Whatever the sport, whatever the level, accidents can unfortunately happen. But when blatant recklessness costs a rider the chance to jump cross-country at one of British eventing’s most prestigious competitions, it leaves a sour taste.
I know this to be painfully true, because my daughter was directly affected at the recent St James’ Place Wealth Management Barbury International Horse Trials. Now, before anyone starts to make sour grapes accusations in my direction, I say here and now that Barbury is one of the most attractive events knocking around, providing great sport, challenging courses and terrific facilities. So much so, that whether competing there or working on the media side, it is always a must-attend date, however busy the diary might be.
This time around, though, my feelings were compounded by acute frustration and extreme anger once I found out that my daughter’s top horse would be sidelined for a minimum of three weeks, which means a withdrawal from her next scheduled competition and leaves it 50-50 as to whether the one after that might need scrapping too.
All because a girl ran straight in front of a fence that my daughter and her horse were about to jump in the warm-up ring, causing a major fall. The girl ran off muttering some kind of meaningless apology while daughter and horse began untangling themselves from the poles, their CIC2* adventure over before it had barely started.
They went into the main arena, but after safely negotiating the first three obstacles, it was clear that a horse that has had just 10 fences down in 70 rounds of showjumping at British Eventing-sanctioned competitions was not right, and Barbury 2015 ended there and then.
All kinds of mishaps can take place in eventing, whether a one-day or three-day competition, a BE90 or a CCI4*, but it makes things so much harder to bear when something goes so wrong and it is just not your fault.
Warm-up rings have to be self-policing, especially when there are so many riders in there at one time. From my observations on that Saturday morning, most behaved immaculately, although a few were impatient and rude. Far more significantly, though, there were way too many people in there who should not have been.
A warm-up ring should be exactly that — riders, horses and a connection raising or lowering practice poles. No-one else should be in there, or, if they need to be, then they should at least have total awareness of what is going on around them at all times. We paid a very hefty price on this occasion for the careless behaviour of one girl.
Yes, it was unintentional, but that is simply not good enough when so much effort had been put in by rider and horse to prepare for this event, only to see those hours of honest endeavour evaporate during three seconds of mayhem.
We did not make an official complaint — we probably should have done, and many people advised us to do exactly that — but we could not have changed anything. The damage was done. It was not a pleasant experience, and even now, more than a week on, it still grates.
Physiotherapy bills — for horse and rider — have been received and paid, and fortunately, everyone is still in one piece, mentally and physically. It is far more difficult, though, to work out the cost to a young rider’s confidence and that of a richly-promising horse. Only time will tell.