Hickstead is currently undertaking extensive improvements to its facilities to ensure it remains among the best in the world.
The West Sussex showground came under the FEI’s scrutiny when the organisation reviewed its eight Super League venues last year.
“A few years ago, Hickstead and Aachen were the two greatest events in the world — and Hickstead has slipped a little,” explains Michael Stone of the FEI.
Last year, the venue’s dual hosting of Royal International Horse Show with the European Dressage Championships caused major traffic problems. A new access road has now been built, although this was not an FEI requirement.
“There were several issues that needed serious improvement for Hickstead to retains its Super League status,” continued Stone, “namely the ground, press service and stabling.”
Edward Bunn, Hickstead’s managing director, confirms that many of the required improvement, plus a number of others, were planned prior to the FEI’s report and will be in place by July.
“We’re moving the international stables closer to the showground,” he said. “They will have 24hr security, showers and toilet facilities for the grooms. We’re also doubling the size of the press office, providing a better results and information service, and we’re working to improve drainage in main ring.”
The only outstanding improvement required is the international warm-up arena. Bunn confirms the FEI has asked for the surface to be changed — the current mixture of sand and black rubber is deemed “too dirty”.
“The new surface would cost £50,000, but we don’t have the money to do it,” he said, adding that Hickstead is looking at funding options with the BEF.
The ongoing funding of a top class showground such as Hickstead does not come cheap and Bunn is concerned that while centres on the continent receive financial support from government or national federations, financial support in Britain is extremely limited.
“For 43 years, the upkeep and facilities on the show ground have been financed by my father. It begs the question of why a venue classified as one of the best in the world, and certainly the best in this country, has to be financed solely out of Bunn family resources,” he explains.
“In most other countries there would be government aid or some financial help from the national federation, but although the BEF is looking into this, we have no idea what the future holds.”
Although no timeline was given for improvements, the Super League contract is up for renewal after 2005 and, according to Bunn, the FEI has made it clear that “there are other venues with better facilities” in contention.
However, the showground’s future should be more certain after July, said Stone: “If they do everything that was recommended then we’re confident that it will work. Ultimately, we want Hickstead.”