Has British Eventing Lost It’s Way?: The Sport has changed but not sure its for the better!
Over the last few months I’ve been doing a lot of pondering over British Eventing and, in light of the recent price increases for membership and entry fees, I feel now is a good time to air my thoughts. I am sure some will agree and others not so much. I have also asked quite a few riders/owners across the different levels in different areas their thoughts on BE , and a lot have been thinking the same as me!! So lets get started!!
Before abandonment insurance, if an event cancelled prior to the start of the event, they were liable to repay the entry fees. On that basis, they would let the event run and then abandon which meant we, the riders, didn’t get our fees back and incurred the extra expense of start fees and transport.
So, from a riders’ perspective, from what I can see, the abandonment insurance is in place to repay my entry if the conditions are so bad that the event has to be abandoned after it’s started. In the whole scheme of things, that is actually quite rare for a grassroots eventer running one horse.
If the abandonment insurance covers other situations, for example, poor weather in the weeks/days leading up to the event, it would feel like we, the riders, are paying to cover the potential losses of the organisers – before abandonment insurance, they would have been liable to refund entry fees anyway. In 2019 for grassroots levels, the abandonment insurance was 9.75% of the entry fee. In 2020, it will be 12.47%. That feels like an unreasonable percentage increase. In fact, 12.47% of the entry fee is an astronomic amount to pay for insurance. If an average grassroots eventer runs 10 events in a season, they will pay £90 in insurance. That’s one and a half competition entries. I think BE needs to review the need for abandonment insurance for competitors.
In terms of entry fees, I think the sport is in difficulty at the moment. Entries, across the board, were down in 2019 with many citing the costs. BE needs to be encouraging more members into the sport as well as aiming to keep existing members, many of whom are migrating to much cheaper unaffiliated competition, and the way to do that is to offer incentives rather than hiking up costs. A £2-£4 increase might not seem much on a single entry fee but that, in addition to the hiked up insurance fees, adds up significantly over the season.
To the one horse owner/rider it may not seem like a big increase but to producers of eventers, and owners who own more than one horse this cost adds up over the season.
For multiple riders the costs are increased significantly. The published costs are not showing the increase in start fees, yet they are noted as subject to increase. For a BE80(t) entry, we are now looking at close on £100 for a single entry. For a multiple rider, like my daughter, with 2 horses running at the higher levels, we will be looking at close to £300 in entry/start fees for one single competition and that’s before adding in transport. For the amateur competitor, the sport is becoming unaffordable. It’s clear there has to be investment in the courses and safety, but if at the end of all that, the sport isn’t affordable, it becomes a waste of time. We hear much about events not making money. Given they are almost entirely supported by unpaid volunteers, take revenue from entries, revenue from start fees and revenue from trade stands and advertising, if that is really the case, the business models they are operating under need to be reviewed. BE members need to be thinking, “hey, that’s really good value,” not “I feel like I’m being royally screwed over.’ BE can talk about membershp fees having been frozen for a number of years, but that just doesn’t feel like any kind of benefit – they have been way too high in the first place and entry fees, start fees and abandonment insurance have been subject to regular increases.
BE needs to take a step back and really look at its forward strategy. They can hark on all they like about what they’re doing for the sport and the benefits they’re offering, but many people on the ground aren’t seeing it like that because any improvements they’re making are being overshadowed by increasing costs, inappropriate spending (website) and the lack of a suitable spread of events across the country. BE promote about all the membership benefits but how many of us use them?, Are they appropriate to the area we are living in?
The ‘reserves’ that were used to purchase an IT system that is, quite frankly, not appropriate for the kind of business BE operates is money that could have been used to subsidise entry fees by, reducing the affiliation fees applied to the events, for example. There is a systematic failure at BE to operate in a proper business manner and this has resulted in overspending, under-strategising and an unhappy membership.
More price increases ! Whilst I appreciate BE are saying the increase is under the rate of inflation, it’s still more than the average cost of living pay rise, and even then not every one is lucky enough to get that!
I love competing at BE events, and it’s hard to get the quality and consistency of course without it , but it’s going to get to the stage that the average amateur is going to be priced out of the market
The next point is a question of location, and I am sorry for what I am about to say for those based down south as you definitely won’t agree, but tough, here goes …
So the main eventing area is down south in Wiltshire/ Gloucestershire area where they have far more events to choose from than those based up North , which includes NORTH EAST, NORTH WEST AND SCOTLAND! My question is (being based up here) why are we paying the same membership fees as those based down south where they have far more events to go to and less travelling! We have to spend a lot more in fuel to go to these events and quite often have the same events running without much choice of what to go to. Some of the events like, Warwick Hall , run three times in the season and hardly change the course between events, so how is this allowing us to train our horses the same as those down south? I personally think that membership fees should be appropriate to the area you live in, let’s face it, the wages in London area are far higher than those paid up north to coincide with the cost of living, so why can’t BE look at making the memberships more appropriate to area you are living in and the number of events you have to choose.
Now this one has really got my blood boiling!! So here was the situation. One horse had a full year membership paid for and then was sold after two events ( before July where you can register for half a season). I rang BE and asked if I could transfer the rest of his membership onto another horse to finish the season, which I thought a reasonable request, the answer was NO. This is ridiculous as I had paid for a membership of a horse and now can’t use it!
IF A HORSE IS SOLD OR INJURED AND CAN’T RUN YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO TRANSFER YOUR MEMBERSHIP ONTO ANOTHER HORSE.
Course levels, Height and Technicality
Well where do we start with this one!
It’s hard to know where within each level a course is pitched, especially as the SJ courses can vary wildly in height and technicality, size of arena and ground conditions.
How many times have we all seen a post on Facebook asking where is suitable for a first time e.g novice. So how do we get round this one as the courses, despite being the same level in theory are hugely different in practice. There is no real even course levels and this makes it seriously hard getting the young horses out ,as where do you take them for a nice first time run! If you say unaffiliated – lets just remember that unaffiliated courses tend to run over BE courses so a decrease in BE FUNDS due to no renewing of memberships because every one is going unaffiliated will result in fewer BE COURSES being built to run the unaffiliated courses over!
To me, the grassroots courses should be exactly that, ‘grassroots’, unfortunately, as everything is a qualifier then everything gets built like a qualifier! Where have the first three simple fences to get the horses in their rhythm and out and away from the start box gone,they still do that at Badminton and Burghley!! White fences at fence 3 in a BE80 / BE90 is a bit much especially for a young horse or novice rider (before you criticise I like to take my youngster to BE to start as I think its safer, I mean there are more ambulances ,there are fence judges on every fence and there is a vet/ horse ambulance on site and the same can’t be said for all unaffiliated events).
So how about we look at doing an A and B level of difficulty course at each level. A would signify that this is a nice first time course with more straight forward fences and B would be a more technical up to height course for those looking to move on up to the next level? I think this may also help reduce the number of accidents if were used correctly and systematically .
This would also allow for course builders to move up the grades without demoralising riders. T happened at one event recently where there was not a good atmosphere in the lorry park, very few were getting round the courses, even the professionals were struggling! (just a note to course builders ,jumping a ditch on an angle at a 90 after a fence giving the horse lots of opportunity to run out is a no no! , Nor is putting fences in the way of the line you need to be on for a corner or angled rail question, making distances 3.5 strides in a BE100 or putting a triple combination on a curving line in a be90 on the cross country. We never used to have these questions on young horses and we need to look at how we are ruining the young horse’s confidence by asking to much of them too soon!! ( A similar thing happened in gymnastics whereby the young gymnasts were being expected to do the same ‘moves’ an older gymnast was doing – the result was catastrophic as the young gymnasts where not fully developed in their bodies and we saw a rise in shoulder dislocations, knee and ankle injuries etc so just food for thought !!)
The sport is so expensive we can complain all we want but we are still going to do it. What I do object to is the obstacles they put in the way, for example, the rule about falling off is a compulsory elimination, it’s put me off taking young green horses to an event as it would be a very expensive dressage test if you have a fall in the sj, and if you have a slip off on the cross country, the horse then isn’t learning from any mistakes as it just has to leave the course. It’s just about making the sport more attractive to everyone, and unfortunately the weather is also playing a big part in our sport, with more and more cancellations, and the money and time spent preparing for events, is it time we invest our money in another less expensive but more lucrative discipline ? I for one am not ready to hang up my body protector just yet ! lol . Also on a side note, nothing to do with the price rises, I am defo on the side that they need to look at what they are asking these horses to jump especially at the higher levels, as a kid Badminton and the likes was always a dream, now when I watch the courses I genuinely don’t think I would want to ask my horse to do some of these courses
Competitors and Competitions
Well I think the quote above set us up nicely for this part!.
So, in regards to falling off whether it be dressage,show jumping or cross country, we should be allowed to be assessed by a doctor before being eliminated. In my opinion, as as one rider stated above what exactly are we teaching young horses? If you buck me off mid test it’s ok we can finish for the day! (We all know horses can learn that rider being deposited means competition over and home time / haynet time ) We have already been given the insult of the penalties and the embarrassment of being put on the floor in front of everyone, it would be very unlikely for the horse/rider combination to go and win after a fall. At the very least, if a rider is eliminated through refusals, let them go back in the warm up to get confidence back.
The next point I have to make is about the Dressage phase , or stressage as it’s known to us eventers! First of all, is there really any need to pull the grass roots riders apart in their tests by giving ridiculously high scores ? A BE80/90/100 horse is unlikely to look like Valegro and it should not be expected to – it should just have to do a nice relaxed accurate test, be obedient and look like the training is being done correctly ( keep in mind we have 4/5yo horses competing against 15-20yr old horses in these sections). The judges should not be giving riders scores of 50 penalties in these levels of tests. Maybe we need judges for event horses bearing in mind these horses have to do showjumping and be fit enough to go cross country, and dressage arenas are often anything but flat.
Uneven ground brings me to another point – if a horse is questioned on it’s soundness at an event after the dressage, why are the vets getting them trotted up on the same uneven ground? Surely they should be looked at on a flat hard surface without studs in ? I don’t know what everyone else’s thought are on this ? It is something I have seen and experienced,. Then the question comes of has that dressage judge judged the test as having an unsound horse – when it could just be merely tension?
Finally, lets look at the championships and those who win or are consistently in the placings at a certain level. I watch riders go out at the same level over and over again, and come away with prize after prize never moving out of that level. It can be a bit disheartening when you see that same horse/rider combination who has competed be90 for many years, when you are on a young or inexperienced horse. You know you have little chance or less chance of getting that all important placing. So why are the same horse/rider combinations, after winning a level, allowed to keep competing at that level? If they remain at that level they should be made to go HC or move into an open section, allowing them to remain competitive but against other similar horse/rider combinations. This also should apply to the Championships – So if you have been placed in the top ten (for example at the Motors Cup in the be90 ) then you shouldn’t be eligible as the same horse/rider combination to compete there again in that same level, you should have to move on to the be100. This would give other horse rider combinations the chance to come through and have that experience. This may not go down well with some grass roots riders but everyone should have the opportunity to compete at the championships.
One entries secretary has also informed me that now more and more riders are waiting until last minute to enter events usually after the ballot date, which is making life extremely difficult for the entries secretaries, maybe we should scrap late entries altogether, this would enable the organisers/ secretaries do their jobs more effectively.
In respect of abandonment and returning of entry fees: I am a little unsure as to why it takes weeks to get our money back. If we have entered into an event that is abandoned perhaps we should be able to look at a way of transferring our entry to an event that is running, so that we, as riders/ owners ,are not out of pocket waiting on a refund and having to pay a last minute entry – which gets a late entry fee added on top!!
Multiple riders / Big Profile Name Riders
It’s worth noting, that when competitors enter, whether they are multiple riders or individuals, they pay the same price, therefore deserve the same level of service. Having sat in both camps, it is wholly unfair that multiples are persistently slotted in in front of individuals who have timed their warm up ready to compete ,only to find they have been moved down the order. There should be clear rules for stewards in managing lists, particularly when veering away from the scheduled times and taking declarations. Multiples have times the same as everyone else. We all have homes to go to!
Personally I think there could be a way forward for this one with declarations – ( we all prefer to work on declarations at the Showjumping Arena) so how about every five riders making a space for a multiple, and then everyone knows where they are . If the multiple rider is then late for a dressage lets be as accommodating as they are in the showjumping and cross country and not eliminate the rider but merely fit them in where you can!.
Last few minor points
The lack of winter stuff and training put on by BE in Scotland is frustrating (The whole of Scotland is classed as 1 area and the training could be 3-4+ h away.)
We may need to look at the amount of training available in the areas up north, currently the JAS championship means a very long journey south for all of ten minutes competing (maybe look at bringing a North and South Championship).
Times on a Thursday to compete on Saturday is annoying when you need to organise yard cover. It doesn’t help if they don’t put an event timetable up beforehand
I am guessing we could get times out earlier if entries closed on the ballot date. It is annoying when you put you can compete either day (hoping that will guarantee you an entry ) but only finding out very close to the event what day you are going – especially when you are running a yard or need to find help
Please note that these are merely suggestions and thoughts about where BE is now, and how we can look to move forward and get the sport where it deserves to be.