13, December, 2020

It’s the time of year for reviews. You know, when everyone celebrates all the good stuff that has happened, glosses over the not so good and declares their plans for the New Year. We compare what we’ve done with what we had on the to do list in January and declare the year a success based on how much of the list we have ticked off.

 And then 2020 happened.

 At the start of the year, we were looking forward to another epic Badminton, Royal Windsor and Olympia as well as expanded activities at HOYS & Bolesworth, Burghley & Blenheim. We had some grand plans for Your Horse Live and a schedule of supporting activities for all our sponsored team as well as developing many new relationships with our new brands. Clearly on that scorecard, we get a big fat zero.

 However, in hindsight, we have gained so much despite it being so very challenging.

 As a business we were better situated than most to cope. Despite having some supply issues getting products out of New Zealand during the comprehensive lockdown there, the fact that we were online based and already had warehousing and distribution offsite, meant that once supply was sorted, we were pretty much business as usual. The lessons learned here for us were mainly to not rely on others to be as prepared as us for disruption, and that it really doesn’t matter where we are!

 Not being able to get in front of our customers, not being able to have the in person interactions that we love so much has been difficult, but not insurmountable, and we have learned, even more than before, how to support our customers and our team from afar.

 But oh, how we missed this! Going to shows and clinics and live events. The companionship of a group of people that are united in a common interest cannot be underestimated. When shows started up again and we were able to get out and compete again, even the best organised were missing something. For myself, I spent my weekends at unaffiliated 80cm events where the roar of the crowds are unlikely to feature, but the missing camaraderie of hanging out in the lorry park or by the scoreboard or giving someone a hand as you walked past was noticeable. I even competed (and placed) in a teams championship event and never met my fellow competitors! It’s not the same and I will cross my fingers that by the time next season rolls around, we’ll be able to spectate and support again.

 On that note, Badminton has declared already that the 2021 event will proceed ‘behind closed doors’. Of course, this is wonderful news for the competitors and the only way that it can go ahead for a number of reasons, not least of all insurance costs, which are prohibitive at the best of times. I’m just wondering if there will be the same level of performance as there has been previously. Spectators and crowds can be a distraction, but equally they add to the atmosphere and the sense of occasion, and I wonder how many riders will miss the fractional boost in adrenaline as they’re galloping down towards the Vicarage Vee.

 There are some wins on an organisational front as a result of reducing social interactions at shows. I hope that we will continue to be provided with times for all phases that everyone must stick to. Not having to set a whole day aside to compete one horse at the lowest level makes competing more accessible for so many people, and knowing exactly how long you’ve got before presenting in the arena means that preparation for the performance ahead can be planned and customised to your particular horse’s needs.

 I cannot imagine the disappointment of not being able to compete at elite level competitions that you’ve spent years preparing for. The loss of Tokyo 2020 was just one example. There were 5* level shows of all disciplines that were cancelled because of Covid-19, and many more international, national and regional level shows that, while not being as important on a global scale, were just as meaningful losses to individuals and their support teams everywhere. It’s not just the disappointment, it’s the disarray that this has caused to finances and the long term plans of athletes, owners and organisers alike.

On a personal level, this year has allowed me to reconnect with riding for enjoyment. Instead of investing in the fancy young dressage horse I should have in order to get my previously derailed international career back on track, I took the opportunity to purchase a crazy little Connemara and reignite my love for galloping across country at fixed obstacles. To head out to the yard just to go for a hack over the hills, to go to an event without expectation or achievement in mind, to train simply for the joy of improving my skill level instead of gaining a few extra marks, was a delight I’d forgotten existed. With less events to pay for I was also able to redirect my limited budget towards all the coaching I wanted (and needed!)

This year will be one to forget for so many. So much uncertainty, so much loss, so many restrictions. I just hope that we don’t forget the lessons learned.

 We’ve learned what we can do without, what we can get done with limited resources. We’ve learned that our horses and our love for them and our sport are central to our lives. But more than that, we’ve learned that nothing beats sharing that love with people who share that love.

 Bring on 2021. May 2021 be the year we get to experience the joy of being together again.


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