Thursday, 20 November 2008

Business & Pleasure = Oil & Water

The bun fight currently raging over the management of British Eventing was inevitable. Who wasn't go to ask "how do you justify making the CEO position redundant and then appointing a new one?" (just ask a lawyer!). Imagine my surprise, the newly appointed CEO is none other than MES. 

Frankly, BE is a complete shambles. Financing of the sport is in complete disarray, because no fundamental business principles are being used to justify spend and investment. I personally lost any respect for the BE management when Mike Tucker was forced out ( one of the few people who truly do things for the sport without a personal agenda). 

The upshot of my grumbles is, it really is time to split management of "Eventing UK plc" into 2 distinctly different functions. The business end of eventing and the sporting end of eventing. I'd go even further and remove all fiscal responsibility from BE and insist all this was centralised at BEF level (BE can't do much of note without the BEF anyway). If the other disciplines followed suit then we could all benefit from the economies of scale that are possible. As separate entities they just can't seem to get themselves organised  to produce economies for our benefit and are woefully inefficient. 

There is one very good reason for this:

The whole 'pleasure' thing (sport element) clouds good  judgement of sound business practice

all the failures in BE, when you analyse them, come down to this one single reason.

Just how many membership organisations do we need? All of the international disciplines should be brought together under the BEF with independent sporting bodies for each sporting discipline that only looks after the competitive elements of the discipline. 

Why does someone who wants to event, show jump & dressage need to have three memberships, three sets of bureaucracy, three times as much public liability insurance (and a bunch of other insurance types), three horse registrations etc etc etc. Its ridiculous. 

It time for change, and a major shake up in the way our international equestrian sports are run.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Grassroots Championship

Hurrah, a brilliant idea at last from the boys at the top! 

If you haven't already heard the Intro/Pre-Novice Championship is going to be run at Badminton (and during the main event) WOOOOW!. This is the one competition every aspiring event rider  dreams of riding. 

I have to say, given the choice I'd choose Badminton over the Olympics any day. If any of the true amateurs are ever going to get the chance to experience the buzz of major event this is it. 

This is bound to engage the BE membership and give them something to aim for, and justification for all those fees. Watch out for a rise in entries and therefore balloting. Remember the vast majority of BE members don't ride above Novice.

Time to brush up my showjumping! 


Monday, 27 October 2008

Fair trade

Mark Phillips in his recent column suggested the FEI should place restrictions on European riders at 4 star events in order to give non-Europeans a chance of winning some of the bigger prizes (like the HSBC Series) because the cost of traveling to a major 4 star event can run to £100K for say an American or a Australian based rider. What a crap idea!

Sport should in NO way be means tested. Prizes are won and lost based on performance in the ring and on the course, there should be no other weighting system. 

We already spend a fortune (through various funds and grants), which I have to say I find hard to see the real benefit we get out of this. 

Friday, 5 September 2008

Not another skinny triple brush!

Is it just me or are all the top courses becoming predictable and unimaginative in the types of fences that they are using?

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised as it's the same old faces designing the courses. The skinny triple brush fence to me seems a complete nonsense. Cross Country isn't about fabricating obscure looking fences that have no place in on an XC course. It should be about re-creating a sense of realism.

You've only got to look back at Eventing's heritage to get fresh inspiration! When was the last time we saw any fences with a military theme at a four star event.

OK - New London 2012 Campaign: A Military theme for the cross country course! Greenwich after all is steeped in military history.

They think its all over.............

Don't believe the hype! Tabloid fever has finally hit the British equestrian press, first we had a shake down of the frustrations in Hong Kong and now we have doom and gloom over the future of the "horse sports" in future Olympiads. Quite a few sports have passed through the games over the last century or so, but many more have stood the test of time, including the key equestrian disciplines.

Popularity (or rather lack of popularity) is being sighted as the reason for a potential drop of the horse events, but European, middle east and western nations are huge "horse lovers" (the French perhaps more than we'd like to admit!), and I'd be very surprised if any of the horse disciplines are dropped (even pure dressage).

Personally I'd like to see us get rid of the farce of the "team event" and just run the individual medals. - It just doesn't make any sense at all. Bring back Polo - a true equestrian team sport.

Anyway, we're host city now so let's get on with putting on a great show.

Now back to Burghley, Flint Curtis is currently leading (what a great horse).

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Great British Weather

Meanwhile back home, Highclere Horse Trials has been cancelled. Bugger - I was really looking forward to brightening up my blog with a few recent photos (and highclere is such a picturesque setting).

Note to Self: always have a back-up entry.

Post Mortum Result - Inconclusive!

Predictably, one week on, and everyone is blaming everyone else for the the much criticised Hong Kong XC event. It's all proving inconclusive.

What is conclusive however is nobody trained for such an event, some were more prepared than others for the conditions, there are too many "old boys" wearing too many hats in this sport (official, trainer, course designer, event organiser, policy maker, etc, etc, etc)

Oh well! [sigh deeply] Let's take up Modern Pentathlon.........

Modern Pentathalon - On ya Garde!

Like most of the sports loving world I've got completely caught up in 'Olympic Fever'. So what's this modern pentathlon all about? 

Before these olympics I have to confess to being something of layman when it comes to the pentathlon, I knew it covered 5 events (the clue was in the name!), but I didn't really understand how the competition was organised. I have the BBC to thank for educating me on this bizarre event. 

Here's a sport that really could be one of the most exciting of the whole games. You shoot a gun, wave a sword, swim, ride a horse, and run a few miles - a true gladiatorial test! But, and here's what I find completely bizarre, competitors don't ride their own horse, they draw lots to ride horses they've never sat on before, and judging by the horses provided this can be a ropey old lot (see BBC Comic Pentathlon video). 

Imagine what Usain Bolt would say if he was told he'd be wearing a pair of hand-me-down plimsoles to run the 100 Metres

What a great event so poorly implemented, it doesn't do itself any favours by giving the media such ammunition to ridicule the sport. 

What a great event, and Team GB picked up another Silver - hurrah!


Friday, 15 August 2008

More Lessons to learn

What more can we learn from further fatalities out on the cross country course? Without the opportunity to review incidents any analysis of these tragedies is purely subjective and inconclusive.  We can undoubtedly learn much more from these incidents given the opportunity and tools to do so.

Horseracing learnt these lessons a long time time ago, albeit for other reasons (race fixing). Every horse race is recorded and almost instantly reviewable. This gives the racing authorities a vast library of enormous value that produces a variety of benefits and income opportunities. 

But videoing a horse race is so much easier than eventing - I hear you cry. Yes, you've only got to speak to the BBC to discover just how challenging TV coverage of eventing is to do well, only Golf comes a close second. There are pro's and con's for both, but coverage of eventing (at all levels) can be cost neutral and even cash generating long term. 

Over the past few years we have seen the emergence of video services at everyday events across the country. I, for one, do not leave an event that has been covered with buying a copy of my showjumping and cross country round (admittedly for posterity reasons, as much as for the opportunity to review my mistakes and improve), and there is always a que of people at the stand doing exactly the same. (this only scratches the surface of the revenue potential when you see how other video libraries are generating revenues).

I'm convinced the reasons this has never been seriously considered is more to do with lack of commercial imperative rather than commercial acumen, and this is a major contributor to so many short comings of the sport.  Some of the biggest outdoor sporting events are horse trials, generating millions in revenue, and many more events capable of increasing their ticketed attendance, yet the governing body has no "serious" commercial function.

Sometime ago there was talk of running a commercial arm separately from the sports arm, but this came to nothing - pity!

I'm not suggesting our sport is ever going to be as rich as football, but without a 'serious' commercial imperative to generate revenues, it'll always be an amateur sport with little more than a passionate membership organisation and a small but passionate following. 

My point here is we need more money in the sport for a variety of projects and initatives (like safety), and minor sponsorships just doesn't scratch the surface. We're also sitting on some very valuable assets and opportunities, it just needs someone with a little creativity and balls to get on and exploit it.  More fresh blood needed - its time to get serious!

tick tock 2012

For eventing the clock has already starting ticking for the next olympics, our own - hurrah! No doubt postmortems of the HK event are already underway around dinner tables and on flights back to blighty. And let's face it there's plenty to be learnt. From my own experiences of the HKJC they rarely do things by half, so we will have had plenty of opportunity to pick up good ideas from Hong Kong. There's also plenty to learn from the competition itself, opportunities to benefit from hindsight (the cross country was a real disaster). 

Planning in earnest for 2012 has already begun with the appointment of Tim Hadaway to full time Commander in Chief of the equestrian olympics. Tim is one of those unsung hero types who works hard, and has great skill and enthusiasm for the organisation of events. He's now needs to start building a good team around him without the shackles of 'old school' equestrianists that we have seen running these large scale events over the last 10 years. Time to hire new blood!

If all goes well Britain should be at fever pitch come 2012. The horse & hound will probably go in to melt down!

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Marathon Man - Straight out of left field

You wouldn't have put money on it, but an excellent result all the same. Whilst the thought of a German dentist conjures up images of Dustin Hoffman getting root canal therapy in the '70s. Heinrich is a well deserved winner, a true amateur, and proof that with a great horse underneath you anything is possible if you're determined enough! (Thankfully I have a very similar horse, just not the time or determination to reach the top)

Having sat and watched a few other olympic events over the last week (thanks to the BBC - license fees well spent) I can't help but think it's a shame we have such a complicated scoring structure that revolves around penalties rather than positive points. 

Any layperson watching must find the whole thing incredibly confusing when all the other sports have a clear and positive point scoring system. 

Radical and fraught with all sorts of issues it may be [changing the scoring principles] but "just because we done it for the last 50 years doesn't mean we have to continue for the next 50 years". Anyway I leave that for another day......

With so many older horses in this olympics having little or no chance of making it to the next games the coming years are going to be very busy in the 2 & 3 star circuit. Fox-Pitt has a small cavalry down in Dorset and I will be taking a particular interest in Walk The Line (a magnificent looking animal). There are few others with such an armory though, so if you're looking to cash in on a good up and coming horse, now's the time.

Mrs. Cook deserves a mention here after such an impeccable performance this week, and another well deserved medal. 

Ze Germans have certainly recovered their pride and justified their top slot on the eventing mantle, a far cry from the long faces I remember seeing at the Punchestown Europeans, consoling themselves over a glass or two of Leibfrau Milch! And it's always nice to fresh topics of conversation with my Dentist!

Roll on Burghley, Blenheim & Badminton.......

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

The Beijing Bazzar

The 2008 Olympics has certainly proved challenging on all fronts! If its not injury putting some of the best in the world on the side lines, it's the weather - rain delaying flights, humidity causing havoc with fitness.
And then there's a winding, twisting golf course to negotiate in what must be one of the most impossible optimum times ever, as cross-country supremo, Andrew Nicholson, proved to us yesterday.
Whilst the XC course had some creativity in fence design and placement, I wouldn't call this one of the best Olympic courses of recent years, and of course the venue is a major factor here. I would have preferred to have seen a more flowing course rather than the usual stop-start course we're used to seeing from this design camp.

With less than a handful of horses finishing within
half a minute of the optimum time, it might as well have been run in a ski

Even so we did get to see some exceptional performances. I have to confess I didn't watch everyone go cross country, but for me "man-of-the match" was Tina Cook on Miner's Frolic. What a fabulous young horse - made the whole thing look rather easy. Parkmore Ed, another young horse, also made a very worthy performance.

Also worthy of mention is the young Chinese lad [Alex Hau Tian], who although he was eliminated has truly proved he has a real future in eventing at the top level. I know £1.8M (the amount he raised in sponsorship) buys you a lot of quality horse and training, but it still takes talent to capitalise on all that. Let's hope the press and commentators focus as much on his talent as his schooling. After all, to get to the Olympics in this sport at the tender age of 18 when most don't reach their prime until their mid 30s is a significant achievement, irrespective of of which country you are representing.

With just hours before the showjumping and still a number of nations in contention for a medal there'll be plenty of tactical discussion happening in the restaurants of HK.

Our team are talented enough to maintain their scores and benefit from any bloopers the Aussies or Germans happen to make - Go Brits Go!

I also hope the Swede's do well.....

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Olympic Selections

There's bound to be a few sore heads in eventing circles this weekend as those selected for for the Olympic team celebrate.

Mr. Fox-Pitt will look to have a choice from his usual Dorset Battalion with 3 horse's nominated (Ballincoola, Tamarillo & Parkmore Ed), personally I hope Parkmore Ed makes the grade and the flight. William himself is such an obvious choice I'm sure he'll prove his weight in gold and perform well under championship pressure.

Similarly Zara would have been conspicuous by her absence! Zara & Toytown are an incredibly rare phenomenon in any equestrian sporting field. It's hard to believe this young lady has achieved so much for someone so young, a European & World Title is something many others spend an entire career to attain, and watching her complete on two less than straightforward horses at Badminton this year you can see why - a truly exceptional young rider. I just wish selected members of the press and other spokes persons would stop trying to divert attention away from her family history in an attempt to justify her personal success - it's too obvious.

Let's face it, you don't achieve
all this by just being the Queen's Grand-daughter, but similarly it doesn't hurt
when looking for sponsorship or a little PR....

(BE certainly enjoy the sunshine that brings) and if you're gonna have your parents train you, Mark Phillips isn't what you might call typical
Pony Club parent material is he (I'd be happy enough for him to train me). My advice is don't rage against the machine, roll with it.

The Olympics is all about amateur sport and for Sharon Hunt and Tanker's town to be selected is great news for team GB and the Olympic ethos. From the little we do get to see of Sharon on the international circuit both have been steadily improving.

Mary King's credentials say all that needs to be said on her selection, however I can't help but feel sorry for a few of those on the reserve list worth taking a bet on, like Daisy Dick or Rodney Powell. Mary's opening round at Badminton on Apache Sauce was a joy to watch and left you thinking "this course ain't that tough"....until you saw a few others attempt it!

Lucy's horse has improving form so probably has as much right to be in the line as any other contenders. I just wonder whether she has a championship win in her, probably as much as any of the others.

The next two Olympics are going to be the most exciting yet, and the most contrasting. Let's hope they nice big flowing, fluid cross country courses, so that we get a fantastic spectator experience. I hope I get along to both of them.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Badminton '08 - One of the best

A shorter course, influential going and a mixed field - all the ingredients for a fabulous competition. The fence analysis sheet looks like a bingo card with penalties racked up at every combination on the course.

There's no doubt the going which was on the sticker side of good meant in places the course was like riding on a mattress. Not much that can be done about that except make you have a very fit horse and choose your ground carefully.

There were some astonishing displays of "ambitious riding". 4 or 5 riders choose to attack the quarry resulting in a number of horses being catapulted into the floor of the quarry what must be a 3 metre drop at least, and at speed.

I'm sure the fact a wait list was implemented this year also contributed to the number of horses coming home tired - it's quite tempting not to get a horse super fit if you're halfway down the reverses list.

When the first horse (Apache Sauce) came back unscathed I thought this might be a relatively straightforward, but it wasn't long for errors to start appearing. The toughest fence to ride foot perfect seemed to be the shogun hollow. most of the horses I saw through this fence had very uncomfortable experiences through here many of them catching their stifles on the first element.

It was a great year to be be at Badminton and there was certainly a large crowd there to enjoy it.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Badminton - Day 2 - The Usual Suspects

The leader board during day of dressage was as usual an every changing beast. Not surprisingly though nearly all the usual suspects appeared in the top 10 or so. Possibly the biggest upset of the day was the demise of Zara Phillips on her fancied ride ARDFIELD MAGIC STAR who took exception to something during the test and shyed dropping them right down the final list.

He is by all accounts a tricky character at the best of times, and no doubt for the second year running we'll see Zara withdraw before cross country. She still has reasonable chance with the less experienced GLENBUCK so I'm sure she'll start one horse tomorrow.

Generally the place was pretty busy, and Friday is always a good day for shopping and celebrating spotting, and not just the usual equestrian stars of yester year. (there's always plenty of them!)

With less that 5 penalty points separating the top ten the pressure is really on all of these competitors and the perfect time for a "Mark Phillips cross country pep talk" on maintaining focus and not letting the heat get the better of them.

For those who have ever watched Andrew Hoy will know, pressure is just not something he suffers from. Whether leading from the front or playing catch up, he's bound to put in a foot perfect ride.

Bear in mind this year the course is noticeably shorter and there are probably fewer places to make up time even with only 29 fences on the course. Many of the riders have commented on how much there is to do in the middle section of the course down in vicarage fields, but when you stand back and look at this section you can see how a horse going in nice even rhythm will do very well. The biggest accuracy question is actually at the beginning of this section in the shape of the farm yard. From here round to the Shogun Hollow it's generally big spread fences, requiring more commitment than accuracy. By far the trickiest complex on the course is the Blue Cross Round tops that has no doubt had plenty of quizzical looks from this year's competitors and bound to cause a few run outs. I wouldn't be surprised if this fence makes a reappearance in future year's with little alteration.

With good weather forecast it's bound to be a cracking good year to be at Badminton. Take a look at the Badminton Interactive Course - What cool toy for us web savvy folk!

Foot & Mouth

I see Mark Phillips is on a charm offensive again with his fortnightly column. He is of course spot on with his overall message we need more responsible training (and riding). When all is said and done we don't train horses we train people and all too often riders only seek advice after a problem (the old chesnut of prevention rather than cure comes to mind).

We do really need to look at ways of reducing the risks posed by riders who choose to plead ignorance of safety concerns, like going hell for leather round the cross country and crossing the line 45+ seconds under the optimum time on a 9 min. track. Perhaps a month's ban would crystalise the point in riders' minds (as they do in horse racing for things like excessive use of the whip or careless riding). Similarly course designers and organisers require a little humble pie from time to time.

Still I can't help but think the capt. is suffering from a little foot & mouth considering his own eventful week, and a few more carefully chosen words would have been the spoonful of sugar this safety message needs to deliver. Hands up!

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Clayton Rains........

The Badminton dressage arena was obviously at the end of Clayton Fredericks' rainbow today, the Aussie supremo was the only rider today to get a dousing from today's only shower at Badminton. I have to admit I didn't see the test live myself but it must have been outstanding as an average of 74.57% is impressive by any standard, let alone when picking your way through a down pour. Video footage of the test is available on the Badminton site though.

Ignoring the sludge residue in the carparks the ground has recovered from this week's earlier rain. If tomorrow & Saturday stays relatively dry the going will be pretty good all round. As any regular at Badminton has probably realised the Badminton ground does take a little time to dry out, too much rain late in the proceedings makes it all very slushy and with a number of accuracy questions out on the course many riders are certain to cover the same ground.

Before I forget, one of the most pleasurable to watch in the Arena today was Dee Kennedy on Big El. This rangy looking horse looked as fit as a greyhound with big long flowing paces, more over watching this horse move gracefully round the arena in pure harmony under his rider with long floppy ears in a totally relaxed manner was sheer poetry. I won't bet against Dee Kennedy getting a lot further in this sport, and for me this is going to be another one to make a point of watching on Saturday.

Generally it would seem to have been a much busier Thursday than most years, which probably means the remaining days will also get busier.

Until tomorrow.......and Andrew Hoy, Zara Phillips et al.

Badminton - Day One

The rain stayed away from the most important part of Gloucestershire today, giving the ground a chance to dry out, so hopefully it will stay dry for a day or too.

The day seem to start off very calm, tradestand holders busied themselves quietly in the shopping village putting the finishing touches in preparation for the retail therapists to arrive on the following day, whilst many competitors could be spotted having a quiet stroll around the ground on horseback except Dan Jocelyn perhaps, who everytime I came across him on Special Attorney was doing involuntary sitting trot, while his horse jogged it's way round the deer park or reared in the First Horse Inspection.

The crowds started gathering from about 3pm to watch the Ground Jury nod and raise their hats as they "passed" competitor after competitor in front of Badminton House to the usual rustic but enthusiastic tones of MC Mike Tucker.

There's was much twittering about how well the riders were turned out as there was about the horses, and no doubt the nationals will carry pictures of Zara all suited and booted, that is if she manages to upstage both father and boyfriend's more pressing press interests.

All in all it's been an excellent, relaxing day at Badminton for those not needing to touch a horse, sign, bog or bin. Roll on tomorrow............

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Brace Yourself - It's Badminton Week

As any eventing fan will probably tell you it's Badminton week! it's Badminton week! And so the annual pilgrimage begins. The week that many non-horsey husbands & wives are either blissfully ignorant of, or are only too well aware makes most eventing followers gooey eyed, and their credit cards quiver!

All the top events have a certain something different that makes them appealling. I couldn't put my finger on what it is about Badminton - the history, the setting, the shopping - but what ever it is I still rate it as the best buzz of all the big events, including the olympics.

If today is anything to go by it's going to be very wet and very busy. As you'd expect Tuesday down in "the park" was all about getting ready. Tradestand holders were all busying themselves fluffing and puffing their stands. The event's site staff were merrily running round with signage, bogs & bins. Everbody else took shelter under canvas!

All afternoon the roads around Badminton and the site were clogged with horseboxes, caravans, trailers and cars, as the world, his wife, uncle, aunt and all manner of distant cousins decended on Badminton to take part in the greatest show on earth. The enlarged campsite has been fully booked for some time, the same goes for the Grandstand. If you are planning to go on Sunday and want a grandstand seat, you may want to hunt around the net for any not-needed tickets.

And all afternoon the rain came down - It really must be Badminton week. Hopefully tomorrow will prove it drains quickly at Badminton (given a chance) I'd be really surprised if the event suffers from hard going this year.

So what can your average eventing spectator expect from this year's event?
Much of same and a little more seems to be the answer. Tradestands and shopper's choice doesn't seem to show any signs of reducing on previous years. The course overall is very similar to previous years, there are a few notable adrenaline pumpers on the course though, most notably the old vicarage vee (take a look at the course thingy on the Badminton site). It looks like even those of you not able to make it this week (shame on you!) will have plenty to see, hear and follow via the event's website and the bbc. (live video and radio are both going to be available via the net).

The entries list looks more "who's who" than "who's not", especially compared to Kentucky which had very little representation outside of North America. Any how all this is good news for Badminton Pilgrims who can expect to see all the old favourites and few of the new up and coming contenders pitch their wits against Hugh Thomas and his somewhat deceptively tough cross country course.

Peronally I'd like to see Caroline Powell do well on Lenamore, and isn't it about time we saw Andrew Nicholson go last and clear in the show jumping! Apart from any other obvious choices, the ones to watch closely on the cross country are Andrews Nicholson & Hoy, Harry Meade (Midnight Dazzler) and Matt Ryan.

And just for kicks chuckle to yourself as you realise the drawn order reads less like the roll call for the Ministry of Silly Girls Names than previous years!

I'll try and bring you more news and hopefully some photos and video over the coming days.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Safety, Safety, Safety

High on the agenda at the moment is the subject of safety, training and the potential hazards of Cross-Country. Mark Phillips, one of few "old school" who truly demands respect seems to have hit the nail of the head with his comments on recent events. - and it's not often I find myself agreeing with him.

Having recently found a great, new cross country schooling ground, and a very popular one at that, I have had my long held suspicions confirmed - Too many riders competing at the Intro, PN & Novice levels don't understand the principles of Cross Country Schooling or how to execute a good run. Watching some riders at Intermediate & Advanced can be just as concerning!

I'm no expert and can only comment from my own experience and from watching others. Rhythm is incredibly important out on the course. A horse in a comfortable, even rhythm will "jump out of his stride" easily , whilst a horse that is rushed in and out of fences will constantly adjust stride and look for ways out.

Whilst rhythm needs to be even, this doesn't mean pace needs to be constant, you can maintain rhythm and ride away from your fences. Good, even rhythm will put less strain on both you and your horse, both physically and mentally, thus conserving valuable energy.

It can be all too easy to go cross country schooling and concentrate on fixing problems. The first thing to remember here is the horse is a) a flight animal that has a brain and b) therefore suffers just as much, if not more, emotional stress than you or I. Getting your horse into a positive frame of mind is of paramount importance before you tackle anything more complex or "scary" than a straightforward log.

A good warm up is as much about warming up the horse's mind as it is it's muscles. A good piece of exercise will release endorphins that relax the horse's mind. Wherever possible I also recommend showjumping for 5-10 minutes after a good warm up and before tackling a solid fence. This gives the horse some confidence and acts as a warm up for the physicals strains of actually jumping - again it's as much about his mind.

Before tackling any known problem, like water, ditches or drops spend a good 15 minutes working through some more straightforward jumping efforts, looking to achieve balance, rhythm, control and willingness.

You mustn't forget you also need to be in a positive frame of mind, don't rest for too long before heading onto the more challenging tasks, both you and horse need to be running on endorphins! (not Adrenaline!)

Speed will never help you over a fence, ditch or drop. Impulsion is key, and impulsion will only be there if you have the endorphins flowing. Try walking straight off the lorry and into the water fence (if your horse has a problem with water), and you'll see what I mean.

If you do have, say, a problem with ditches then set up a routine where you can mix a ditch in amongst a few other fences and perhaps canter past the ditch a few times before attempting it (without presenting the horse to the ditch of course).

Now this is where it can be very easy to have your concentration broken by what you have to do, instead of what you are currently doing. Pace, Rhythm & Willingness to move forward must all be in place. If it's not go back and correct these first.

So how do you judge pace & speed if you're not allowed a stop watch? Not that easy, but at Pre-Novice you are looking at running a course at about the four and a half minute mark that's 270 seconds, so with 21 fences that's an average of 13 seconds between fences. You'll only need to jump a few fences counting to 10 in your head to judge whether your pace needs to quicken or slowed down in order to get near to the optimum time.

If you are chasing a horse into a cross country fence, your horse and/or you aren't emotionally ready for an event, so time to take a look back at some other elements (flatwork, show jumping)

With flat work it's all about acceptance and response to rider aids. You should be able to shorten and lengthen stride at will without impulsion dying or fear of lengthening becoming flat. Almost any stride regardless of length should have "bounce" and power.

Show jumping helps bridge a gap between flatwork and the schooling field. You need to be able to jump fences at a much slower pace to ensure success when going faster on cross country. Taking the impulsion and control of pace you've generated through your flatwork and adding commitment to jump obstacles is how to succeed cross country. What obstacles you jump is merely a matter of familiarity for any horse willing to leave the ground. Grid work and basic circuits are a good starting point. Remember you don't need to be jumping huge fences, just large enough to make the horse jump fences rather than step over them. Commitment and control is the objective.

A common mistake is often thinking your problems on a cross country course are just that, often they're more fundamental than that, i.e. don't ignore flatwork and jumping in the arena.

Will all this in place you can then start to fine tune technique and strategy out on the schooling field.

All this being said you should wherever possible enlist the help of a professional trainer/rider. Another great training aid is the video camera and the numerous DVDs available of horse trials, training video etc. Get someone to video as much of your riding and schooling as possible, study in detail the differences in your riding to that of professionals and you'll start to make progress.

As can possibly be detected from my earlier post on the new classes being introduced, I don't believe this will "help bridge the gaps", but probably cloak to problems with education and training. One of the problems I see with the current system is you can move up a class without producing consistent results. I would never recommend attempting the next level up until you had consistently finished on your dressage score (or perhaps with the odd rail) in the current level. Until you can produce a consistent result you can't produce a better one (as any upgrade in class requires). Get it right before you move on and you'll enjoy it more. Also bear in mind horses are emotionally very fragile creatures and need confidence to perform.

As cliched as it is "Success is 90% Planning & Preparation". By the time you get back to the lorry after walking the course, you should have decided all the routes you are going to take, all the ground you're going to use between fences and all your alternatives. Mistakes are almost entirely due to pressure from running into a problem and not having a plan to tackle it. Thus planning and preparation is everything!

Saturday, 19 April 2008

How many classes do we need

I know an army marches on its stomach and BE is feed overhelmingly from members who don't compete above Novice level, but do we really need all these new classes like Pre-Novice Plus. Surely there's enough variety across different events to give riders suitable choice and challenge within the existing classes?

I for one would rather see the money invested in prize funds, training facilities and existing cross country courses.

Let the Games Begin

With the first major UK event of the season (Badminton Horse Trials) almost upon us, I suppose the season must be in full swing. The clocks have brought us into British Summer Time, the grass is already sprouting fresh green shoots and William Fox-Pitt has started boring us with his usual benign comment in his Horse & Hound column! - The 2008 season is truly underway.

Whilst on the subject of Badminton, I notice Hugh Thomas is still getting the odd ball out of left field over last year's ground conditions. What a complete over reaction! April 2007 produced almost zero rain in much of the UK, and considering Badminton is famous for it's mud (and not for it's therapeutic qualities), it was particularly exceptional weather conditions.

Hard ground is far less of an issue for horses than the deep or slippery conditions that can often be experienced this early or late in the season. Certainly our friends from over the pond didn't have a problem running their horses, and even one of the biggest critics decided to run and won! If they'd have had a wait list last year I wonder how many on that list would have criticised fellow riders for waiting until after dressage to withdraw, thus taking away an opportunity for them to run.

All that being said there have obviously been some significant re-investments down at Badminton, on the going, the whole event and a flashy new website providing even more content than in earlier years.

I have it on good authority that for those unable to make it down to Gloucestershire this May the website will provide a huge amount of video, audio and other content to satisfy our insatiable appetite for instant information.

Judging by the course walk preview presented by the esteemed Mike Tucker the 2008 course will bring no new surprises, except maybe getting your feet wet slightly earlier on the course. Many of the same questions are posed in the old familiar places on the course. Time for a little change down in the park me thinks! Still it's more of a flowing course than you find in many of the Mike E-S designed courses at least.

I for one will certainly be looking forward to Badminton and all it's trappings.........who knows maybe I'll even report from the ground so to speak.