Dear BEWA member
It was an extremely elite group of BEWA members that braved the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina – and Hurricane Florence – and I can report that it really wasn’t that bad! In fact, much of the sport was superb and the press office was a cheerful, efficient place, albeit one surrounded by rubble.
The eventing competition was particularly thrilling, with a high-pressure contest that went right to the wire; it was a privilege to be there and be part of it, as the British team – Ros Canter, Tom McEwen, Piggy French and Gemma Tattersall – excelled across country and won a sixth team gold since the world championships began in 1966.
Eventing is all about partnership and Ros Canter, a tiny but calm, concentrated figure aboard the 17hh Allstar B, demonstrated it in spades as she followed in the illustrious footsteps of Mary Gordon Watson (1970), Lucinda Green (1982), Ginny Holgate (1986) and Zara Phillips (2006) in wresting the world title back into British hands – do you realise, it was the first senior eventing championship since 2009 without a German champion?
Our dressage team performed way above expectation to bring back double bronze. The measure of an outstanding rider is the way they can come back again and again with new horses – just look at the extraordinary record of Isabell Werth – and both Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin, who won an individual bronze medal in Mount St John Freestyle’s first grand prix season, proved they are in that class.
Britain’s show jumping squad did well to reach the second round – many other favoured nations didn’t. Questions must be asked as to why Britain’s two top riders, Scott Brash and Ben Maher, who are first and fifth in the Global Champions Tour rankings, didn’t have the right horse power available for selection, but it provided a showcase for the rising talents of new faces Holly Smith and Amanda Derbyshire, who also produced Britain’s sole clear in the Nations Cup final in Barcelona.
The para-dressage team made history – for winning silver. Britain’s defeat, the first in para-dressage history, at any championships, may have come as a shock to some, but it surely makes for a healthier sport to see other nations challenging and winning. And we still came home with two gold medals, for Grade V rider Sophie Wells and C Fatal Attraction.
Following the shambolic scenes of the opening day, when the endurance competition descended into farce and had to be cancelled, the depressing aspect of Tryon was the lack of audience, and that can’t be entirely blamed on the weather; ever since those high-octane days of the London Olympic Games in 2012, the presentation of equestrian sport at championship level has generally been on a downward spiral.
Wider reporting of the World Games was undoubtedly affected by the time difference, not to mention the draconian budgetary restraints on newspapers and other news outlets, but however brilliant the sport, a backdrop of empty seats and concrete mixers doesn’t look good. The complex formats that will be introduced at the Tokyo Olympics in two years’ time don’t bode well, either.
Physical audience numbers at many championships come nowhere near Badminton, Burghley or the great European shows like Aachen and Gothenburg, and questions must surely be asked about how they are awarded, whether the burden placed on venues by FEI demands is too great and whether the World Equestrian Games, which was supposed to be a one-off back in 1990, has had its day.
With the odd exception, it’s never gone particularly well since. Eventing could certainly sustain its own world championships, provided it was at an established, accessible venue; dressage, show jumping and para-dressage could successfully combine (perhaps with vaulting) at one of the glamorous, permanent city European showgrounds; the Americans should keep the reining, for which they can easily sell tickets, and there’s no shortage of Arab money to back an endurance championship nor European enthusiasm for carriage-driving.
Nearer to home, there have been tempestuous goings on in the domestic offices of the various disciplines – the shenanigans at the BEF even made the national newspapers with, sadly, far more column inches than those afforded to actual competitions and competitors. As I write, an EGM has been called to propose a vote of no confidence in the chairman and chief executive of British Eventing. Rather like Brexit, it remains to be seen whether those doing the loudest complaining have any solutions to the problems, but at least it’s not dull!
Last year, the BEWA Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Olympia chairman Mike Tucker, and how fortuitous it was that we were able to pay tribute to all he has done for the horse world, little knowing that we would only have him with us for three more months. Although he had retired from the BBC, he still had so much to give, not only to the horse world, but to agriculture. His memorial service in Cirencester was attended by more than 1,000 people. There was standing room only, also, at the funeral in February for Rod Kohler of Revolution Sports Marketing, who died far too young after a short but valiant fight with pancreatic cancer. Rod loved the big occasions and his easy- going, fun presence has been much missed at Olympia and Windsor as well as at the World Equestrian Games where he would have been proud to see his company run the press operation with such sang-froid.