Barbury International No More: Unaffiliated Competition Dispute Sees BE and FEI Event Depart 2023 Calendar

Felicity Collins and RSH Contend OR jump through Barbury’s iconic Woodhenge fence. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Musketeer Event Management, the event organisation conglomerate responsible for a number of British Eventing’s most popular events, has today announced that it will not go ahead with its midsummer FEI fixture, Barbury International Horse Trials, in 2023. The decision was made as the result of recent restrictions placed upon venues by British Eventing, which limit fixtures hosting international classes from also hosting unaffiliated competition throughout the year in order to safeguard against unregulated competition.

Though Barbury has been a firm fixture within the British calendar since 2005, when it was awarded a CCI4*-S (then CIC3*) class in its first year of running. Since then, that class has remained its feature — and, for a few years, played host to an Event Rider Masters leg, too — and in 2019, Musketeer adopted it into its stable of competitions. In 2021, they added an unaffiliated fixture “to financially support the International fixture, which facilitates viability and continued investment in the wonderful site,” they write in a statement released today.

“MEM and BE sought to find a solution for alternative options, to ensure the viability of the International fixture at Barbury and, although BE offered the venue the opportunity to host a new GOBE fixture, no regular classes were permitted to run alongside,” continues the statement. “On review of entry levels for the events which hosted GOBE classes in 2022, it was determined that taking the risk of forfeiting three days of the Unaffiliated sport was too great. Consequently, in conjunction with Barbury Castle Estates, the decision was taken that the only financially viable option for the venue is to continue with the running of the Cotswold Cup fixture taking place over the weekend of 15th & 16th July.”

The cost of living crisis in Britain, and the rising cost of keeping horses, has seen a sharp uptick in participation in unaffiliated competition, which is often run over BE-approved courses at affiliated venues, but at a fraction of the cost. Series such as the Cotswold Cup aim to provide pathways and championships for those riders who want to continue with unaffiliated competition but still want access high-standard competition opportunities and exciting prize pots. Since its launch in 2021, the Cotswold Cup has offered a £10,000 prize pot at its Championship finale, making it grassroots eventing’s most significant payout.

“Barbury Castle Estate and Musketeer Event Management both remain completely committed to the continuation of International and grassroots Eventing at the venue, are extremely grateful for the support of all the sponsors and volunteers that add so much to the event and sincerely hope the International fixture will have the opportunity to return to this iconic venue in the future.”

“The decision by British Eventing to cancel the Barbury International Horse Trials is lamentable,” says Chris Woodhouse of Barbury Castle Estates. “Musketeer Event Management supported by the Estate have made a considerable investment over recent years to improve the event, support its financial viability during Covid and broaden the appeal to junior competitors. Insisting on affiliation of all events in order to boost the finances of British Eventing in a post Covid environment when competitors and the general public are struggling with the cost of living appears to me to be elitist and non-inclusive.”

British Eventing has also released a statement, which reads:

“The BE Board determined that, in light of the increased spotlight on equestrian sport’s social licence to operate, venues holding International fixtures in 2023 would be required not to hold unregulated competitions. As the National Governing Body for eventing in the UK, BE is committed to delivering a consistently regulated, safe, clean sport. BE has no jurisdiction over unregulated competitions, and cannot vouch for their compliance with FEI and BE requirements for sport; which have horse and rider welfare at their heart.

BE had hoped that Barbury would use the GO BE series to allow a wider group of competitors to access this iconic venue as part of the BE affiliated calendar; but regrettably the Organiser has opted not to.”

BE Chief Executive Helen West says, “As a National Governing Body for Olympic sport we need to set a standard. International events on home soil showcase the sport at its very best; providing a fair and level playing-field where safety, equine welfare, safeguarding and clean sport are mandatory. We feel that these standards should be upheld consistently by all those who are allocated international fixtures, therefore the decision was made by the BE Board that no international fixtures should be awarded to venues that run unregulated sport.”

Following the loss of Barbury, ordinarily held in the first week of July, there will now be a six-week gap between CCI4*-S classes in the UK in the middle of the season — but Barbury’s approximate date will be tendered to existing BE organisers in order to fill this gap.

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