Kathy Carter
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Kathy Carter


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About Kathy Carter

UK-based Kathy Carter is a journalist, freelance copywriter, blogger, freelance content writer and published book author. Kathy Carter is an armchair eventing-enthusiast, a Mum and a business owner; she worked with horses as a riding instructor and groom in a former life; this included grooming for a Dutch Olympic eventer, before pursuing a career in media. She has a penchant for post-child’s bedtime Merlot, and a 70s soft rock habit. Her website is https://sireniacreativewriting.com Kathy's latest horsey kids' book, 'Rusty & Roo Take a Tumble', was recently reviewed on Eventing Nation here - http://tinyurl.com/rustyroobook

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The Billy Stud Launching Innovative Online Auction of 3-Year-Olds

British breeding establishment the Billy Stud, a leading breeding venture between show jumper William Funnell, eventer Pippa Funnell and business partner Donal Barnwell, has launched a new online auction of 3-year-old sport horses which begins on Oct. 21.

The stud, now in its 17th year, has selected 10 of its quality 3-year-olds to be available to buy at the online auction.

“All horses will be vetted and X-rayed before the sale, and there’s no reserve on any of the auction horses,” explains Donal, recognised as being one of the best ‘breeding eyes’ in the business.

Equine breeding lines include Tangelo Van De Zuuthoeve, Cevin Z (the grey pictured below), Billy Congo, Cruising, Billy Mexico and Clover Hill, and the online auction represents a new way to showcase and sell equines in the UK.

Cevin Z, another top stallion, carries the double crosses of both Cor de la Bryere and Capitol 1 in his pedigree. Photo by the Billy Stud

Cevin Z, a top stallion at the Billy Stud, carries the double crosses of both Cor de la Bryere and Capitol 1 in his pedigree. Photo by the Billy Stud.

“It is easier for buyers to browse horses in this way, and the fact the horses have been vetted and X-rayed before the sale makes great business sense for anyone looking for a future star eventer,” Donal tells EN

The unique aspect of this project, jokingly described by Irishman Donal as ‘a mad notion,’ is that there’s complete transparency.

“There are no auctioneers or middlemen — what you see is what you get. The prices are all inclusive. The horses for sale are all bred here, and are completely unspoiled — they will go on and improve and improve,” he continues.

“Buyers are purchasing straight from a world-renowned breeder, and I can tell you that these are horses with plenty of blood, that are bred to jump. Most have the quality to be elite eventers, as of course you need an eventer that can show jump.”

Billy Congo, one of the Billy Stud's top stallions, is by the AES & Irish Horse Board Approved stallion Vechta, who is by the famous sire Voltaire. Photo by Samantha Lamb, courtesy of The Billy Stud.

Billy Congo, another of the Billy Stud’s top stallions, is by the AES & Irish Horse Board Approved stallion Vechta, who is by the famous sire Voltaire. Photo by Samantha Lamb, courtesy of the Billy Stud.

For buyers who are able to come to the UK and view the horses, they have the opportunity to see 10 hand-selected youngsters in one place, making a visit to the stud a worthwhile one. For interested parties unable to visit in person, a selection of high quality videos is available showcasing the youngsters being free schooled, as well as videos of the stallion sires.

“This opportunity represents a good deal for international buyers looking for future event horses, as the pound is very weak currently — and there’s no reserve set on the horses, and VAT is also included,” Donal continues. (VAT can be reclaimed from non-EU territories).

“Anyone looking to purchase more than one three year old will also have the advantage that they are based in once place, making shipping very practical. And naturally we can advise purchasers with their shipping requirements. Pippa, William and myself are all just a phone call away if anyone has a query.”

Viewing days at the stud are available on Oct. 21st, 22nd and 23rd, and the auction closes on Oct. 25. For more information, visit the auction page on the Billy Stud website here

Catching Up with Ireland’s Youngest Team Member Camilla Speirs

Camilla Speirs and Portersize Just  A Jiff. Photo by Jenni Autry. Camilla Speirs and Portersize Just A Jiff. Photo by Jenni Autry.

It has been something of a whirlwind year for Ireland’s youngest team member Camilla Speirs. The 27-year-old wound down her season, which was highlighted by a top 10 placing at Badminton and a trip to the Rio Olympics, with a sixth place finish at the French four-star Pau over the weekend. This followed a double-placing at Ireland’s Kilmanahan Horse Trials in September, where she came first with Loughnavatta Cedar and second with Penny Swift in the CNC2*.

She kindly took the time to speak with EN about 2016 and her plans for the future.

‘An Olympics is the pinnacle of every athlete’s career’

Brazil was Camilla’s second call-up for her country as part of an Olympic team and she was traveling reserve, an experience that she enjoyed.

“It was a great experience to get the call-up; however it would have been even better to have been able to compete!” she tells EN matter-of-factly. “Jif (Portersize Just A Jiff) has been in great form all season and I think the technical cross country course would have really suited him, as he is small and athletic, and very good in this phase.”

“An Olympics is the pinnacle of every athlete’s career,” she says. “It’s extremely inspiring to be rubbing shoulders with the most successful athletes in the world! We had a great team in Rio [Ireland placed eighth] and team spirit was very high.”

Camilla Speirs and Portersize Just a Jif were travelling reserves at Rio, having competed in 2012, pictured. Photo by Kathy Carter.

Camilla Speirs and Portersize Just a Jif were traveling reserves at Rio, having competed in 2012, pictured. Photo by Kathy Carter.

It would have meant the world to compete in Rio after the pair had a very unlucky fall in London at the 2012 Games, which saw them eliminated. It was of course an accolade to be selected as a reserve this year, but Jif is now 16.

However, one can never say never in terms of future Olympic selection — while the average age of Olympic event horses is around 12 years old, the great Lenamore was 19 when he competed in London 2012. And Jif keeps proving that age and height are no barrier to success, winning the Ballindenisk CNC2* and placing ninth at Badminton this year.

‘A horse of a lifetime’

Jif’s recent performance at Pau was tremendous, with the pair improving from 32nd after dressage to lie in 11th place following the cross-country. In the show jumping, they recorded one of just seven clear rounds to complete on 61.1.

“He’s certainly a very special little horse,” Camilla says. “We bought Jif as a four year old from show jumping producers Bourns Sports Horses, and I competed him in ponies, as he measured 148cm. As a five year old he measured out, so decided we would keep him to compete in Juniors. He kept progressing up the ranks and the sky is seemingly the limit for him! We have competed in seven European Championships, two World Equestrian games, and the 2012 Olympic Games. Jif really is a horse of a lifetime.”

Badminton was a real highlight for Camilla this year, and Ballindenisk International was also a special moment, not least because she also placed third in the CIC1* with the mare Lias Jewel.

“LEB Lias Jewel is a lovely six year old who came third in Ballindenisk in a very competitive field. It was a great result for this talented mare, and I’m delighted for the owners Jo and Neil Breheny, who bred her,” Camilla tells us.

Camilla Spiers and Portersize Just A Jiff. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Camilla Spiers and Portersize Just A Jiff. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Cedar will sell

The popular rider has a string of horses to campaign next year, although the seven year old Loughnavatta Cedar, the promising young horse that won at Kilmanahan CNC2*, is soon off to pastures new.

“Loughnavatta Cedar has huge potential and a very exciting career ahead of him,” Camilla tells EN. “He has been selected to represent Ireland at the World Championships for Young Horses in Le Lion D’angers from 20th October, and then he is entered in the ‘Goresbridge Go for Gold’ elite sale of event horses in Barnadown on the 14th of November. He is owned and bred by Rory Costigan, and anyone looking for a true four star prospect would love this horse.”

Camilla’s reliable 13-year-old ride, Penny Swift, who placed second at Kilmanahan CNC2*, is also for sale. “She would be perfect for any young rider or amateur looking to get experience at two star level,” Camilla says.

A real passion

Unsurprisingly given her young age of 27, Camilla’s parents Bridget and Nyall are vitally important to her career.

“They have been very supportive all the way through! My mum travels with me to all of the big events, and has helped build up our fantastic eventing establishment, which is home to the ‘BT’ prefixed event horses,” she says.

Camilla loves sourcing and producing young talented horses, and says it is a real passion.

“I have done it from a very young age. Buying a ‘made’ pony was never an option and certainly taught me how to ride,” she explains. “I’ve been lucky to work with some of the best trainers in the world and have built up the credentials to produce young horses to reach the top of the sport. Of course, selling them is also necessary to fund our business. Having a good eye for a horse is extremely important, so it’s nice to be able to work with really good horses every day. We are always looking for new owners to come on board!”

Camilla Speirs pictured with Rory Costigan, owner of Loughnavatta Cedar.

Camilla Speirs pictured with Rory Costigan, owner of Loughnavatta Cedar. Photo by Camilla Speirs.

The eventer is keen to point out that the correct nutrition is vital to horses of all ages.

“We have roughly 14 horses to feed each day and not one single one is fed the same! I use Redmills Horse Feeds and thanks to the invaluable help from their experts, we come up with a tailored feeding programme so that each horse is getting exactly what they need. From the three year olds to the four star horses, it’s important that each horse is getting the right balance of feed,” she says.

Camilla, who is sponsored by Antarès Sellier, celebrates after ninth placing at Badminton. Photo by Camilla Speirs.

Camilla, who is sponsored by companies including Antarès Sellier, celebrates after her ninth placing at Badminton. Photo by Camilla Speirs.

To conclude, we asked Camilla what her ultimate riding goals are.

“To continue improving and striving to get the best out of all the horses I ride,” she tells us. “I think training like this gets results; training like a champion brings far better results than training to be a champion.”

Wise words indeed. Go Eventing!

A Day in the Life of Eventing Icon Mary King

The famously laid-back and relaxed, six-time Olympian Mary King MBE tells Kathy Carter what training routines and yard regimes make her tick.

Mary King and Imperial Cavalier at Badminton in 2012. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Mary King, shown here with Imperial Cavalier at Badminton 2012, is a British eventing legend — and her attention to and involvement with day-to-day details have played a huge role in her success. Photo by Jenni Autry.

My daily routine

Ever since I started riding, I’ve been a great believer in attention to detail, and I soon learnt that success begins with the small, incidental things. I believe that if horses live in an organised environment, then the better prepared they’ll be for competing. Having a workable routine in place helps reduce the risk of injuries, setbacks and silly mistakes, because as soon as you start cutting corners, that’s when things go wrong.

7 a.m.

My daughter [international eventer] Emily or myself feeds the horses, washing out the feed buckets and letting them drain afterwards. We’ll also straighten rugs and check legs; it’s important to know what is normal for each horse, so that we can spot any potential problem immediately. I’ll also check on the mares and young-stock living out in a field in the valley, and run my hands over the youngsters’ bodies so they get used to me touching them. This promotes a developing connection between horse and human, so the trust starts to build.

Mary King is very hands-on, feeding the horses and washing out the feed buckets first thing. Photo by Bob Atkins

Mary King is very hands-on, feeding the horses and washing out the feed buckets first thing. Photo by Bob Atkins.

7.30 a.m.

My grooms muck out, taking 20 minutes per stable. I’m quite fussy about the horses’ bedding, so we use a chopped, oilseed rape straw bedding, with a superior, rubber-chip-filled flooring fitted over the stable floor. Once the girls have mucked out, they’ll empty, clean then refill the water buckets (two per stable) taking note of how much water the horses drink, so that we know on average what their daily intake is. That way we can notice if there’s a sudden change that could indicate the horse isn’t feeling on top form.

Then the girls will sweep up and tidy the muck trailer. The haylage nets are filled for the evening and the following morning. In all the stables, I’ve used some lovely, old-fashioned butler sinks as mangers, and while I’m not suggesting they’re to everyone’s taste, they work well for me. The horses are worked throughout the morning; our normal weekly routine involves fast work every third day, with schooling, jumping and hacking in-between. The girls help with hacking and some of the canter work, while Emily and I do all the schooling and jumping. After work, the horses are washed off if necessary, then turned out with rugs and exercise boots for a couple of hours.

Mary and daughter Emily's horses do fast work every third day. Photo by Bob Atkins

Mary and daughter Emily’s horses do fast work every third day. Photo by Bob Atkins.

We bring the horses in, groom them, then pick out and scrub the feet if necessary, hoof-oil inside and out, check the shoes and legs, then rug them up if necessary. Before lunch, we make sure all the stables are skipped out, beds are tidy and water buckets full. Any horse that is in has a lunchtime feed at 1pm, and we’ll leave feeds in the mangers of those who were worked late morning and were out over lunchtime. Then it’s our lunchtime from 1-2  p.m.!

2 p.m.

The horses that were out over lunch come in. The afternoon is a good time for catching up with other random jobs – from cleaning mangers or stable windows, to giving the yard a thorough sweep. The lorry too, has to be kept clean so it will be washed on the outside if it’s just back from an event, then the next day it will be cleaned out completely so that it’s ready for the next journey. Then there’s a list of odd jobs pinned up in the tack room that includes tack cleaning, poo-picking the fields in summer, and sweeping the horse walker after each use, plus washing and pulling manes and tails and trimming whiskers and ears.

4.30 p.m.

The girls tidy the tack room, sweep the floor, and make sure the sink and surfaces are clean and mugs washed. Then the stables are skipped out, the beds tidied and the water buckets are topped up. Rugs are straightened just before 5pm, and the horses have their haylage; we empty the night haylage nets into a corner of the stable. Then after locking the tack room, it’s home time for the girls at 5pm.

Mary and Emily King say their horses thrive on routine. Photo by Bob Atkins

Mary and Emily King say their horses thrive on their routine. Photo by Bob Atkins

6 p.m.

Either Emily or I feed the horses and check their legs, but once the horses have had their last feed, that’s it for the night, and they won’t see us again until morning. It’s a routine that works well and I’ve never found a late-night check or feed to be necessary. But we do live on site, so if there are any major problems, we’re on hand to attend to them.

Top tips:

In the mornings, we hang up the haylage nets so that mucking out is easier. Once we’ve finished mucking out, we empty the haylage onto the floor so that the horses can eat with their heads down — it replicates the way they naturally eat in the field. But the evening haylage nets are emptied onto the floor immediately.

When we turn out, I turn my horses out in twos or threes, which shocks some people. However, I think it’s worse risking injury to a lonely horse who is galloping up and down the field because he’s missing his friends. We find that the horses get to know each other quite quickly as they get used to the routine.

Mary King has written a new book: 'Mary King - My Way’

Mary King has written a new book: ‘Mary King – My Way’

Find out more about Mary’s training and management formulas and how they apply to every rider in her new book: ‘Mary King — My Way’. (International orders available.)

The Science Bit: Classical Music, Poll Pressure & More Equine Health Notes

This week we take a look at photosensitization in alfalfa-fed horses, surprising poll pressure study results, the benefits of classical music, and thought-provoking racehorse injury studies.

Classical music reduces stress in equines. Photo by Alexandra Elefteriadou for freeimages.com

Classical music reduces stress in equines. Via freeimages.com

Getting a ‘handel’ on equine stress

The International Society for Equitation Science’s annual conference at France’s Cadre Noir academy, which showcased viewpoints on ‘Understanding horses to improve training and performance’, proposed that classical music may reduce equine stress. Researchers found that during typically stressful activities like travelling and shoeing, the playing of classical music decreased several equine stress indicators.

“It also induced a faster post-stress, equine heart recovery,” said study lead Claire Neveux, who conducted the research in conjunction with the University of Strasbourg and the University of Caen. The findings, which are likely to be of interest to sport horse trainers, were widely reported in the mainstream European press, including the UK’s Telegraph newspaper.

The loose ring snaffle applies more poll pressure than a hanging cheek or ‘baucher’ snaffle. Time for a tack-room re-shuffle?

The loose ring snaffle applies more poll pressure than a hanging cheek or ‘baucher’ snaffle. Time for a tack-room re-shuffle? Photo via Neue Schule.

A bit of a surprise

British bitting manufacturer Neue Schule has issued a ‘Poll Pressure Guide’ following a study initiated by the company’s founder, Heather Hyde. The study threw up some fascinating facts, including the finding that with normal rider rein pressure, the hanging cheek or ‘baucher’ snaffle not only does not exert poll pressure, as many riders and trainers believe, but in fact exhibits a poll-relief effect.

Another finding of interest was that the much-loved loose ring snaffle can apply some poll pressure, due to a pulley action caused by the ring dragging down through the bit’s bore-hole. Unsurprisingly, nelson and balding gags feature high up on the poll pressure scale.

Surfaces clearly affect vertical ground reaction forces. Photo by 'Winter Dove' for freeimages.com

Surfaces clearly affect vertical ground reaction forces. Photo via freeimages.com

Racehorse studies give us food for thought

A study of racehorse injuries was recently published in the Journal of Equine Science which looked at twenty years of Asian veterinary data that measured vertical ground reaction forces on galloping equine forelimbs. The findings showed that incidences of limb fractures increased as dirt track conditions became muddier, and incidences of fractures decreased as grass track conditions became softer.

The study also found that fractures occurred ‘mostly’ at corners, and ‘more frequently’ at the time of changing the leading limb when galloping. Surfaces and weather conditions clearly affect equine traction and vertical ground reaction forces, although there are no comparable eventing studies.

Alfalfa hay can trigger photosensitization

A 2016 study published in the Veterinary Journal found that alfalfa hay can trigger primary photosensitization in horses. (Photosensitization can occur when ‘photo-toxic’ or ‘photo-active’ substances build up in the skin, and interact with sunlight.)

Skin conditions like equine dermatitis can occur as a result in un-pigmented skin, or skin areas with little hair, reported researchers including Birgit Puschner, Professor and Researcher in Molecular Biosciences at America’s University of California.

The photosensitive reactions are proposed to occur as a result of horses eating phototoxic compounds in affected alfalfa (lucerne) hay, while secondary photosensitivity can arise when a horse’s liver cannot properly excrete some compounds.

The compounds Chlorophyll A and B and Pheophorbide were suspected to play a role in alfalfa-induced primary photosensitization, however it was deemed in the study that these compounds were not responsible; the guilty plant pesticide residues have, to date, not yet been identified.

If you have an interesting veterinary story or case study to share, tweet the author @kathysirenia.

Catching Up with Oliver Townend, Who Has Two Inside Dressage Top 10 at Boekelo

Oliver Townend and MHS King Joules. Photo by Leslie Wylie. Oliver Townend and MHS King Joules. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Oliver Townend is on a roll. The Shropshire-based eventer is currently the highest-ranked British eventer in the world, having enjoyed wins and excellent results over the past two months at Blair Castle, Burghley, Blenheim and Ballindenisk.

His second place finish in the final leg of the Event Riders Masters at Blenheim, riding Cillnabradden Evo, sealed his well-deserved victory in the whole ERM series and now he’s off and running in the Boekelo CCI3* as well. The two horses he is competing, MHS King Joules and Cooley SRS, are very well positioned after the dressage phase, sitting eighth and ninth respectively heading into tomorrow’s cross country competition — an impressive accomplishment considering the massive 97-horse field.

With so much momentum already behind him, it’s no wonder Oliver has high hopes for his extensive string of horses in 2017.

EN caught up with Oliver for a chat after a busy weekend at the UK’s Bishop Burton H.T., where he took five young horses to contest the 100cm and Novice classes.

Oliver Townend and Cooley SRS. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Oliver Townend and Cooley SRS. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

On Cillnabradden Evo

 We congratulated Oliver on winning the influential ERM Series, and asked him what makes his ERM ride Cillnabradden Evo so special?

“Gary is built for the job — he is very good at dressage, although he is not an overly flash mover. The horse has a good brain to train, which means I can ride him accurately. He is on the warmblood side, both in terms of his pedigree and his mentality, and has plenty of speed,” Oliver tells us proudly, having won a reported $95k in the series. “Gary is very reliable in the dressage, in fact he has no weak phase. He’s a very good show jumper.”

A great step for eventing

Australian eventer Paul Tapner, the ERM’s new Digital and Technical Manager, recently told EN that the team is hoping to expand the ERM concept into Europe and possibly increase the number of legs. Oliver agrees this would be a great step for the sport.

“The ERM series is the biggest development that our sport has seen in recent years,” he explains of the series that saw riders from Australia, Britain and France in the top five placings. “It would be great for even more people to see their favourite riders and horses in the different European legs over a short format, so they can come and support them.”

Oliver Townend and MHS King Joules. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Oliver Townend and MHS King Joules. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

The lure of the Emerald Isle

Oliver also has reason to celebrate, having won the recent CIC3* at Ballendenisk H.T. with Fenya’s Elegance as well as the CCI1* with Ececheira. So are Irish events important calendar fixtures for Team Townend?

“Absolutely,” Oliver says. “Irish events are very important for us on the calendar — we are 90 minutes from Holyhead ferry port in Wales, so it’s quicker to head to Ireland from our base in the West Midlands than to head to some of the events elsewhere in England. Plus there’s often better prize money in Ireland.”

One horse to look out for in 2017 is Cooley SRS, the 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding with whom Oliver placed fifth in the 8-9 year old CIC3* class at the Blenheim. So what’s next for the nine year old ‘Aero’?

“It’s Boekelo CCIO3* next in the Netherlands,” says Oliver. “Aero won the three star last year at Ballendenisk as an eight year old, so is still young — I have high hopes for him, as he has a good brain and is easy to ride.”

The lifeblood of eventing

Oliver has a loyal team of owners supporting him, and offers sole, partnership and corporate ownership schemes.

“Owners are our lifeblood, and we aim to give them the best attention possible,” he says. “Eventing is my business, but it should also be fun, and we like to consider our owners as our friends too. It is important to foster the owner-rider relationship; as a yard, we may not be the best in terms of entertainment and quaffing champagne at events, but all of our owners are with us to be competitive and get results. We are a horse oriented place, so we like working with owners that want to enjoy watching lots of horses competing at the highest levels at an event, and feeling part of the team.”

Oliver Townend and MHS King Joules. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Oliver Townend and MHS King Joules. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Onwards and upwards

To conclude, we asked the famously straight-talking Yorkshireman whether we’d sent the right British horses to the Rio Olympics, as some observers, despite Britain’s credible fifth team placing, have proposed that we sent a ‘three star’ equine team without enough four star horses.

But the formerly outspoken Oliver won’t be drawn to speak contentiously. “Hindsight’s a wonderful thing,” he muses. “I can say that it didn’t work for Britain. But there are imminent management changes, and exciting times ahead.”

“It’s time to regroup and look onwards and upwards,” he concludes.

A full Boekelo dressage report is on its way — check back! Go Eventing.

#MBE16: WebsiteSchedule,EntriesDressage Ride Times,LeaderboardLive StreamEN’s Coverage@eventingnation,Instagram






10 Tips for Event Riders Seeking Sponsorship

How many sponsor logos can you spot on Michael and Sam? Photo by Leslie Wylie. How many sponsor logos can you spot on Michael and Sam? Photo by Leslie Wylie.

One of the most pressing concerns for any event rider is the need to enhance their profile, engage with potential owners and sponsors, and create a buzz about themselves. We all know of certain riders who always seem to be in the marketing mix. But how do they do it? And how do you go about seeking a sponsor to help enhance your brand, asks Kathy Carter?

The first step to gaining sponsorship is to see yourself as a brand. Not necessarily a person with a first name and a surname — but a professional ‘Kate Smith Eventing’ type brand, with a website and a raft of social media accounts.

There are professional consultants around who will act as your representative, secure media interviews with you and make introductions with potential sponsors; however they will charge a fee, which you may not be able to afford currently. If so, it is up to you to present yourself as a great package to potential sponsors and owners.

A good example of proactivity is British eventer Brier Leahy, of Brier Leahy Eventing, a 20-year-old Intermediate-level eventer from North Wales aiming to gain a place on the British team eventually. She has her own self-titled blog produced on the free platform Weebly, and has Facebook, YouTube and Twitter accounts, and sponsors including Fine Fettle Products, whose supplementary products she uses, and whose social media accounts she contributes to. Brier has also been featured on the regional British news website, Wales Online.

Brier Leahy is social media savvy. Photo by Brier Leahy.

Brier Leahy is social media savvy. Photo by Brier Leahy.

Here are some ideas to increase your profile:

1. If you don’t have a website yet, get one created — they are very cost-effective these days. Ensure you have a blog page and links to social media accounts. A professionally-designed website will look great, and will have more options for search engine optimisation if it is ‘third party hosted,’ but you can just as easily create a free website using WordPress or Weebly to get you started. Choose a template design with simple, obvious social media ‘tabs’ if possible.

2. Create social media accounts. Facebook, Linked-In, YouTube and Twitter are good ones to start with, and can easily be linked to your website. Make an introductory video of yourself — you can film it at the yard and introduce your horses. (You don’t need any special equipment — a smartphone is sufficient. You can edit the films if required with free software like Movie Maker; however, no one will mind homemade looking footage.) Upload to YouTube with lots of eventing-related tags and keywords. Get friends and family to film you at events, so these can be uploaded too. Document your activities with photos, as any sponsor will be glad to have them for marketing purposes.

3. Create a blog page, ideally on your website, and add to it regularly. Potential sponsors want to see that you can write well and are proactive.

4. If you like and use certain horsey products, write about them — review them and honestly explain why you rate them.

5. Write letters to local or national equestrian magazines, maybe thanking event organisers or flagging up a great venue — anything to get your name and brand out there.

6. Get saddle cloths and branded clothing made up with your logo, name or website on it. Consider getting long sleeved tops printed with your name and website down the sleeve so it is visible under a body protector. When you show potential sponsors your pictures, be sure to explain that their branding could be used in this way!

7. Contact your regional newspapers and equestrian magazine titles. If you have a training or coaching qualification, all the better — as a recognised ‘expert,’ you are more likely to gain opportunities to contribute to the title. (‘Kate Smith of Kate Smith Eventing shows readers how to tackle ditches.’) Maybe they’d be interested in interviewing you about a recent win at a horse trials event, your ‘triumph over tragedy’ story, or about a charitable project you’re undertaking?

You can do the same with local radio stations, ideally obtaining a clip of any broadcast coverage to add to your website and social media pages. (Top tip: if you’re being interviewed over the phone, hold your smartphone to the receiver and record your responses — if you can’t obtain the actual broadcast content, you can edit these clips on your smartphone to use.)

8. Approach companies that you’d like to be sponsored by. All reputable equestrian companies receive such enquiries every day, but the good news is that most of them are hopelessly futile. Examples of how NOT to approach a company include: a brief message on Facebook; a brief message on Facebook that’s obviously been duplicated many times and is not personalised; and an introduction detailing your successes, and why the company should sponsor you, as you are so brilliant and deserving.

Why SHOULDN’T you do the latter? Because there are many hundreds of eventers doing well, producing and competing horses that are deserving of commercial support via products or money. But the point to your letter or phone call is what YOU can do for the company, not the other way around!

Think of how you can enhance sales for them. Could you carry lorry advertising? Show them a picture of your lorry — you can even ‘mock up’ their branding on the side! Show them your blog, and detail how many followers you have. Offer examples of how you could include their products or services subtly into your blog. If you teach or coach, offer your teaching services as a competition prize to a regional magazine or media outlet: ‘Win a lesson with Kate Smith, plus six months’ worth of Fred’s Fabulous Horse Feed.’

Compile a physical promotional brochure about yourself: detail your horses, recent wins, goals, media coverage gained, and post it with a dynamic covering letter to a named person at the company you’re interested in.

9. When approaching companies, don’t feel too limited to equestrian companies. There will be some great local companies that you could forge links with — think laterally! If you’re targeting horsey brands, don’t go too big if you’re starting out; contact small to medium sized enterprises. Look at their existing roster of sponsored riders or ambassadors — they probably won’t be interested if they have someone similar to you.

10. Once you have all of this preparatory work in place, you will also be in a position to approach potential owners in the same way, or to showcase yourself in the local media, in order to seek syndicated owners.

Good luck and Go Eventing!

Paul Tapner Explains His Decision to Become an ‘Elite-Level Amateur’

Paul Tapner and Kilronan. Photo by Jenni Autry. Paul Tapner and Kilronan. Photo by Jenni Autry.

UK-based Australian eventer Paul Tapner has been busily competing at Moreton Morrell Horse Trials, where he had a typically successful day with two young horses, riding two double clears and coming first and third in the BE100. But he’s happy to sit down for a chat with EN to share his news about his new role working as Digital and Technical Manager for the popular Event Riders Masters (ERM) series, which has dramatically changed his own riding plans.

Paul plans to compete only as an ‘elite amateur’ as of 2017, so what will his new role at the ERM involve? “I think of it as responsibility for the spectator experience; whether those spectators are at the venue or following the competition on a PC, tablet or their phones,” Paul says.

“The spectators include experienced supporters of eventing, but we also aim to attract new fans as well to our exciting sport. I’ve already been working all this season part-time on this, coordinating the work of the many different sub-contractors, and finding new ways to present the ERM series.”

Paul says that we as sports consumers are lucky to have so many tools at our disposal. “There’s livestream TV broadcast across a range of platforms; unique computer graphics which can be integrated to the TV; on-site digital scoring; the list of possibilities is endless. There are so many innovations that we can bring to the way we present eventing.

“This year, combining this work with a full professional riding career, competing a large string of talented horses, has been very tough for me. The ERM series has such potential for the sport that I took the decision to focus on that, retain four top-class horses in competition, and retire from elite professional eventing.”

Tappers says the ERM hopes to expand across Europe. Photo by WOW Saddles

Tappers says the ERM hopes to expand across Europe. Photo by WOW Saddles

The ERM has captured the imagination of British eventing fans. But why is the series so different, popular and successful? “Of course the prize money is a big incentive to get riders and owners involved. Some eventing venues or competitions are renowned for looking after sponsors particularly well, or riders; but there has never been a series before the ERM that sets out to ensure that all parties have a great experience — riders, owners, sponsors, spectators, everyone,” Paul explains.

“And there are so many future opportunities. We are hoping to expand the ERM concept to Europe, and possibly increase the number of legs. The possibilities are very exciting.”

When asked what has been the highlight of his eventing career, Paul says that it has been winning Badminton. “It’s still the ‘blue riband’ event of our sport. But I have to say that winning at any level which shows the progress of a particular horse is always a huge buzz. Especially when those wins come at three-star, like Tattersalls this year.” (Paul won the CCI3* on Prince Mayo, adding nothing to his dressage score.)

In terms of which horses Paul will be retaining for 2017, and in what events he will be campaigning them, Tappers says he intends to have a string of up to four to compete in 2017; all established top horses aiming at three-star and four-star competitions. The core of the team will be Bonza King of Rouges, Prince Mayo and Yogi Bear VIII.

“It won’t be possible for me to compete in the ERM, but I’m looking forward to campaigning these lovely horses,” he says. “I’m not going to be competing at elite professional level any more, but I will be an elite-level amateur.”

Paul will continue to be sponsored by WOW Saddles. “I’m very proud to be sponsored by WOW – their saddles are a massive part of my achievements as a rider.”

Best of luck to Paul in this next chapter of his life. Go Eventing!

Eventing, Polo and the Fight for Inclusion in the Olympic Games

There’s been much talk about the future of eventing’s inclusion in the Olympics. For now, we are safe. But as of 2020, all sporting disciplines are said to be ‘up for review’ after each Olympics; new sports could be included or others dropped by a simple majority vote. We can see in very recent years that changes are afoot, with baseball and softball being removed in 2012 for just one Olympic cycle, and rugby 7s and golf joining the Olympic club in 2016.

The Federation of International Polo (FIP) is incredibly committed to getting its sport included in future Olympics. (Reining and Endurance fans would also love to see their equestrian sports included, although the disciplines were not long-listed for 2020.)

Polo pre-dates all other equestrian sports and covets Olympic inclusion. Photo by Kathy Carter.

Polo pre-dates all other equestrian sports and covets Olympic inclusion. Photo by Kathy Carter.

In 2015, polo was one of 26 sports long-listed for inclusion in 2020, according to its own members’ newsletter – Dr. Richard T. Caleel, of the FIP Executive Committee, said that the long-listing: “Is a significant step forwards in our efforts to introduce polo into the Olympic Games.”

However, at a recent meeting of the Tokyo 2020 Additional Events Programme Panel, the sport of polo was denied the chance to compete in Tokyo in 2020, when five other sports were chosen. They are baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing. (Interestingly, the five new 2020 additions for Tokyo are not ‘binding’ for future Olympic integration, but could gain longer term inclusion down the line, says Forbes.)

The polo fans want this inclusion badly, after an 80-year hiatus — the sport was played in the Olympics in 1900, 1908, 1920, 1924 and 1936. Incidentally, polo was a demonstration sport at Deauville at the World Equestrian Games in 2014, and was reportedly a sell-out.

For background information, it is a wonder polo is not currently included at the Games, as it has an impressive heritage as an equestrian sport that pre-dates all others; and in fact pre-dates just about all recorded team sports, in any discipline!

It originated in Persia as the Iranian royalty’s cavalry training, and as mounted armies began to travel the world, polo was adopted as a pastime by kings, sultans and emperors. British officers went on to introduce a faster-paced version of the game to UK soil, having witnessed it in India in around 1869; Polo is now played in more than 60 countries worldwide. (Of course, changes would be required to create a suitable Olympic polo format.)

The author rocking the 'anxious beginner' look on the polo field. Photo by Kathy Carter

The author of this article (left) rocking the ‘anxious beginner’ look on the polo field. Photo by Kathy Carter.

Exceptional Circumstances

We all know that equestrian fans have been concerned about maintaining our discipline’s inclusion in the Games. Historically, there do need to be ‘exceptional circumstances’ for a core discipline to be released from the Olympic program, but that does include significant drops in popularity.

Methods of application for Olympic inclusion are for a sport’s international federation to petition the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and for local organizing committees to push favored sports in their own country. The IOC has a keen eye on the ‘younger market’ — a good example is the success of snowboarding being included as a winter Olympic sport in 1998. Polo will undoubtedly keep up the pace of its campaigning for 2024 inclusion.

Take Sport to the Youth

The IOC’s President Thomas Bach said in a news release about the new sports’ Olympic inclusion that the committee wants to ‘take sport to the youth’. “We cannot expect that they [the youth] will come automatically to us [to the Olympics]. The five [new] sports are an innovative combination of established and emerging, youth-focused events that are popular in Japan.”

With Los Angeles, Rome, Paris, Budapest and Hamburg on the shortlist for 2024 hosting duties, with a winner being selected in 2017, any sport seeking inclusion may have to capitalise on its affinity with the host nation. When quoted in 2015, at the time of polo’s initial Olympic application, Dr. Richard T. Caleel of the FIP Executive Committee sagely foresaw that: “When the Olympics are scheduled in a country that has an active Polo Federation, we will have a much stronger opportunity to be included as an additional sport in those Olympic Games.”

Awareness and support for eventing was extensive for Rio. Phot by Kathy Carter

Awareness and support for eventing was extensive for Rio. Photo by Kathy Carter

Sports seeking inclusion for each Games will also have to drum up enthusiasm with whomever the ‘youth of the day’ is by that time. For eventing, that is likely to be the teams and connections currently contesting events such as the European Championships for Young Riders, Juniors and Children.

Awareness and support for eventing was extensive for Rio. (Interestingly, a report of ‘social influencers’ of the #twohearts hashtag, which includes influencers such as the FEI, the UK’s Horse and Hound magazine and British Eventing, showed that Australian rapper Iggy Azalea was the biggest influencer of the horsey hashtag, having shown her support on Twitter for equestrian events.)

Iggy Azalea was the biggest influencer of the hashtag #twohearts. Image source: Twitter

Fortunately, eventing seems set to remain in the Games for the time being. Equestrian sport is one of the 25 core sports recommended for inclusion in the 2020 Games; the FEI has stated that the main equestrian site in 2020 will be at Baji Koen, which hosted the Tokyo 1964 Olympic equestrian events, and that the Games will include dressage, jumping and eventing.

So, eventing enthusiasts have every reason to be positive. But we will need to keep on our toes, as other sporting disciplines will be continually chasing our heels for Olympic inclusion.

Go Eventing.

Harry Meade: ‘My Groom Jess Is Far Too Valuable To Be Riding Horses’

Kicking off our new ‘Coffee Break’ series of interviews, elite eventing groom Jess Errington gives us a sneaky peek into life as British eventer Harry Meade’s Head Girl.

“It’s an amazing job,” says Jess Errington, as well she might. Working for one of Britain’s top event riders, Harry Meade, also the title holder of Probably The Nicest Man In British Eventing, Jess is in the enviable position of being Harry’s right-hand woman.

Harry, notably the son of the late, great Olympic eventing gold medallist Richard Meade, was the youngest rider to win the Armada dish for five Badminton Horse Trials completions, and has completed Badminton nine times. He has an impressive string of horses at his Gloucestershire yard across the levels, with recent successes including first and fourth place at the two star Millstreet Horse Trials in Ireland, riding Vrolijk and Tenareze respectively.

Jess Errington attends to Away Cruising, with Harry Meade standing. Photo by Rosie Meade.

Jess Errington attends to Away Cruising, with Harry Meade standing. Photo by Rosie Meade.

“We were all thrilled…”

Jess recently returned home from the UK’s Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials and is full of praise for Away Cruising, the 9-year-old that has stepped up to three-star level this year. Harry and ‘Spot’ placed 22nd after a sterling performance at the iconic Oxfordshire event. The pair also placed 19th at Bramham International and 21st at Chatsworth International, both British three-stars, earlier this year, and are showing great, consistent form.

“We were delighted with Spot at Blenheim,” Jess says of the horse that was named by his owner Charlotte Opperman when he had a few spots on his grey coat as a 4-year-old. “Harry did a very nice dressage test and got the mark he expected, and then did a great cross country round. The show jumping isn’t Spot’s best discipline, but he tries so hard, and we were all thrilled. The horse’s show jumping is really coming along, and we have high hopes for next year.”

Jess Errington and Spot at Blenheim. Photo by Rosie Meade.

Jess Errington and Spot at Blenheim. Photo by Rosie Meade.

With Osberton Horse Trials finishing the season off shortly, and the team currently at Gatcombe Horse Trials with an astounding ten horses, Jess certainly has her work cut out in terms of organisation and preparation! “It is just myself and one other person grooming at Gatcombe, and Harry’s work rider will also ride a couple of the horses that we’ve taken,” Jess says.

With 20 horses at the yard and around ten being Harry’s own string of promising eventers, life is certainly busy. The top horses are Away Cruising (12), Orlando (15), Tenareze (9), Vrolijk (14), and the seven and six year olds, Catherston Definitive and Cavalier Crystal, who have both contested one-stars this year.

“Being a groom is the next best thing to being a top rider…”

Jess has been working for Harry since the rider was 24 and starting out himself. “I always wanted to be a groom, but lacked some confidence in my abilities when I was younger. I went through the UK college system, and undertook six weeks’ work experience each with show jumper Tim Stockdale and eventer Jeanette Brakewell,” she said. “I enjoyed both stints, but realised eventing was for me. I joined Harry’s yard in 2008, initially as a working pupil, and have stayed ever since. Once I knew I would never be a top level rider, this was the next best thing.”


Away Cruising, the grey pictured above, and the bay Tenareze pictured here, are Jess’s favourites at Harry’s yard. Photo by www.hannahfreelandphotography.co.uk

Jess admits she ‘doesn’t ride much’, saying that her skills on the ground are much better. “I let other people ride, as I know my strengths,” she says. “Harry jokes that I am far too valuable to be riding horses anyway.”

Saying that while she’s fond of all the horses at the yard, Away Cruising and Tenareze are her favourites, Jess adds that she loves to see the horses progress and be expertly produced through the ranks by Harry, from youngsters to successful advanced horses.

Harry is genuinely highly regarded within the eventing community for his sympathetic riding, family values and polite and charming nature. “He’s great to work for, and has a loving family,” Jess says of her boss’s wife Rosie, and young children Lily and Charlie. “It is jolly hard work here but I love it; I am committed to Harry and the horses, and believe it to be an amazing job. I am so lucky.”

A catastrophic fall

Harry needed all the support he could get back in 2013, when a rotational fall at the UK’s Wellington Horse Trials caused his elbows to catastrophically shatter and dislocate. Despite being told he may never ride again, Harry went on to claim third at Badminton in the four-star nine months later with the now-sadly-missed Wild Lone.

“I am quite a calm person, so the enormity of it all didn’t really hit me until we got home from Hampshire after the fall,” Jess tells EN, of the accident. “My priority was the horses, and keeping everything going for Harry. We had a great team, and I just stayed dedicated and loyal, so everything would be OK if and when Harry was able to return to competition. The worst part was not knowing.”

Jess Errington says her boss Harry Meade is "A lovely person and a wonderful rider.” Photo by Rosie Meade.

Jess Errington says her boss Harry Meade is “A lovely person and a wonderful rider.” Photo by Rosie Meade.

Harry went onto have an amazing recovery. “He’s so determined,” Jess adds. “Harry deserves it, as he’s such a lovely person and a wonderful rider.”

Jess, a member of the British Grooms Association, which offers support to UK-based grooms and British grooms who work abroad, has travelled extensively with Harry, including to the 2014 World Championships in France where Harry was part of the silver medal winning British team. However, she cites Aachen and Badminton as her favourite horse trials events. “Aachen has amazing facilities and Badminton, aside from being close to us, holds such special memories, with Harry’s comeback there in 2014.”

Plans for 2017 include giving the young horses more experience at their respective levels, and contesting some big three-stars with Orlando and Away Cruising. “We just like to keep progressing the horses at their own pace with some confident runs,” Jess adds. “We take each week and month as it comes, and can’t wait to showcase the current string to their lovely owners and Harry’s loyal fans.”

News from Across the Pond: Close To $10,000 Raised At Launch, As ‘Middle Aged, Wimpy Riders’ Encouraged to Take Up the Reins

Columnist Kathy Carter shares the latest equestrian news from British shores. This week she reports on The Wobbleberry Challenge, an initiative for ‘middle aged, wimpy riders’ to go eventing in memory of the late Hannah Francis.

The Wobbleberries Challenge logo

The Wobbleberries Challenge logo. Illustration by Ian and Sally Barr.

Brit Sally Barr, a self-confessed ‘wimpy weekend rider,’ recently set up an innovative project that has taken the world of eventing by storm. In memory of the late event rider Hannah Francis, and to raise funds for Hannah’s charity Willberry Wonder Pony, The Wobbleberries Challenge was born. “I have never evented, but got my eventing fix by being an owner in a syndicate, and also through spectating,” Sally says by way of introduction.

Photo by Hannah's charity, Willberry Wonder Pony.

Illustration courtesy of Hannah’s charity, Willberry Wonder Pony.

She came up with the idea of challenging herself to get fit in order to compete in a British Eventing (BE) 80cm event, to raise funds for Hannah’s charity. “The response has been overwhelming,” Sally tells EN. “We have had so many offers of help and support from the equestrian community.”

Sally’s co-organiser Georgie Horrell suggested the group name “The Wobbleberries,” and after approval from the Trustees of Hannah’s charity, the Facebook group The Wobbleberries Challenge was launched.

“It is for middle aged, wimpy riders who have been inspired by Hannah Francis to start eventing,” Sally says. “Hannah inspired thousands of people that she never met, and achieved so much in her tragically short life. We want to raise money for Willberry Wonder Pony and challenge ourselves to compete in the sport that Hannah loved.”

“The exact challenge is to compete at a British Eventing 80 event in the autumn of 2017. To get there will require lots of other challenges along the way, for many people — such as getting fit, losing weight, conquering nerves, training hard and learning the skills necessary to be able to compete safely. So for anyone who’s interested, if you are 25 or over, have access to a horse that is capable of completing a BE80, and are committed to training hard and raising lots of money, please download and return our Expression Of Interest form — British riders ideally needs to do this by Friday 16th September, so we can collate the details!”

Sally and the team are also looking for people who can assist with offering training facilities and clinics, and perhaps support for The Wobbleberries with training videos and online mentoring. “We want to build a really supportive community of people inspired by Hannah to come together,” she adds.

International Wobbleberries Unite

There are already like-minded people setting up a similar challenge in Canada, and Sally says she’d be delighted if an enterprising rider or organiser in the USA would follow suit. “Email me at [email protected] if you can assist in any way,” Sally excitedly tells EN.

"We want to build a really supportive community of people inspired by Hannah."

“We want to build a really supportive community of people inspired by Hannah.” Photo by Ian & Sally Barr.

Anyone wishing to support the charity can also become ‘Friends of Willberry’ — click the link for info. Sally concludes, “It would be great if in a year’s time, so many people could say that Hannah inspired them to do much more with their horses than they had thought possible.”

We will be following the progress of some Wobbleberries throughout the season as they prepare for their challenge, so do watch this space.

Author’s update: As of nineteeth September 2016, Sally Barr tells us that the Wobbleberries Challenge had already raised close to $10,000 when the deadline for entrants closed. All funds raised will go towards bone cancer research and granting horsey wishes to those with serious illnesses. Sally Barr tells EN: “The Challenge has now attracted interest from as far afield as Australia, Canada and the USA as well as Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Isle of Wight, and the group include people from all walks of life including an airline pilot, midwife, zoologist, doctor, a number of police officers, gardeners, electricians and a married couple with a combined age of 126!”

Go Eventing and Go Wobbleberries!


Do We Sometimes Forget to Just Have FUN with Our Horses?

Sun plus horse equals mucky fun! Photos by Kathy  Carter. Sun plus horse equals mucky fun! Photos by Kathy Carter.

It was a busy Thursday for me, with writing commitments and a very small horsey window before collecting my son from pre-school. I headed up to the stables — a term I regularly use, although more often than not I am just going to my horse Badger’s field, which is currently a 10-minute walk from the yard itself — and noted that my time window was laughably small.

My saddle and my bareback pad, which I sometimes use for short hacks around the fields when I don’t have my tack with me, were both at the yard itself. I cursed. It was a beautiful day — the clouds white and fluffy, the ground cover nice and springy, and the sun at just the right temperature. Sod it, I will go bareback, I thought.

This is something I haven’t done for … actually I can’t remember the last time I went for a bareback blast. I have never done it with Badger (getting on him is a mission!) and with my last whizzy horse, it was probably suicidal. Maybe the last time was in my teens?

Anyway, I scrambled on from my mounting block feeling mightily pleased that Badger hadn’t barged off to eat a hedge and dropped me in it, and we set off across the fields and tracks surrounding his field. My sedate walk turned into a wonderful exhilarating fast canter — a long, ascending grassy track, a keen horse and a relaxed rider — what’s not to like? And I laughed out loud from the fun of it. THIS is what riding is about. Maybe we forget about the unadulterated joy of it, when we are focused on shows, events, PBs and flatwork?

My husband later stared incredulously. “You galloped up a hill without a saddle? But you were scared $hitless to sit on the back of my motorbike?” It’s true, he’d bought a new motorbike recently and having convinced me to ride pillion, was bemused when I took my helmet off with tears in my eyes because I had found the experience of leaning with the bike at seemingly fast speeds immensely scary and panic-inducing. Ah well, it’s horses for courses, I proposed.

The next issue to contend with was the horse hair-covered legs ahead of the pre-school collection; but I’m hardly the most fashion conscious Mum at the gates. Hubbie wasn’t phased by my inappropriateness. He is still aghast at me calling the svelte and gorgeous Imogen Mercer, whom I interviewed, ‘Burly.’

‘No. BURGHLEY groom!’ I keep hissing.

The Science Bit: Equine Health Notes from Around the World

Kathy Carter brings us a roundup of new developments in veterinary, nutrition and sports science. This week she examines injury rates, deep littered straw, equine life spans, traumatic injuries caused by transport and the Unwanted Horse Coalition’s “Operation Gelding.”

Horse transport and traumatic injuries

A brand new Australian study in a peer-reviewed open-access journal sought to determine associations between horse transport and injuries and found that traumatic injuries were the most common transport-related problem.

Other notes from the study: Younger care-givers (<40 years old) caring for large numbers of horses (>30 in a week) were more likely to report transport-related injuries. Injury risk was also linked to the use of tranquilizers prior to transport and checking horses after journeys. Diarrhea and heat stroke were reported more by amateur than professional horse carers. An increased risk of heat stroke was linked to the restriction of hay and water prior to transportation. Muscular problems appeared to be exacerbated when horse health was not assessed before the journey, whilst the risk of laminitis was three fold greater when post-transport recovery strategies were not applied.

While this was just a localised, specific study, it does emphasise the importance of management practices in safe equine transportation, and the employment of experienced, well-trained grooms.

Management practices are key in the safe transportation of horses. Photo by Kathy Carter.

Management practices are key in the safe transportation of horses. Photo by Kathy Carter.

Injury rates examined

Young horse competitions may have their detractors; however, in some equestrian disciplines, this could increase competitive longevity.

The Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, held in June 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky, used Equine Injury Database data. Speaker Tim Parkin, an epidemiologist from the University of Glasgow’s School of Veterinary Medicine, proposed in his presentation that racing horses at a young age notably reduced the chance of fatal injury or fracture.

“The number of starts by 2-year-olds increased [at the same time] as fatality rates dropped,” Mr. Parkin reported. “In addition, a lower risk of fatal injury was found with horses that stay longer with the same trainer, have more time off between races and race further than six furlongs.”

He noted that surface conditions played a part: “If traction is limited, then so is balance.”

While of course this refers to Thoroughbred racing and there were no specific conclusions as to why racing horses at a young age reduced long-term injury rates, there could be factors relevant to eventing — notably staying with the same trainer, having appropriate lengths of time off between competitions and training and riding on suitable surfaces.

Can horse sport learn anything from research into racehorse risk factors for injury? Photo by Kathy Carter.

Can horse sport learn anything from research into racehorse risk factors for injury? Photo by Kathy Carter.

 NO to deep littered straw

A study published in the excitingly-named “Parasites and Vectors,” an open-access journal, has found that wet straw bedding allows small redworm to proliferate. Researchers reported that: “No infective larvae were recovered from any of the plots containing dry straw. However, infective cyathostomine larvae were first detected on day eight from plots containing moist straw, and were detected in 18 of the 24 samples.”

“The level of larval infectivity generally increased from week to week, except when the straw bedding was removed and replaced.”

The learning outcome? Deep littered straw beds are a ‘no-no,’ in terms of preventing parasitic infestation.

Healthier aternatives to straw are widely available. Photo by Kathy Carter.

Healthier aternatives to straw are widely available. Photo by Kathy Carter.

Horses are living longer, with more ‘co-occurring’ diseases

In a new study, the University of Glasgow’s School of Veterinary Medicine has reported that as horses are aging, the number of them suffering from multiple chronic conditions is also going up. The large-scale analysis of horse health found that the average age of horses in the UK appears to be on the increase.

The study is the first large-scale analysis of horse health in the UK and probably represents similar situations world-wide in communities of horses managed similarly to Great Britain. The researchers found that ‘co-occurrences’ of multiple diseases are common, notably laminitis, PPID (Equine Cushing’s Disease), neoplasia (growths and tumours) and osteoarthritis.

Life expectancy continues to increase for horses born more recently, surely a reflection of veterinary developments and preventative measures by owners? Researchers hope that the studies will help vets and owners ‘formulate appropriate management strategies.’

Horses are living longer. Photo by the UK's Veteran Horse Society.

Horses are living longer. Photo by the UK’s Veteran Horse Society.

Funding for gelding clinics increases

America’s Unwanted Horse Coalition is increasing funding — the ‘Operation Gelding’ program will fund clinics to the tune of $100 per horse gelded and will also offer a voucher option from 2017, aiming to reduce the number of unwanted horses.

If you have an interesting veterinary story or case study to share, tweet the author @kathysirenia.

Sam Griffiths’ Super Groom Imogen Mercer Reveals All About That Broken Stirrup at Burghley

Aussie eventer Sam griffiths with Head Girl Imogen Mercer, pictured after winning Badminton 2014. Credit Imogen Mercer.

Aussie eventer Sam Griffiths with head girl Imogen Mercer, pictured after winning Badminton 2014. Photo by Imogen Mercer.

There was much to celebrate at Team Griffiths’ UK-based yard after Chris Burton won the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, as Australian team-mates Sam Griffiths and Chris Burton are great friends; as are the riders’ grooms, Imogen and Jade. “We are all so thrilled,” Imogen Mercer told EN. “Chris’ was an amazing performance — really stunning and we are all very pleased for the Australian team.”

It has certainly been a thrilling weekend for all of the riders’ connections and fans. We all know how excruciatingly nail biting it is watching cross country from the comfort of our own armchairs — but imagine if you are the groom of an elite rider, seeing glimpses on a big screen or catching the commentator’s words as you race to the finish line, bucket in hand.

It was a day of mixed emotions for the Australian riders at Burghley Horse Trials. Victor Chris Burton has undoubtedly been celebrating after a nail biting show jumping round, however some of his compatriots had worse luck. Shane Rose had issues aboard Shanghai Joe at the Road to Rio double and Cross Rails, while Sonja Johnson and Paul Tapner, riding Parkiarrup Illicit Liaison and Up In The Air respectively, had falls.

A freak incident

But as Imogen Mercer explains, fellow Aussie Sam Griffiths had one of the unluckiest occurrences ahead of the fourth fence, when his stirrup iron broke aboard Happy Times. “The whole foot-bar sheared off,” recalls Imogen, who is Sam’s head girl. “They are aluminium stirrups, and it snapped off on the turn to the Lion Bridge.”

Sam casually continued, successfully tackling a further ‘five or six fences,’ including two water jumps, as he adjusted his leathers down with one hand, so he could put his foot in the leather loop.

“This was working, but the iron was hitting Happy on the shoulder excessively, so Sam pulled up,” Imogen ruefully explains. “You can’t explain it, and you can’t blame anyone — it is just bad luck. The same happened to Dan Jocelyn in the warm up, with a completely different brand of stirrup.”

Burghley is renowned as being a challenging cross country course, and 2016 was certainly no exception, reportedly the hardest in over a decade. “Sam agreed that it was tough, and a touch harder than in previous years,” Imogen tells us. “It is due to the venue’s undulations and hills, which really take it out of the horses.”

A wonderful experience

Burghley comes just a short time after the Rio Olympics, Imogen’s first Games. So how did she find the event?

“I can’t speak highly enough of the organisation at Rio. It was so well organised and the facilities were amazing,” she continues. “The horses needed for nothing, there were beautiful stables and everything was second to none. The air transport was also great, and the horses all travelled so well. I had been to WEG, but this was my first Games, and it was a wonderful experience — especially as Sam achieved a team bronze medal and an individual fourth placing!”

Sam Griffiths' team bronze medal from Rio 2016. Credit Griffiths Eventing Team

Sam Griffiths’ team bronze medal from Rio 2016. Photo courtesy of Imogen Mercer.

Imogen had extensive hands-on experience when she took the job with Sam six seasons ago having finished her A-levels, close to the city of Bath, in the UK.

“I hadn’t gone to university or college to study, but nowadays there are so many equestrian courses available that don’t necessarily lead you into a job,” she tells EN. “I had worked at yards and had proper experience of yard work ahead of Sam’s, and I started off there as a working pupil — with a huge amount of support from Sam and his wife Lucy, I progressed to head girl. I actually initially came with my own horse to event and compete that had taken me up to Intermediate level; however, at around the time I moved to Sam’s, I got a new horse.”

Sam now events the horse in question, Imogen’s 11-year-old mare Gurtera Cher, contesting events including Barbury and Bicton Arena International Horse Trials this year at two star level, with 10th at Rockingham International a personal best for the pair. With another two star planned for the end of the season, Imogen is looking forward to the combination doing well.

Team Griffiths

The Griffiths Eventing Team has 20 horses at its UK base in Dorset — around 15 are campaigned and competed, with the rest making up the staff’s horses and some schoolmasters for Sam’s coaching clients.

Imogen says her second in command, groom Line Andressen, is a godsend. “I couldn’t be without her,” Imogen tells us.

As the travelling groom, Imogen is away at national shows every weekend in the season, and at key international events in May and June and Sept and October. “Sam’s wife Lucy, who evented at three star level herself, rides too and helps with the business, which includes coaching and some producing, and we have three other grooms based at the yard,” Imogen says.

When travelling, Imogen sleeps in the lorry, pictured below, in a ‘cubby hole,’ which is a comfortable pod above the washroom that’s accessible from the horses’ area as well as the living. She was fortunate enough to take her HGV test for the lorry as part of the UK’s WTTL transport training and driver development scheme.

“I trained over 10 months to achieve my Driver CPC and HGV,” she tells us. Imogen is also a member of the British Grooms Association, which offers support and promotes professionalism and horsemanship across the industry, welcoming all UK-based grooms to its membership, as well as British grooms who work abroad.

When asked what are her ‘couldn’t live without’ items, Imogen says her favourite quarter marker brush and black grooming trolley box are strictly off limits to anyone else. “They all know not to go in there,” she says, poker faced.

Imogen sounds super efficient; however, she cites the facilities and lorry as being key to her organisation. “We are lucky with our lorry, built by Empire Coach Builders, as there is a place for everything — the kit stays there all of the time, apart from a few smart rugs for the big shows — it’s pretty much always packed,” she says.

Sam's lorry has a place for everything. Photo by http://www.empirecoachbuilders.com

Sam’s lorry has a place for everything. Photo via Empire Coach Builders.

With Blenheim, Gatcombe and Osberton horse trials around the corner, as well as Boekelo in the Netherlands, this is Team Griffiths’ home stretch ahead of Christmas.

“The horses go out in October, and some go back to their owners for a holiday, leaving just four or five in work,” Imogen tells us. “I am so lucky, as this allows me to have time off in November and December. I come back just after Christmas, and Lucy and Sam make sure the staff get good time off at Christmas too. It allows the Griffiths to have some family time together, and Lucy’s parents are planning to join them for a family Christmas, which will be lovely for them.”

With that, Imogen heads back to the yard for a post-Burghley rest, ahead of Blenheim, where Sam is campaigning On The Brash — and here’s hoping that Sam has much better luck in the stirrup department for the rest of the season!

Go Eventing!

Hello From Across the Pond

News from 2016 EN Blogger Contest winner Kathy Carter, who's unashamedly over-horsed.

So, I am thrilled to have been chosen as the 2016 Blogging Contest winner for EN, thank you, readers and Chinchillas! All of the contestants were amazing, and I very much enjoyed reading their posts. I will be posting regularly from now on, and look forward to sharing with you news, reviews, interviews, reportages, features and chat.

Currently over the pond in the UK, it’s the end of what’s been a lovely Indian summer — and we have some fabulous events coming up, including Burghley, Blenheim and Gatcombe. Being situated in what is a beautiful part of the UK, but is also, geographically speaking, in the Arse End of Nowhere, the South East of England International is probably my nearest large forthcoming event, with a CIC**.

My horse is Badger, a 10-year-old Irish Sports Horse. I’m admittedly over-horsed. I had him shipped over from Ireland, having ridden him and had a fleeting holiday romance with him, and when my 15.2-hand Connemara type stepped off the lorry, I swear I almost fell over. An almighty, 16.2-hand gangly 5-year-old beast stumbled off, and proceeded to keep growing in all directions. A classic case of being blinded by love.

Anyway, my instructor says he’s a bit of a bully — he isn’t strong in a pulling sense, but uses his bulk to his advantage. He’s very clumsy, electrocuting his ears on a piece of electric string fencing (unseen by both of us) earlier this year, and helpfully landing on my toes.

We do a bit of everything, but we are both lazy in the arena, and I seem to take every opportunity to practise my free walk! He’s by a leading jumping stallion, the same as GB rider Tina Cook’s late eventer De Novo News, and has the same strong facial features as Herman (as in Munster, named because, as Tina told me, her beloved horse had a ‘big ugly head’ when he was young.)

I have designs on the Kent & Masters Arena Eventing Series in 2016, as well as some Autumn Drag Hunting. Badger had a serious illness, which I will undoubtedly write about as it is interesting, over 2015-2016, and we are taking each season as it comes, and just having some fun.

So I look forward to sharing my writing with you — if there’s a UK event or ‘happening’ that you’d like to hear more about, a rider of any nationality that you’d like me to get down and dirty with, in the journalistic sense, or a Big Issue you want to hear about, let me know in the comments, or Tweet me @kathysirenia. Go Eventing!


The Armchair Olympics: Commentator Bingo, Olympic Lingo, Jung Nailed It by Jingo

Editor’s note: The finalists in the 6th annual EN Blogger Contest were asked to write a post-Olympic piece as their final entry, and now we are publishing each of their articles on the homepage before opening up voting for the winner. Thanks as always for reading, and please leave feedback in the comments section.

As every armchair horse trials enthusiast knows, when championship-level eventing is on, you need to hunker down in front of the TV with a glass of something cheeky, any resident children ensconced in some dreadful pap-TV for the foreseeable future, and your phone (and partner) switched to silent.

Requiring more stamina than a House Of Cards box set watch-a-thon, the eventing element of the Olympic Games is also a zip code lottery — the availability of your coverage depends not only on what country you reside in, but also what cable channel you subscribe to. Fortunately, being based in the UK with the FreeSat satellite channel, I had access to the BBC’s excellent red button service, and settled down to watch the dressage with a suitable, cool beverage. However, as the tests went on, I unwisely thought it appropriate to invent a drinking game that sees the players Guess The Rider’s Penalty Score. My bold proposition was that for every penalty point you are out, rounded up of course, you take a drink.

'Guess The Rider’s Penalty Score' is sure to catch on. Photo courtesy of Kathy Carter.

‘Guess The Rider’s Penalty Score’ is sure to catch on. Photo courtesy of Kathy Carter.

This worked well with the lesh experienced ridersh who ended up in the late fiftiesh and early sixtiesh, but by the time the likesh of Ashtier Nicolash, Shandra Auffarth, Michael Jung and Chrish Burton had shmashed the dressidge with their penaltiesh in the region of the 40 mark, my fledgling dressidge officionado shtatus was demonstrably and laughably mishing in action. Ashz wosh a bottle of cheeky rosé. Ooopsh-Zzzzzzz.

I had however regained my sobriety for the cross country coverage and was marvelling at the commentary by the UK’s incomparable Mike Tucker and Ian Stark, and enjoying a game of Commentator Bingo. ‘He’s full of running’, ‘He knows his horse’ and ‘The horse ran out of petrol’ were sure to net me a full house on my bingo card, when Mike said: ‘It’s not looking so good for the Germans.’ What? How could this be? The cross country was proving to be incredibly influential, meaning this would be no ‘It was really just a dressage test’ event.

Commentator bingo threw up an interesting curveball. Photo courtesy of Kathy Clark.

Commentator bingo threw up an interesting curveball. Photo courtesy of Kathy Clark.

With a Pierre Michelet-designed course that gave the TV viewer travel sickness due to its twists and turns, let alone the competitors, and a very tricky final water complex with a freaky little toad that looked almost impossible to negotiate from the comfort of my sofa, it was exactly the sort of sporting spectacle you’d expect from an Olympic Games. “Sit up, sit up!” yelled my 3-year-old son sagely at Marcio Appel, as the Brazilian scrambled back into Iberon Jmen’s saddle — one of multiple unseatings or falls on the track.

The top 10 positions at the end of cross country day featured some of the most experienced riders across the globe, with the gold, silver and bronze spots staked by the only three riders to finish inside the tight cross-country time. The performance of underdogs Carlos Parro and Summon Up The Blood, who cruised into the top 10 from 16th, was a highlight, and Chris Burton and Santano II were spell-binding throughout. It had been a day of excitement, crushing blows and brave riding.

The two show jumping finales were similarly influential and gave us a true, edge-of- the-seat televisual treat, right up to the final rounds. Watching an emotional Karim Florent Laghouag in tears as the French were announced as the victorious team was wonderful; and Michael Jung’s broad smile as he nailed a faultless individual round was contagious. The final medal positions were richly deserved — this was after all one of the most challenging Games in recent memory — and it was wonderful to see so many enthusiastic spectators at the XC course, and also a convincing crowd in the SJ stands.

Join The Journey

While the armchair officionados were using the suitably trendy hashtags #JointheJourney and #TwoHearts to help show engagement for Olympic equestrianism (the TwoHearts hashtag was incidentally the most successful during the eventing segment, with over a thousand being tweeted per hour on cross country day), and doing their bit to support equestrian events ahead of the IOC’s appraisal of the appeal of individual sports, the FEI was enjoying one too many Caipirinhas, and showcasing what is surely the creepiest video ever produced. The ‘Hoofloose’ marketing video, a nightmarish, what-were-they-thinking, what-were-they-drinking affair, was launched as a tongue in cheek look at what horses dream about. But full marks for creativity, and the Monty Python team would probably approve.

To conclude, as the Games have progressed, we’ve had pre-Olympics doping scandals, national equestrian selection dramas that wouldn’t look out of place in a soap opera, and some triumph-over-tragedy personal sagas that have certainly warmed our hearts. (Which all makes the FEI’s lycra-clad, ballet dancing humans with horse heads seem like the most sane part of the spectacle!)

Will we still be here in 2020 to celebrate, commiserate and pontificate our sport’s recent Olympic performance? Rio has demonstrated that horses’ unpredictability massively impacts on medals, something that anti-equestrian observers would say is a good reason for us to go — but I for one sincerely hope that we stay in the Games.

Photo courtesy of Kathy Clark.

Photo courtesy of Kathy Clark.

Kathy Carter is an armchair eventing-enthusiast, Mum, business owner and writer. Based in the UK, she owns a talented Irish Sports Horse that is in recovery from a serious illness, and whose mission in life is seemingly to bankrupt his owner and eat her out of house and home. Kathy worked with horses as a riding instructor and groom in a former life, including grooming for a Dutch Olympic eventer, before seeing sense and pursuing a career in media. She has a penchant for post-child’s bedtime Merlot, and a ’70s soft rock habit.

[Kathy’s Round 2 Submission]

[Kathy’s Round 1 Submission]

The Olympics – Dedicated to Dollars, Not Gods?

Editor’s note: We announced the 6 Finalists in the 6th annual EN Blogger Contest on Friday, and now it's time for round 2! For this phase, we asked the ambitious crew to answer the following question: "As eventing faces the very real possibility of making further changes to the sport's format to align with the Olympic 2020 Agenda, many have questioned whether the sport should remain in the Olympics at all. In your opinion, what is the value of the Olympic stage in eventing?" Thanks as always for reading, and please leave feedback in the comments section.

Each British equestrian medal at 2012 was valued at around £2.6 million. Photo by Kathy Carter Each British equestrian medal at 2012 was valued at around £2.6 million. Photo by Kathy Carter

When asked to consider the value of the Olympic stage for the sport of eventing, I quickly got distracted. Is it more pertinent to ask what the value is of eventing to the Olympic Games? That question is almost impossible to answer, as data from international funding bodies isn’t available; although each British equestrian medal won at 2012 was valued at around £2.6 million (Source: UK Sport). Of the sixteen sports that ‘medalled’, equestrianism was the sixth best value, in terms of investment versus medals.

 So, we can safely say that the value of eventing to the Olympic Games is substantial.

But I digress! What’s the value of eventing being on the Olympic stage? Let’s examine the ramifications of the format changes that this behemoth brand has initiated.

While the Olympics are a majestic display of (so-called) amateur sporting excellence, in real terms, ‘The Games’ is a stonking great business, with dollar signs at its beating heart. Any changes that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) wants are undoubtedly financially influenced; Rio revenue is expected to exceed $6 billion. Each sport must ‘pay their way’ in terms of TV viewing figures etc, and may have to modernise to keep up with other sports.

(Originating in Ancient Greece, it is ironic that in the 21st century, the Games as a brand and institution is now valued at around $47.5 billion; that’s over one hundred times more than the assets of the National Bank of Greece! Source: CNN).

All Olympic sports are categorised by popularity; sadly, equestrianism languishes in the fourth of five categories, along with kayaking and handball. (Ever watched those? Nope, me neither). It is no surprise that the Games’ organisers are asking the world’s sporting bodies to engage audiences by tweaking formats and even names. (Would you watch the kayaking, if it changed its name to ‘Racing On Water On A Fibreglass Plank’? Or ‘Flinging Oneself Down A River Rapid’? It’s food for thought.)

Should we stay or should we go?

Some people are questioning whether eventing should remain in the Olympics. To paraphrase The Clash: Should we stay or should we go? There’s great value in being represented. But at what cost?

2.The Olympics is a valuable showcase. (Dirk Schrade is pictured).

The Olympics is a valuable showcase. (Dirk Schrade is pictured). Photo by Kathy Carter

Eventing has been set the task of attracting larger audiences, being more broadcast-friendly and seeing more nations represented. Reacting to threat of Olympic exclusion, the FEI Eventing Committee proposed suggestions including fielding three team riders with no drop score. A key component of the industry’s suggestions has been the idea of a CIC (e.g. with fewer obstacles on a shorter course than the CCI), and condensing the dressage phase to a single day, using a shorter test. There’s also the divisive suggestion of a name-change to ‘Equestrian Triathlon’.

But let’s just go back to the original question. Is there value in eventing staying within the Games? Well yes, of course. Here’s why:

  1. It provides exposure to the wider (non-equestrian) consumer audience. If more people take up the sport, that’s more money going into the equestrian economy.
  2. Olympic eventing (and all equestrian Olympic sports) often favours experience over youth. (Yes we are talking about you, Mary King, Andrew Nicholson, Mark Todd, et al.) We are the flag bearers of this uniqueness! (Even if some of our athletes look somewhat uncomfortable in their flammable, official Olympic tracksuits, and would prefer a smart blazer.)
  3. Good Olympic results mean funding for potential national squad members. This increases their exposure, expertise and experience, as well as their individual ‘value’ as a brand to potential sponsors and owners.
  4. Good Olympic results also mean greater exposure for the sport, and more event sponsorship. “This helps maintain the strength of the sport, and sustainability of events – no events, no sport,” says Mike Etherington-Smith, Chairman of the European Equestrian Federation’s Eventing Working Group. “It also contributes to national federation funding; vitally important.”
  5. Horse breeding and producing is an important part of the equestrian economy. The Olympics is a valuable showcase.

 Staying – at what cost?

But… at what cost do these benefits come? Is it worth staying in the Olympic club (or is it a cult, defined as: “A system of veneration and devotion…”) – if we have to change our beliefs and values? One challengingissue is that the IOC wants more nations to compete – and running three team riders could realise this. But what if less experienced combinations compete at Olympic level? Course designer Mike Etherington-Smith concedes the sport has to try to make the ‘more flags’ proposal work. “In our discipline, there is a risk factor which makes the challenge more difficult. The standard of athlete and horse must not be compromised, and no one wants to see the level of the competition reduced.”

3.If less experienced combinations compete at Olympic level, the standard must not be compromised.

If less experienced combinations compete at Olympic level, the standard must not be compromised. Photo by Kathy Carter

Vet Katie Brickman MRCVS of the UK’s Minster Equine Clinic, also an intermediate event rider, believes that dropping the fourth rider of an Olympic team opens up safety issues. “Having four members provides a slight ‘pressure reliever’, in the sense that as a rider, if you have the slightest concern for your horse, you can retire knowing your team is not out; removing the drop score eliminates this option, and may lead to some riders inadvisably pushing their horses on to the next stage to avoid team knockout.”

Mike Etherington-Smith says the standard of competition must not be lowered solely to allow for more flags. “Athletes and horses must continue to attain appropriate minimum eligibility requirements for championships, including the Olympics.”

 So, should we stay or should we go? Well, if we go, there will be trouble. And if we stay, it will be double. There’s value to our inclusion, so let’s stay, act upon the points made in the IOC’s Agenda 2020 document, and make some compromises in order to keep eventing in the high-value Olympic club.

Go Eventing!

Kathy’s Biography:

Kathy Carter is an armchair eventing-enthusiast, Mum, business owner and writer. Based in the UK, she owns a talented Irish Sports Horse that is in recovery from a serious illness, and whose mission in life is seemingly to bankrupt his owner and eat her out of house and home. Kathy worked with horses as a riding instructor and groom in a former life, including grooming for a Dutch Olympic eventer, before seeing sense and pursuing a career in media. She has a penchant for post-child’s bedtime Merlot, and a 70s soft rock habit.

[Kathy’s Round 1 Submission]


The Hole Truth

Editor’s note: We announced the 13 finalists in the 6th annual EN Blogger Contest last week, and now we’re bringing you their first round entries here on Bloggers Row. Each entry will be presented unedited for fairness’ sake. Thanks as always for reading, and please leave feedback in the comments section.

Photo via EN Archives

Photo via EN Archives

Has anyone noticed the big, Dumbo-esque elephant in the room lately? The Voldemort-style ‘we-don’t-speaketh-its-name’ issue?

Yes, I am talking about Key Hole fences, those spectator-friendly jumping challenges. These modern phenomena definitely provide ‘oohs’ and ahhs’ for the gathered spectators – whose dollars are often the lifeblood of an event – and may cause the rider standings to shift excitingly. British Vet Katie Brickman, also an intermediate eventer, concedes that Key Holes are ‘crowd pleasers’. “They are exciting and look different from other XC obstacles.”

While rotational horse falls have dropped by 57% in the past decade [source: FEI], it is difficult to pinpoint the causative effects of specific fences on safety on a large-scale or worldwide basis. In his 2014 presentation on risk factors for horse falls, part of the FEI’s Eventing Audit, while author Charles Barnett did not identify Key Holes as fences typically associated with falls, he did note that risk factors for rotational falls include riding a young (under seven) horse, hitting the fence on the accent, hitting the fence hard, and approaching too fast. Factors which, when combined with the visual challenges that Key Holes present to the horse, do make these serious bogey fences.

Asking fair questions

Course designer Mike Etherington-Smith is not a big fan of Key Holes. “The guidelines [height of the hole not less than 1.80m; width not less than 1.60m] are minimum dimensions. If Key Holes are used, they should have minimal top spread, should not be solid where the horses jump them, and in most instances, should definitely exceed the minimum diameter stipulation.”

Writing on EventingNation.com last year, American eventer Doug Payne, a pioneer for the open discussion of these jumping challenges, described the tendency of some horses to duck their head and trail their front ends. “When Key Holes are used as the first or middle part of a combination, course designers must be careful not to surprise horses.”

Eventer Katie Brickman says that the horse visually perceives the obstacle to negotiate as the lower part of the Key Hole. “This can cause problems, as initially, the horse is not able to visually perceive danger from above,” she says. “This can mean, particularly in younger horses, that they then over-jump the fence, forcing the rider up into the brush.” Katie’s viewpoint definitely ties in with the ‘young horse’ risk factor for rotational falls.

Risk factors

A key issue with these fences could also be the speed of the rider’s approach – with ‘approaching too fast’ a serious fall risk factor, a controlled approach, to allow the horse time to assess the question, is a necessity.

And furthermore, could these fences be riskier for (naturally taller) male competitors, who may have to take avoiding action to prevent re-enaction of ‘being dragged through a hedge backwards’? Doug Payne believes that if the Key Hole is not the last element in a combination, riders, in their efforts to steer, may make contact with the brush.

Katie Brickman agrees. “If the rider needs to prepare the horse for a further element, they need to sit up more. The potential for head and neck injury is a significant safety issue. I think Key Hole fences should be used as stand-alone obstacles, or as the last part of a combination,” she says.

So, while there’s no firm evidence linking Key Holes to eventing falls, surely it is time for more open debate between all parties to ensure that the elephant in the room doesn’t start marauding?

Guideline-makers, course designers, safety advisors — it’s over to you.