Dear EHOA members,
Those who were able to attend the meeting of owners called by Stuart Buntine in the competing owners/ EHOA guest facility at Thoresby will have recognised the challenges and threats to the support of eventing that he described. On their behalf, I would like to thank Stuart and the BEDE team for their work running up to and over the weekend to provide the competition in the beautiful Thoresby Estate setting that we have all so keenly looked forward to.
The meeting was precipitated by the unprecedented number of riders and owners deciding not to run horses in some or all of the 4* section phases on account of concerns about ground conditions, or personal reasons. For those who were not at the meeting, a synopsis of the discussions follow.
Continuous rain prior to the event had significant consequences for the lorry parking areas, the dressage and show jumping arenas and cross country tracks, despite the enormous amount of energy and investment applied by BEDE team to rectifying the problems, and the complete removal of the show jumping arena to drier ground. The organisers, whilst under substantial pressure from all angles including time, weather and rising costs, strived to provide competition for all levels of sport this weekend and the important preparation for those aiming for the spring 5 stars. Their efforts and the sacrifice of many lower order classes ensured reasonable cross country going on Sunday however, for ground concerns and other reasons, many 4* participants made the decision to withdraw. At no time is Suart pointing a finger at individual riders, but the event highlights a real challenge we have in the sport. Others agreed the ground was acceptable to them given the improving weather and on-going remediation of the issues and so they decided to participate in all phases. The 4* competition concluded with excellent wins and without any serious misadventure.
Stuart pointed out that in delivering these high visibility events on green field estate locations, there is an ever increasing cost. It is time that the sport has a long hard look at what it really wants long term and how we create a sustainable product that will continue. It is deeply concerning that there are less and less real Badminton prep events with the loss of Belton, Weston etc. The consequences of such reduced numbers completing the competition is that the organisers recognise and strongly emphasise that it is not sustainable for them to make these efforts to deliver a competition in testing circumstances and then have half the field not participate. As a result, the competitors whose classes were cancelled to ensure the best possible going for the top horses were seriously inconvenienced and dismayed, only for the sacrifice of those classes to be unnecessary given the reduced number of 4* competitors. The estate, sponsors, trade exhibitors, spectators and entertainers invest time and money and expect to have a positive outcome, and many were highly disappointed, with concerns for future participation the inevitable consequence.
Stuart invited attendees to comment on the circumstances of this particular weekend, and which leave the sport even more vulnerable than it already is, and then broadened the discussion to include the enormous issues that eventing faces and the potential for it to be changed out of all recognition if action is not taken. The ethical and societal challenges provoked by equestrian sport, the reducing availability of estate parkland venues, escalating costs and many more such major issues leave the sport at a highly critical juncture.
An active discussion ensued, and Stuart invited all those present to contribute their suggestions that will protect and enhance the sport through a collaborative forum representing all those involved with the sport. Around a dozen of the audience put their names forward as direct contacts for participation, whilst many others stated their wish to contribute or be informed of the discussions and the outcomes. There is a real need for key stakeholders including EHOA, ERA and BEOA to come together to work on solutions, as time is ticking and these issues need to be addressed as a priority to ensure we have a sport for the future.
If you wish to be informed or to participate in this forum please provide your name, principal category (owner/ rider/ parent etc etc) e-mail address and contact number by return.
Linda and Alex