Dressage makes Hickstead comeback with new premier competition

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Anders Dahl and Wie-Atlantico de Ymas led the Danish team to victory in the final Nations Cup dressage competition, at Hickstead in Britain, in 2015.
Anders Dahl and Wie-Atlantico de Ymas led the Danish team to victory in the final Nations Cup dressage competition, at Hickstead in 2015. © FEI/Jon Stroud

Dressage is making a return to Britain’s famous Hickstead showgrounds, and will be run in the main All England Jumping Course arena.

The venue had hosted dressage for 27 years on its “Dressage at Hickstead” site, but that has now been dismantled as it was found to be “unsustainable to keep running the dressage side as a separate entity”, Hickstead Director Lizzie Bunn said.

Hickstead’s Premier League show next May will run over three days and include classes from Advanced Medium to Grand Prix, with entries expected from a number of British Dressage’s leading riders.

Dressage fans expressed huge disappointment when it was announced that Dressage at Hickstead – the sister site to the All England Jumping Course – was to close. Dressage at Hickstead had been the brainchild of rider Dane Rawlins and Hickstead founder Douglas Bunn, and it quickly became established as one of the leading dressage venues in the world, with the European Championships taking place there in 2003. It was also the chosen venue for an annual CDIO competition, which included the British leg of the FEI Dressage Nations Cup series.

Rawlins made the difficult decision to close Dressage at Hickstead in August, and the site has since been dismantled. Bunn said the team was grateful to Rawlins for his many years of hard work and dedication to Dressage at Hickstead.

“We understand that many riders were saddened to lose the venue. We have been working hard this season to formulate plans to hold dressage competitions within the main Hickstead site. We want to test the water with our first Premier League show, to gauge the initial levels of support and interest – with a view of going on to potentially bigger events,” Bunn said.

Last year's Al Shira'aa Derby winner, Michael Pender riding Hearton Du Bois Halleeux, tackles the Derby Bank at Hickstead.
Last year’s Al Shira’aa Derby winner, Michael Pender riding Hearton Du Bois Halleeux, tackles the Derby Bank at Hickstead. The main All England Jumping Course will host Hickstead’s Premier League dressage in 2021. © Nigel Goddard

This has been made possible due to recent investments into the Hickstead showground, with more than £500,000 spent on making several existing grass rings into two vast all-weather arenas, with top-of-the-range Andrews Bowen surfaces. During the winter months, these arenas are used for cross-country and showjumping schooling courses, but at the beginning of the 2021 summer season they will be transformed to create a Premier League dressage venue with several arenas running concurrently as well as an international-sized warm-up arena.

Bunn said the success of the venture depended on the entire dressage community getting behind it. “We are currently discussing a number of other options, including hosting existing finals here, plus hopefully an international competition in 2022.”

Dressage has hit new levels of popularity in the past decade, with British riders Charlotte Dujardin, Carl Hester and their team-mates winning multiple championship medals – most memorably claiming team and individual gold at London 2012.

Hester welcomed the news that dressage would continue at Hickstead. “This is fabulous news and most welcome. We need to keep up the momentum and build our future teams, and venues with world-class facilities like Hickstead are key to that.”

He said experienced riders use Premier Leagues to bring their younger horses on, and the events also give up-and-coming combinations a chance to taste a big occasion.

British Dressage Chief Executive Jason Brautigam said Hickstead remained a special and prestigious venue for members. “We look forward to next year’s Premier League fixture, which will hopefully be a stepping-stone to the return of more shows in future years, including international competition.”

Hickstead was the first purpose-built showjumping venue in Great Britain, and it now hosts two major international fixtures each year – the Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting in June, and July’s Longines Royal International Horse Show. This year the showground reached its 60th birthday milestone, having first opened in 1960.

“My father Douglas will always be remembered most for his passion for showjumping, but he was also an innovator and advocate of all equestrian sport, and he knew that for Hickstead to be successful it had to diversify and cater to other disciplines as well,” Lizzie Bunn says.

“Dressage classes have been held here at the showground since the 1970s, eventually leading to the opening of Dressage at Hickstead in 1993. I’m pleased that we can carry on Dad’s legacy – and that of Dane – by continuing to showcase the sport of dressage here in West Sussex.”

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