Who would bet against Tim or Jonelle Price being eventing world champion in two weeks’ time? What a superb Burghley for this hugely likeable pair. Tim may have been the winning jockey this time, but theirs is a true team effort, with a work ethic that is exemplary even by the high standards set by their fellow Kiwis.
And such a great story too: Jonelle and Tim are the first married couple ever to win Badminton and Burghley in the same year. (OK, Mark Phillips and Princess Anne did the same in 1971 – though before they tied the knot).
Priceless Pair Set for Tryon. The Price Is Right. What Price Tim and Jonelle in the Medals? Lots of cracking headline opportunities around which the FEI could have built a really upbeat pre-World Equestrian Games press release next day.
But no, nothing like this in my e-mailbox this morning to follow up the best equestrian news of the weekend. Instead, the FEI sent media a long and detailed write-up about the massive equine airlift currently underway (on an Emirates flight – who else?). I suppose that is of interest, though on the other hand how else are the majority of horses going to get to North Carolina – hot air balloon? Today’s effort from the Tryon press centre itself meanwhile was a listing of good folks who will speak on various niche subjects during the World Equine Expo, part of the non-competitive sporting program.
So once again, the FEI gives the impression of finding eventing a bit of a sideshow. That is also probably why you won’t be reading much about recent trials of the new three-rider Olympic team format, even when staged during the one eventing series the FEI does sort-of promote.
Maybe that’s just as well, though. The FEI did not think through the ramifications of reducing all equestrian teams from four riders to three with no drop-score in its haste to please the International Olympic Committee.
The FEI is now in such a pickle – this time regarding eventing – that we’ll have a team competition at Tokyo ten times harder to follow than the existing system. Yet without this new-fangled scoring, we could end up with insufficient teams to even occupy the podium. That excruciating scenario would usher eventing out of the Olympic program very quickly indeed – oh, the irony!
So far, two practical trials have taken place at FEI Nations Cups in Europe. Except there are still four riders, but the fourth is labelled “reserve” so he doesn’t really count. Though actually many reserves will count, and so far some reserves indeed contributed to team scores.
At the first live trial, Strzegom in Poland, an Austrian rider was eliminated from dressage for blood, but according to the final team results, earned a cross-country score. At least I think that was what happened in Strzegom – because we didn’t receive much of a de-brief about this not insignificant event.
The official results aren’t too illuminating. One of the seven teams – Britain – appears to have brought in the sub. Three other teams pressed on with their original trios even when variously listed as eliminated, retired or withdrawn. There is also something surely amiss with the adding up. Several teams have a final result in the hundreds when one of their “counting” riders has been docked 1,000 penalty points.
Millstreet in Ireland hosted the second trial a week ago – not quite as useful, because only Ireland, Britain and France took part.
Under the new system, the fourth team-member – sorry, reserve – can be substituted at any time, in return for another heavy penalty. In fact, the Irish pulled in their reserve right away because of a very late withdrawal, for a 100-penalty handicap, plus 20 added to the team cross-country score for the substitute rider – I think. Britain led after cross-country, but received extra penalties for substituting its reserve on the final day.
Aside from the scoring fiasco, the new rules also allow a rider to show jump the next day if they have fallen on cross-country, which goes against a time-honoured welfare rule. So while the rider would be shown as eliminated, they are still in for the purposes of cobbling up a team total: 200 penalties extra for that. Confused? Me too.
One small upside is that at Tokyo 2020, teams needing to take full advantage of the substitution opportunities should handicap themselves right out of the medals. Worryingly, though, there is still a chance of someone mounting the podium without having completed all three phases. I am also curious about rankings points and qualifications. Surely the Olympics cannot count if you cherry pick which bits you do?
The format is still being tweaked. I gather some team managers would prefer to see further live trials, especially at long-format. They’d also like more checks on horse and rider wellbeing throughout. Clearly the pressure will be intense to keep going when your head tells you to save your horse for another day.
The eventing Olympic format revision will change the character and point of a discipline that only exists to showcase the all-rounder. It always amazes me how, in the end, all equestrian sport knuckles under, in the face of irrational and unpopular change.
I am certain the folly of no drop-score was highlighted many times by stakeholders before being rubber-stamped by the FEI’s 132 member national federations – most of whom will never field a full team in Olympic-anything. But a lot of FEI hierarchy has never given the impression of being hugely interested in, or informed about, eventing. It would rather go to a five-star jumping show any day of the week and twice on Sundays.
Scorn would be heaped upon modern pentathlon if Eric Lamaze could pitch up and help out with the jumping, or if Michael Phelps offered his services in the swim but sat out the other four phases. That’s an extreme example – but in essence the principle is the same.
I hope this format doesn’t leech through to non-Olympic team championships, though there is a weary inevitability about it. Who’d want to be a selector, too?
Here are the various results for those trying to keep track:
Results on Strzegom Horse Trials website.
Results for Strzegom Horse Trials on FEI website.
Results on Millstreet International Horse Trials website.
Results for Millstreet International horse Trials on FEI website.