2020 FEI Eventing Summit | An Eventful Life

2020 FEI Eventing Summit

 

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the FEI Eventing Summit as a British Eventing Guest.

Friday afternoon started off by talking about what eventing should look like in 10 years time and how we should use those 10 years to encourage people into our sport. A common theme was that this sport is expensive and dangerous, so parents are unwilling to enrol their children at the lower levels, meaning that we have a limited number of riders climbing the ranks and becoming elite riders.

Our sport is also relatively complicated, particularly the dressage phase and, to some extent, the cross-country phase. Show-jumping is generally well-accepted, because if a rider knocks a pole down, everyone can see that they’ve knocked a pole down. Simple. The intricacies of dressage marking and flag rules in the cross-country phase are somewhat subjective, and are hotly contested even among the riders, let alone by non-horsey spectators. This usually culminates in the spectators deciding they’d much rather go and watch something they understand, and the riders are left disappointed because without spectators, events can’t run.

It was pointed out that many other sports have a free, entry level introduction, usually through first or secondary schools. Thanks to that, children develop a love of sports such as football or basketball, because they get to play it at school. Once they have developed an interest, there are often clubs or local organisations they can join to develop their skills further and become competitive at a higher level. The difficulty with horse sports is that horses are expensive to buy, they are expensive to keep, and they are even more expensive when you want to start doing stuff with them. So, the challenge facing eventing, and equestrianism as a whole, is how do we get young people involved and interested in the sport?

Some ideas thrown around the room included greater media coverage to promote the excitement of the sport, whilst continuing to make the sport safer through the use of frangible devices and clever course design as well as improving the training and education available to young or novice riders. There is very little regulation in equestrian training; there isn’t a curriculum, or an approved method of teaching riders which can lead to confusion and frustration and then leads to people leaving the sport.

 

      Aintree Racecourse –  a venue synonymous with horses and equine sport

 

As well as eventing experts, there were presentations from the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and the Equine Welfare Board.

Personally, I have always been unsure of racing. I don’t agree with all of the practices, but some of the information provided by the BHA was very interesting. What I hadn’t realised, for example, was that the BHA can only regulate the parts of the sport which are licensed, such as the training yards and the racecourses, so they have very little control over what happens before and after the horses are involved in racing. This is something they are trying to change, by trying to ensure that horses are being bred responsibly so that we don’t have so many unsuccessful racers which then need rehoming.

The BHA also talked about the rationale behind using horses for sport. The room, as a collective, agreed that just saying “my horse enjoys it” is not an acceptable reason to put them or their riders at risk. The important thing to remember is that because we have equestrian sports, we have money going into the equestrian industry which is put towards research, tack, and technology, which benefits horses globally, not just those involved in sport. Without the racing industry and the money that it brings with it, our happy-hackers wouldn’t have such well designed tack, or such efficient rugs, or boots, or bedding.

It is something that I had never considered before, and it has really made me want to look into the racing industry and the performance horse industry even further.

During the lovely meals put on by Aintree Racecourse and the Mercure Liverpool Atlantic Tower Hotel, there were even more discussions about flags and qualifications and whether or not it should be compulsory to report horse injuries which have occurred at, or as a result of, an event.

 

       Some of the risk analysis data presented included footage produced by An Eventful Life

 

British Eventing, as an example, have data on every fence on every course at every event held under BE rules. We know who fell at which fence, who had a refusal at which fence, and who fell off in the warm-up. What we don’t know, however, is how many of these occurrences have left a lasting impact on the health and welfare of the horse. It was agreed that progress needs to be made in this area in order to improve horse safety whilst attending these events, but convincing competitors to report these incidents is going to require some careful consideration. What we don’t want to do is to scare people into covering up horse injuries for fear of being penalised.

There was an awful lot more covered than I couldn’t possibly comment on here, but I hope that this has given you an idea of the take-home messages that I felt were most important to the way the sport is viewed by the wider world.

If we want eventing to continue in its current form, we need to improve safety, reduce risk, and make it much more accessible to the general public.

Jess Johnson

Jess Johnson is part of the PhD study at Nottingham Trent University which is co-funded by An Eventful Life and utilises An Eventful Life's video footage to help identify and reduce the risk of injury to horse and rider in eventing

You can watch the full Summit livestreams in the videos below