Stuart Buntine: Let’s be creative *H&H VIP*

  • The New Year is a great time to take stock. In 2017 there is much to ponder as we look forward with some trepidation to the changes within eventing.

    At the 1976 Olympics and before, our sport bore little relation to the one we know  today — courses had deep water, the ground was boggy and fences were often tricky to read. Eight years later, the sport at Los Angeles showcased manicured ground and creative fences.

    Are we about to see an equally dramatic change? The news from the FEI on the World Equestrian Games (WEG) and the Olympics lays out significant changes, particularly the drop to three-star cross-country and three riders to a team. I worry that the “speed and endurance” test is becoming reduced to a speed test.

    I am not sure how the four-star events will react to the FEI changes. It would be exciting if they could pool resources and launch a high-profile grand slam series, similar to tennis. Their future depends on closer cooperation between organisers.

    There is a new four-star in the offing in the USA in 2019. While this is positive for the sport, here in the UK we must work hard to ensure we remain the mecca for eventing, with riders travelling to us — this may soon change if the United States continues to progress at its current pace.

    The fact that US venue Tryon is able to stage WEG with such phenomenal existing facilities begs the question of whether we are already being left behind.

    Increase the appeal

    We mustn’t forget eventing is a minority sport — we will always be competing for the crumbs that are left after the big sports, such as football and cricket,
    have taken their slice. Sport sponsorship is increasing, but this is not all new money — minority sports will feel the pinch as money is increasingly directed to  higher profile ones.

    However, we must strive to increase the appeal of eventing. I have spent a few weeks at home in Australia this winter, where all formats of cricket are thriving, be it Test, One Day or Twenty20 — all are exciting and they feed off each other’s success.

    The Event Rider Masters has made a bright start and the plans for expansion are positive. We must be creative in how we present eventing to the public and look at different formats for different locations.

    As the sport strives to become more professional and create a wider appeal, we must not forget any of our key stakeholders — riders, organisers, officials, owners, volunteers, landowners and sponsors. It is important that the balance between them does not become out of kilter. Thousands of people give a lot of time, energy and money. The continued strength of eventing is reliant on all stakeholders feeling valued and not exploited.

    Brexit — bigger rents?

    I believe Brexit will mean agriculture subsidies will be removed or reduced. This will, in many cases, mean a rethink of farming practice and perhaps a need for higher rents for the land we use for eventing. This is just one of many Brexit issues that we must address now as we pull together to ensure a bright future for eventing.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 9 February 2017