravel paths — and had been well watered to provide good going.

    The cross-country was surprisingly hilly, with brilliant views across the course and down to the sea. The ground wasn’t perfect, but no one is really expecting that in this exceptional weather and the team’s efforts were appreciated.

    The original plan had been to run 80 horses, 40 each day. The entry fee was high at £840 — including the ferry, stabling, bedding and some hospitality — and this no doubt contributed to the fact only 48 started. But that was enough to provide two pleasant days’ sport.

    It was a shame only 14 ran across country on Thursday, but maybe 30 starters a day, with the aim of at least 25 running across country, would be ideal.

    The event’s best-kept secret was that title sponsors London Capital & Finance were welcoming anyone onto their terrace, with the best of the view and access to a bar dispensing free prosecco and gin and tonics, if you handed over your email address or phone number to enter a competition.

    One simple change

    The new short dressage test, written by Les Smith, sent horses into the arena at four-minute intervals. It worked well, although spectators had to get to grips with not clapping after the final halt as the walk following it — the only walk in the test — was marked.

    Personally, I’ve never found simple changes the most aesthetically pleasing movement and while this isn’t a level where horses can be asked for a flying change, I wonder if the pattern could be changed so only one simple change is needed instead of two.

    Tannoys, screens and shade

    I have three main suggestions for improving the spectator experience at Osborne. First, the positioning of tannoys could be improved so the cross-country commentary can be better heard in the sponsor area on the terraces and the spectator hub.

    Second, could a big screen be set up such that viewers on the terraces and below can see the action when horses are out of immediate sight, without spoiling the view?

    Third, some shade around the main arena would be appreciated. Umbrellas don’t go amiss in the rain either!

    Osborne is trying to take eventing to a new audience, as is the Event Rider Masters (ERM), but it had a different feel to ERM — slower, more old-fashioned.

    ERM is a made-for-TV product, fast-moving, modern and sport-focused. Osborne was all about spectators having a lovely day out at a venue.

    The competition was compactly presented if they wanted to follow a class right through, but local, independent food stalls and crafts, extras such as the funfair, dog agility and arena attractions, plus a look round this former royal residence and its glorious views were also an important part of the experience.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 2 August 2018