A new year brings new opportunities and hopes for more challenges. With the Covid19 vaccination roll out underway there is considerable optimism for an exciting Spring and Summer of competition for the horse trials world. Lockdown 3 may have arrived to check such enthusism but we all keep our sights on our first BE Affiliated competition on 1/2 May at Frenchfield. Over 30 new portables are in production destined for the venue to provide it with its own infinitely flexible set of fences to give more variety for competitors. At the time of writing the very earliest of horse trials are gettting cancelled believing they will neither be allowed to run, be ready in time or be sufficiently well supported by fit and registered Members. Nevertheless, individual training at home as part of horse welfare and rider fitness allows those fortunate enough to have the facilities to make preparations. As we look ahead we can confirm that subject to signing Affiliation Agreements with British Eventing we will once again provide an event every month between May to September.
There was some concern in December at a proposed restoration of an event at Holker Hall in the South of Cumbria for an Area Festival for Northern and Scottish competitors but this was neither well thought out viable option nor was it going to be underwritten by an experienced BE team as per the BE criteria specifically required for such an event. The venue at Frickley Park has offered to host as many willing Area Festival entrants as possible in mid June. Another unfortunate occurance has been the resignation of Jude Matthews BE CEO announced on 6th Jan. This is symtomatic of poor leadership and direction ongoing at BE where a lack of pragmatism to the sport’s sustainability. More concerning is the conceit over grassroots participation which has seen the organisation enter a 6th year of financial losses and 25% decline in membership. The organisation now appears to have run onto the rocks and in considerable need of external support from Stakeholders, Members and the British Equestrian Family. We support rationalisation and aligment of the three founding sports national governing bodies.
We have decided to relaunch the Eventer Derby Trials for 2021 with 5 fixtures. These popular unaffiliated events will follow the BE events at Frenchfield and Warwick Hall and provide a fabulous opportunity to enjoy the show jumping and cross country tracks.
It appears the directors and executive of BE love nothing more than a few long running crises of their own making. They also seem to relish loads of pandemic Firefighting. And, they do a good job reassuring Members the organisation is a going concern when the facts suggest otherwise.
It’s been quite amusing over the past few years to see the Board revert to working parties, advisory groups and task force consultants trying to figure out what to do next all the while burning through the company’s reserves and making year on year losses since 2016.
The lack of any pragmatism to choose a different direction, let alone candour over numerous strategic errors, sees the organisation up the proverbial creek without a paddle, and with a big rock called ‘depreciation’ about to hit it broadside once the ‘EARS’ part of the ITT project starts being written off.
Loyal and interested members at once are bemused and frustrated over the wasted millions and progressive declining participation. In 2013 there were 90,000 entries and now just 65,000 are being forecasted for 2021 with Membership since 2019 taking a 15% direct hit.
The Boards infatuation with IT however may finally becoming to an end now local hero and saviour, Miranda Collett’s ESLive system looks set to rescue the impending disaster on behalf of organisers who cannot operate their events without a credible scoring and entry processing system. Three cheers for Miranda.
BE now finds itself a very poor cousin to BS and BD, having no substantial resources to take any innovative paths out of the pandemic. It may find the next generation of owners and riders looking elsewhere for competitive opportunities. With next to no events of its own, and less to offer advertisers given a fast declining active membership, its current business model looks seriously outdated. How on earth for example did it ever come to have 44 staff, now allegedly reduced to 29, except as a consequence of excess bureaucracy and gold plating. Its reliance on some £500k of annual legacy funding from Badminton and Burghley to prop up the coffers must be in doubt going forward especially given these great events will be reassessing their own financial models.
Even with radical surgery ripping out over a £1m of costs, Members will rightly ask what will be left for their benefit other than some unrealisable assets, a thick rule book and some highly experienced staff who must be feeling terribly let down. Meanwhile many Members save themselves hundreds of pounds every season by entering the ‘grey market’ in unaffiliated events, neatly provided by affiliated venues. If you’re not after points, qualifications or team selection, what’s not to like!
If substantial change is needed to re-float BE it will need new leadership and real collaboration with other BEF member bodies to achieve outcomes likely to give confidence over the security for the sport. It may even be time for the BEF to get a grip of the impending disaster.
Publication of next year’s BE fixture list has now been delayed until mid December, but owners and riders should be reassured that Organisers for the most part will be back, paying their levies, and looking forward to seeing their mostly satisfied owners and riders.
At the heart of a modern sporting organisation there must be accessibility, affordability, reliability, and accountability, allied nowadays quite rightly with inclusion and diversity. Therefore, any upcoming strategy for the future of the sport must offer marketing initiatives to inspire wider participation – it could start with a simple one stop database of membership and registration across all the BEF disciplines. Scoring, results and progressive qualifications can readily be outsourced these days to some very competent providers, so whilst we’re not holding breath for a utopian solution, the equestrian world urgently needs economy and synergy, rather than duplication, financial weakness, and high pricing. Next year will be difficult enough for affiliated competitions where the pandemic continues to curtail incomes and which have never faced so many ubiquitous alternatives – so, our question for this year’s BE AGM is this – does the Board really expect members and stakeholders to pay the same structure of Membership fees, Registration fees, Affiliation fees and Booking fees all top loaded onto Entry fees and Start fees for a lesser rather than leaner service in 2021 or will it shape up and become fit for the future?
With entries now open for our 2020/2021 Arena Eventing at Blackdyke and with social distancing protocols in place we look forward to seeing our regular winter competitors once again.
Discussions are now well underway to determine the look of the 2021 BE Fixtures list and while everyone awaits which events will run, which classes are viable and what can be done to improve the offering to Members, at Cumbria Horse Trials we have invested in new machinery, timber and grassland care to ensure our grassroots competitors are well provided for.
Coming up is an election for a BE Director with all the candidate profiles available to view now (see link below). The election will be undertaken in November and the result known at the BE AGM.
The timetable in the run up to the AGM is as follows
It becomes clearer that BE have reason to be greatly concerned having taken on an IT Transformation Project which has seen considerable overspending and poor delivery over the past few years. The recently published 2019 accounts show a dramatic movement in funds from tangible to intangible assets and the cash reserves have been decimated as a result. With such an uncertain outlook as we head towards 2021, the governing body needs much better decision making, less risk taking and more clarity to stakeholders over its role and purpose. To that end, a fresh set of eyes would to bring better focus to what it is good at (e.g. fixtures, rules and teams) and what it could better leave to others to deliver (IT, admin and marketing). A turnaround is needed urgently, There is also need for renewal for the sport to attract much better and fairer levels of membership and participation. We will be placing our support with the candidate most likely to deliver this uplift.
Cumbria Horse Trials supports William Buck who we believe will enact change, support the necessary rationalisation of the governing body post Covid19 and improve stakeholder relations.
Having successfully run 3 events over 8 weeks and all within the Covid19 protocols we can report no issues whatsoever. The level of engagement from competitors and connections was remarkable in its acceptance of the new normal. Given the second wave has now reached many regions of the UK, and with no imminent release of a vaccinine it is most likely the 2021 season will continue to see us all operating within the social distancing guidelines for an extended period. Cumbri Horse Trials will be looking again to run 5 events betwen April and September. The winter offers a unique opportunity to sort out the efficiency of the sport and for everyone to accept the many changes necessary for the benefit of all Members. The numbers of riders and horses participating is far from bouyant with many horses having only having been out a few times, despite entering the 12th week of sport resumption. The BE IT system is yet again under review and the sooner this is resolved the quicker Members may have the confidence to engage more with the sport. In the next few months there will be an Election for a Non Executive Director and we will be supporting a candidate who can demonstrate the need to rationalise matters. As we go to enjoy the winter months, we will again be running Arena Eventing at Blackdyke and hope to see the many faces who regularly bring their clipped horses out every 4th Sunday of the month – albeit from behind a face covering!
At the end of week 7 of sport resumtpion and with 23 events completed, there have been 14,000 starters, 5000 riders and 7500 horses competing. This is a considerable achievement after the decimation of the eventing calendar from mid March. There are however many horse and rider combinations postponing their return to sport and with so many events taking a break from the calendar unable to either establish a viable event model or secure the support of local communities, this has inevitably seen some balloting and quite a few BE Members opting to choose day passes for them and their horses. There are big issues glaring out for everyone to see with event organisers, the governing body and trade partners all looking to next year to see what the art of the possible will be in terms of viability going forward. Matching demand and supply will inevitably involve a huge amount of crystal ball gazing!. What everyone involved is keen to establish is a ‘fit for purpose’ sporting structure to bring harmony back into the calendar where the top flight professional riders can access international qualifying events and national grassroots riders and owners can establish a pattern of entries to educate their horses. Getting around the table can’t come soon enough to plan for 2021.
With BE fixtures now progressively returning, the sport has nevertheless to address some deep underlying issues. Its ability to generate new members, retain them and place them on pathways to keep them competing requires its own depth of vision to meet a changing market place. Riders must now consider which of the many and often conflicting opportunites to compete in will best serve their wishes. The governing body, event organisers, and trade partners will all collectively now need to ensure their business models can deliver well differentiated services. Having a clear sense of direction which can be provided efficiently and with exactling minimum standards will be critical to everyone’s viability. The pandemic has focused many minds on what is essential rather than desirable or bureaucractic. With many organisations across all sectors now facing depleted reserves, unreliable cashflows and with on-going liabilities to repay, all stakeholders in the sport will need to rationalise if we are to survive. What the sport will look like in 2021 is up for consideration and we would urge all with innovative ideas but with an eye to business risk and market conditions, to make their views known.