17, September, 2019

A week on and the dust has almost settled after Burghley. I was onsite for cross country day and my response is an emphatic ‘wow’! And not always in a good way…

Although if you’re reading this expecting another outburst against the difficulty of the track, the intentions of the course designer, the reliance of safety devices then you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I thought the course was brilliant. Truly deserving of the 5* designation and eminently rideable by the best of the best. Exactly as it should be. There was some phenomenal riding and horsemanship on display. Riders that stood out for me were Imogen Murray, Ben Hobday, Lauren Keiffer, Becky Woolven, Tim Price, Ludwig Svennerstal and of course Pippa & Piggy. I was also impressed with kiwis Sam Lissington and Dan Jocelyn for regrouping after problems and showing absolute class to get their horses home safe and sound with the future firmly in their sights.

What was disappointing to see was a mentality that seems pervasive across the disciplines and amongst all levels of rider. A mentality that simply must change for the welfare of the horse and the good of our sport, not to mention the perception of the public which becomes increasingly important with every passing day. It’s the mentality that drives people to complete at all costs, to compete when they’re not fit or ready, to over face themselves and their horses, to not know when it’s best for all to quit – or not start at all. All too often riders are focussed simply on the challenge in front of them instead of considering the big picture focus.

I saw some excellent decisions being made – Tim Price on Xavier Faer hit a frangible pin and when they were pulled up a short time later he elected to retire, Jonelle on Maggie feeling she wasn’t quite right and withdrawing after a mistake at the trout hatchery and our own Georgie Spence who didn’t start when Wii Limbo was not quite right on the morning of cross country. Contrast this with others who continued with horses that were rapidly losing confidence in themselves and their riders and in some cases showing signs of injury and distress, and it made very uncomfortable watching at times. It was only luck that there were no catastrophic outcomes on the day, however I can guarantee that there will be horses there that never darken another 5* course as a consequence of this sort of riding. Horses that had they been pulled up early, or allowed to accumulate a cricket score of time faults over the many options provided, may have finished with a smile on their face and developed into true contenders at this level.

And for what? For the ‘glory’ of saying that the rider had completed Burghley? I can understand that in the heat of the moment, it can be a tough call to make, which is why we need to think about it before we leave the start box. And for those who the heights of Burghley are never going to be scaled, you don’t escape the process. What happens when you are trotting to the warm up of your local BE90 and your horse steps on a stone? Or you start and even after a few straight forward galloping fences, your pony is sticky, chipping into the base each time? Or you are competing BS and for whatever reason you can’t see a stride to save your life and you have taken out the wee upright in the warmup 3 times in a row? Or the dressage horse who is at a new venue and is completely overwhelmed by the surroundings despite warming up for the win? We need to be strong enough in our convictions to always do the right thing by our horses and just stop. Call it a day.

The video below is Regionals. It wasn’t our day. There will be more. There is always another horse show. Even the Olympics come around every four years.



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