Eventing at its best – or was it?


The CIC *** at Barbury Castle in England is a great example of British Eventing at its best. A gorgeous venue provided by Nigel Bunter, who is a great supporter of eventing and racing, a dedicated team of organisers and loyal sponsors who have ensured the prize money is attractive.

All the classes were heavily subscribed and this year as well as four days of eventing, the show also hosted the Wiltshire Country Fair. Although final figures were not yet in at the time of going to press, the organisers were confident that this was the best attended Sunday since the event has been running. The glorious Wiltshire show piece will next year be the final warm up for the British team prior to the Olympic Games.

Debate at Barbury's water jump
Debate at Barbury’s second water jump

Pippa Funnell and Billy Landretti won the £4000 first prize to make up for the pair’s unfortunate fall at CCI*** Bramham when challenging for the lead.

It was a big day for the females of the eventing species as second place was taken by Piggy French on her Badminton second Jakata and Laura Collett was third on Rayef.

But the event was somewhat marred by a debacle at the second of three water jumps on the course. The runners go in reverse order of merit on the cross-country phase and so therefore perhaps it might be said that the less able competitors were the first to jump the course.

But that was not entirely the case – there were also some experienced combinations and all of them, it must be remembered, had qualified to be there.

The course was almost identical to 2011 when there were two fallers in this particular water, except that for some strange reason, part D, a carved animal jumped on the way out, was not in its place and not flagged, although it was listed in the programme and was to be seen waiting against the stringing.

Within the first 10 rounds there were three horse falls at the obstacle for no obvious reason. One of the horses had to be transported off course by ambulance for veterinary assistance.

By this point the cross-country was running about 40 minutes late and the riders in the collecting ring began asking if and when the fence was to be removed. Amongst them were Lisa Maynard, Tom Crisp and Sarah Stretton, all very experienced riders with several four-star appearances between them.

Also waiting was Paul Tapner, winner of Badminton in 2010. They were told by the technical director, Jonathon Clisshold that the ground jury believed the fence to be safe and that the fallers had been “less experienced combinations and running the cross-country in reverse order meant the obstacles were likely to cause more problems as the class started because in general the best combinations were nearer the top of the leader board”.

This statement was borne out somewhat by the result so far, as international riders Mark Todd and Frederic Varin had both jumped without incident.

Francis Whittington, chairman of the Event Riders Association, was also summoned to the collecting ring and said that everybody had walked the course without apparent particular concern and that it was each rider’s own responsibility to decide whether to run or not in current circumstances.

The riders were then asked who was prepared to go and Sarah Stretton set off galloping clear on her top horse Lazy Acres Skip On. Then Hannah Kirkhill, much less experienced, also finished with just her time penalties.

But the next to go, Tom Crisp, was not so lucky. After an immaculate round, completely without penalty (including jumping the first water which later disposed of Mary King and Rodney Powell) until that point, he came to grief on Cooly’s Luxury jumping the drop into the water. The pair initially got straight up but the horse was slightly dazed and had some cuts and bruising to his chest and another lengthy hold ensued.

Lisa Maynard, by this time held at fence seven on Welton Crescendo, was furious. Having been in the saddle at this point for nearly two hours she decided to retire.

“I was unsure after the earlier fallers but I did feel slightly under pressure to go and it is a lot of time and money to get to something like this but this is ridiculous. If they do not take the jump out, when is deciding to, when I am part way round a course, a good idea?”

The technical director did then appear at the fence in question and in consultation with the ground jury took the fence out but by this time the event was running over an hour late.

“The time it has taken to make this decision that has irritated me,” commented one rider who was later clear, “surely three horse falls are enough? The fourth one could just have been one too many and they you would be writing a completely different article including an obituary.”

But Paul Tapner was less critical. “It is true the problems were with less experienced combinations but that should not be a factor. I think consulting the riders was the right thing to do and Francis (Whittington) said exactly the right thing. It is our choice to ride in the end after all.

“On the other hand if this class had not been run in reverse order and there had been three horse falls at a fence, it might have been looked at differently, I don’t know. Certainly three was too many and when the fourth horse fell, there was no option. I would definitely have jumped the jump, I said so in the collecting ring, I was all set to go!”

An experienced observer, herself part of many ground jury teams in the past, was able to see both sides of the problem. “Personally, I dislike this reverse order thing because you do not always get a true picture of how the course is running because, as was said earlier, the least experienced combinations are often near the bottom. Look at the show jumping faults for the ones who went early. Only three of them were in single figures. But on the other hand I was surprised how late it was before the TD arrived on the scene, I was at the fence myself watching.

“I thought I would probably have inspected it myself after two fallers but there is no hard and fast rule. And perhaps it did jump better last year because a D element gave both horse and rider something to focus on but I have not heard why it was not there, either.”

The fence judges at that obstacle were Chris and Sue Trim, who are both extremely experienced. Chris is well known for bringing his rake and Wellington boots so he can keep a check on the surface under the water, so theories that there was a hole in the landing are probably moot. He had no explanation for the removal of part D, either. “No one came to set it up, anyway,” he said.

Sadly the class ran so late that I was unable to stay to the end and catch up with an official to ask about this. Which of course may have nothing to do with the problem but does appear to be the only significant difference between last year and this. Luckily four falls in 20 riders did not result in a fatality on this occasion but a few questions ought to be asked, particularly as Great Britain hosts the Olympic Games next year and a great many of the officials attending Barbury are likely to be involved at Greenwich.

First, why was a fence posted as part of a course and then removed without notification. Tom Crisp was expecting the jump to be there. “I walked it assuming it would be added in the morning, and certainly did not get notified that it wouldn’t be, although one less jump is hardly an issue usually, but it could have made a difference to the way some riders presented at the fence.”

Second, surely the technical delegate should be the first person to inspect a jump that has caused a problem, not the last to arrive on scene?

Third, after Ian Olding’s death at Belton Park in Lincolnshire in 2009 there was much debate about safety, the use of the rider representative system and the role of the TD, Ground Jury and other officials.

Some effective changes have been made but two of New Zealand’s finest said at the time when asked independently, that there was supposed to be a system in place to make sure these sort of things were not decided by riders on site ready to ride at the time.

Yes, there needs to be rider consultation but on the day, especially in the collecting ring – someone will always be prepared to ride.

Their blood is up and there are many other influences that potentially can affect an unbiased opinion. On this occasion, the fence should have been removed after the third horse fall, regardless of who it was, because that percentage to the amount of starters so far was just too high. On this occasion, Tom rips and Cooly’s Luxury both lived to tell the tale, although somewhat bruised and battered but if the worst had happened, who would then have carried the blame? The riders who want to compete, that is after all their reason for being there, or the officials whose job it is to ensure it is safe for them to do so?

The water jump at Barbury.
The water jump at Barbury.

This is not a problem posed by any of the organisers at Barbury who cannot be more accommodating in their efforts to make their event horse, rider and spectator friendly, but one for those running the sport to ponder on.

Organisers have the basic running of the show to get on with, the officials provided by the sport have a duty to make sure the sport lives up to the effort and care put into hosting it by the organising team.

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