Tag Archives: equestrian sport

2018 Cheltenham Festival - Gold Cup Day - Cheltenham Racecourse

OUTBREAK OF EQUINE FLU COULD CAUSE COMPLETE LOCKDOWN OF EQUESTRIAN SPORT

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The whole equine community looks on with trepidation as six racehorses horses have tested positive for equine influenza this week, all of whom were vaccinated. The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) ordered that all racing be cancelled until next Wednesday at the earliest. The BHA are working with the Animal Health Trust who have been testing thousands of horses from over 100 training yards that could have been exposed to the disease.

 

The outbreak was first discovered in leading trainer Donald McCain’s yard in Cheshire, where three horses testing positive for the disease on Wednesday 6th February. Then on Friday 8th, another three from the same yard also came back with positive results. McCain was quick to inform the authorities and has been praised for his professionalism. He had horses running at Ayr and Ludlow racecourses earlier that day, potentially exposing a number of other horses from both the UK and Ireland to the disease. A number of other big yards including Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls have had all their horses tested and quarantined.

 

Vaccination against equine influenza or equine flu is compulsory for all racehorses and horses used competitively for other any equestrian sport. What is most alarming is that all the horses who tested positive were vaccinated against the disease which might suggest that a new strain of flu is present. If it is not quickly contained, this could spread rapidly through the racehorse population and potentially affect the UK equine population as a whole. Both the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) and the FEI have been issuing statements on a daily basis.

 

“The concern is that equine influenza is highly contagious” explains vet, David Mathieson of the Donnington Veterinary practice, who look after a number of racing yards in the South of England. “It has a very short incubation period- as short as 24 hours. It is spread readily between horses and personnel from one horse to another. It can also be airborne.”

 

On Friday 8th February, the BEF issued a statement saying “We continue to urge owners to be vigilant and follow the recommended guidelines on how to detect and prevent the spread of this infectious disease. We also urge any owners with suspected cases to take immediate veterinary advice. If flu is confirmed by laboratory testing, they should contact their relevant member body. If your horse is currently vaccinated, but it has been longer than six months since their last vaccination, we recommend that you discuss a booster with your vet”

 

The symptoms of equine flu include high temperature, coughs, snotty nose, enlarged glands, swollen or sore eyes, depression, loss of appetite and swelling in the lower legs.  With modern veterinary treatment, is it rarely fatal but horses can take months to recover fully. The disease can take up to three days for symptoms to be visible, which means that the BHA will not be able to draw a conclusion from all the information until Sunday at the earliest.

 

For the racing fraternity, it could become a living nightmare. At least 23 fixtures will be cancelled by next Wednesday which will cost the industry millions. Added to this, we are just five and eight weeks off two the most prestigious racing festivals in the world- The Magners Cheltenham Festival (12-15thMarch) and the Randox Health Grand National Festival at Aintree (4-6thApril). Not only is The Cheltenham Festival the fourth largest attended sporting event in the UK, but some 1.5 million people also tune in to ITV racing for the signature race, The Gold Cup. Around 8.5 million watched the Grand National on ITV last year and it has a race attendance of over 140,000 people over the three day Aintree festival.

 

 

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LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE MARES AT THE LONGINES WORLDS BEST RACEHORSE AWARDS

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Just as women are changing the game in today’s world of sport, business and politics, you may have noticed that the “fairer sex” of the four-legged variety, are making headlines in the equine world. A number of leading mares have claimed world titles prestigious accolades recently. And at the end of last month, the winner of the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Awards was announced as Winx. The Australian flat race mare has won 29 consecutive stakes races including 22 Group 1s.

 

Winx is not the only mare to dominate the racing scene. The British thoroughbred Enable, who featured eighth in the 2018 Longines world rankings, has been one of the most dominant middle-distance horses in Europe for several years. Last year, after winning the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe for the second time she went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Making history in the process, as the first horse to achieve this feat.

 

2018 was also a great year for mares as well as girls in Equestrian sport. The 15-year-old mare Classic Moet, won Badminton under Jonelle Price- the first female rider to win in 11 years. Whilst show-jumper Simone Blum riding DSP Alice and Dressage stars, Isabel Werth on Bella Rose were individual winners the showjumping and dressage world titles at the FEI World Equestrian Games in Tryon.

 

But back to racing and the grand affair that I was lucky enough to be invited to. On Wednesday, January 23, Longines and its long-time partner the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA), hosted the 2018 Longines World’s Best Racehorse, World’s Best Horse Race and World’s best jockey ceremony in the Landmark Hotel, London. With an equal rating of 130, Winx and Cracksman were together declared the 2018 winners. Frankie Dettori celebrated the leading jockey award, a clear leader with the highest number of points. It was a French victory as the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was chosen as the best horse race in the world.

 

For Winx, this was the third year in a row that the nine-year-old has won the award. In addition, she has been the highest rated filly/mare in the world since 2016 as well as the top-ranked turf horse. In 2018, her season culminated in her becoming the only horse in history to win the Ladbrokes Cox Plate four times. What is also significant about this tough mare, is her longevity in a sport which is rarely a long career for horses. Winx has consistently won over five seasons and is going into her sixth with no immediate plans to retire. Yet she has proved her versatility, speed, and staying power, by winning over a range of distances from 6 ½ furlongs (1300 metres) to 11 furlongs (2200 furlongs).

 

What is also unique, is that unlike many elite racehorses, Winx does not have a particularly long stride. Her stride was measured at 6.76 metres compared to 8.5 metres for other horses of similar calibre. Instead, her success has been attributed to a freakish stride rate that allows her to take 14 strides for every 5 seconds, compared to 12 for her rivals. According to Dr. Graeme Putt, who has studied the science of racehorse success, this is a unique advantage. “This means she can settle or accelerate at any time during a race.”

 

Winx was sold as a yearling for 230,000 Australian dollars (just under £128,000) at the 2013 Magic Millions Gold Coast sale. She has already amassed around A$23 million dollars (around £12.74 million) in prize money under trainer Chris Waller and her principal jockey Hugh Bowman. She is owned by Magic Bloodstock Racing, Richard Treweeke, and Debbie Kepitis. Most of her connections came over to collect the Longines prize and we were lucky enough to get an exclusive interview with Debbie Kepitis about the courageous mare who has changed their lives.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JopbA-fjSwM&feature=youtu.be

 

Ben Maher & Triple X III

BEN MAHER

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The Horse Scout team catches up with Ben Maher at the Longines Global Champions Playoffs in Prague this weekend. 

 

Ben Maher has had a cracking season in the Longines Global Champions Series. After winning three Grand Prix, he was crowned as the overall winner of the LGCT after winning Rome in September. His horse, Explosion W is just nine years old. The seemingly unstoppable pair went on to Doha, the final leg of the Series to win both the Grand Prix and captain his team- the London Knights to another victory in the Longines Global Champions League.

 

The Global Champions League has really taken off. As team Manager of the London Knight’s, what has been the strategy behind your success for most of the season?

A lot of thought and planning goes into it. We will have a meeting in January to find out what horses everyone has available and work out where to aim those horses and what everyone’s commitments are. So it’s a 90% plan for the first half of the season. There’s a text group and most of the time it stays serious but the guys sometimes fool around a bit. We have a very strong team spirit.

This year I’ve been lucky, there has been a very strong team bond and they have all taken it very seriously and that’s why we’ve managed to be so successful.

 

What is the significance of the Global Champions Series to the sport and how has it changed it? 

It has been great for the sport. We ride every weekend for 100,000 euros to the winner. It was only five years ago that we were riding for 20,000 and thought that was a big weekend. It’s pushed the level of prize money monumentally. I never thought I would see prize money come to our sport this fast.

 

With that, the horse values have increased. It’s brought more sponsors in and hopefully, there will be TV right from big broadcasters. Maybe, in the end, we can get it back on mainstream TV because it is a great sport. There are lots of kids who have ponies or dream of having ponies. They have a connection with what we do. Like people who play tennis at the weekend, love watching Andy Murray. I Hope that within my career it can come back to what it was because I really believe it’s a great sport to watch.

 

The GCT and the GCL are continually trying to improve and grow the sport. It’s brought some colour to the sport. We’ve been very lucky to ride in these unique venues and now fans can actually follow a team and we have team colours to make it stand out. Slowly it’s building momentum and I really think that in ten years time, it will be huge.

 

Does the attractive prize fund detract you from competing at other significant competitions and making team appearance?

Obviously, the prize money is increasingly growing in the GCT but it’s not growing comparatively at other competitions. I’m still committed to my country and supportive of the Nations Cup Series and the Championships. My decision not to be available for Championships was based on the fact I have a younger team of horses and Championships are a lot harder on a horse than one Grand Prix on a Global Champions Tour so it was in the best interests for my horses’ welfare.

 

We still have not qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, so you think there is a chance we may not get there? 

We have two chances next year at Rotterdam in the European Championships and then Barcelona for the Nations Cup Final and I will do my best to make that happen.

 

I will never forget riding for my life in Aachen to qualify for the Rio Olympics. It was harder getting to Rio than it was in Rio and I never want to get to that point again. It’s a sport where we are always moving, some people who may not have helped to qualify still make it on to an Olympic team because they have the right horse at the right time and you have to have that in consideration. I also have owners that own my horses and it’s not always my decision.

 

How do you think it will grow the sport?

The GCT and GCL, runs at a slightly higher pace so that keeps the interest. Rather than 40 horses with riders all dressed the same, I agree it can be like watching paint dry- like Formula 1. Where the sport is interesting is looking at the tactics, the training and what goes on behind the scenes before those 60 seconds we spend in the ring. I think this is how we can really draw the audience into what we do and then they can bond with the horses as we do ourselves.

 

It looks like an incredible life from the outside but what is the reality?

I’m incredibly lucky to do the sport that I love and enjoy. But I’ve been on the road 50 weeks this year. I barely know what home is. I’ve also had the best season of my career and I wouldn’t change it for the world. We lose more often than we win and I just try to enjoy it as much as I can.

 

Whilst you are now winning big, the overheads must be enormous? 

The expenses are huge. It’s travel for both horse and rider and we are living in hotels most of the time. There are 40 horses within our team with 20 members of staff, planes, trucks. The reality is that the prize money a horse can win now and the value of the horses, it’s now in keeping with what it costs to run a horse.

 

With these horses, there is no expense spared. They are treated like high-level athletes. They are better looked after than I am. They live in the Four Seasons hotel lifestyle every single day. They have physios, specialist care and in many cases have one groom per horse. They are the athlete and that is how we take care of them. Thankfully the sport has now developed enough to help make it financially viable for investors and owners to be part of the sport

 

Highlight of your career

Competing at the Olympic Games in London where we won team gold. It’s a moment that won’t be repeated in my lifetime at a home game. I would like to go to another Olympics and the dream is to win both a team and an individual gold medal. A double gold would be the ultimate!

 

Do you think we could win a medal at the next Olympics? 

I think anything is possible. This year I didn’t think it would be possible to win the Global Champions Tour Final on two young horses.

 

What do you think of the state of British showjumping at the moment? 

We have a lot of good young riders in the UK but I don’t think it’s a sport where riding is just enough anymore. I think you have to be a very rounded person and you have to be able to communicate with sponsors, owners. I think it’s looking bright, I believe We are just a few years off being very strong. Myself and Scott have had a very good year and I hope we can be a part of that and lead the way for young riders like Emily Moffit, Jack Whitaker, and Harry Charles but we don’t have a lot of time before the next Olympics so we need to accelerate and get things moving quickly.

 

https://www.gcglobalchampions.com

 

Imagery by © BEF / Jon Stroud Media

Horse Scout Opinion: What’s happening to British Showjumping?

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Showjumping was once the pride of the British nation. With a golden era spanning from the 1950s to the 1990s where Britain was consistently in the medals and the sport enjoyed a high television profile, riders like David Broome, Harvey Smith, Nick Skelton, and the Whitaker brothers were household names.

 

However, the sport started on a steady decline. Blamed largely to a shortage of horsepower and a crisis of management by the governing body, the lack of medals became a source of embarrassment to riders and followers. Suffering from a low profile led to many of Britain’s best horses being sold abroad. Tinkas Boy, a horse produced by Nick Skelton was sold to Swiss rider Markus Fuchs who went on to win four Championship medals including team silver in Sydney 2000.

 

Then in 2012, the British showjumping quartet of Nick Skelton, Peter Charles, Scott Brash, and Ben Maher put the sport back on the map by winning their first Olympic gold since 1952, in front of a rapturous London crowd. Nick Skelton continued to keep the dream alive when at the age of 58, he claimed the individual gold in Rio 2016- his seventh Olympic Games with the great Big Star.

 

But history repeats itself and recent results suggest a demise is once again occurring in the British camp. We are still not qualified for Tokyo 2020, with just two opportunities for qualification left.

 

This year we failed to be in the reckoning for a medal at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon. Whilst we qualified for the Longines Nations Cup Final in Barcelona, after finishing in second to last place, the future of British showjumping looked a bit bleak.

 

At the World Equestrian Games, the best British result came from new kid on the block, Amanda Derbyshire who was the only rider to qualify for the individual final. Is it significant that Amanda is based in the US, competing weekly against the US team members who claimed team gold? Adding to the fact she rides for American owners? Additionally, Amanda learned her trade from Nick Skelton and Laura Kraut, with whom she was based as a stable jockey at the beginning of her career. Interestingly her horse, Luibanta BH was sourced and produced by Britain’s Ellen Whitaker. In fact, seven horses competing in the final 25 for the individual medals in Tryon were either bred or produced in the UK.

 

The fact of the matter is that Performance Manager Di Lampard has struggled to pull together a team this year. She has had to be brave and select young partnerships but deserves credit for this move, especially her selection of a predominantly female team. It begs the question, where are Ben Maher and Scott Brash when we needed them? Is their absence due to lack of horsepower or lack of inclination, when the prize money offered by Rolex and the Global Champions Tour is far greater than that offered in Tryon.

 

Di is the first to remark that the problem is not for want of good riders but rather a lack of strong horse and rider combinations. Anyone who follows British showjumping will be aware that we are breeding some extremely successful horses. Yet the figure above, suggests that we are not keeping hold of these horses.

 

Other opinions in the sport, suggest it is the British system that is letting the sport down. That the class structure is a hindrance rather than a help in producing and sourcing young talent.

 

I will leave you with the view of Nick Skelton on where we are going wrong at the moment:

 

“Like the Europeans, we should be focusing on having age classes for horses in order to source and produce the best young horses in the country before they get sold out of the country. And unlike abroad, there are no incentives offered by the Federation for a rider to keep a good young horse. So when the riders get a good offer, they take the money and it’s foreign riders at the Championships on horses we bred and produced”.

 

At Horse Scout, we love knowing what you think about the industry. So our new series of opinion blogs are aimed at being interactive and spark debate. So we want to know your thoughts on the state of British Showjumping. If you were Chief Executive of British Showjumping or Performance Manager of the British Team, what would you do? 

We look forward to hearing your opinions.

 

Imagery by © BEF / Jon Stroud Media

 

 

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Richard Davison: Welfare in top level Equestrian Sport

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Part 1: What do our horses really want? 

 

When the words “Equine Welfare” are used, associated with animal cruelty, to me it conjures up images of emaciated, lice-infested horses and ponies. Yet at the recent World Horse Welfare Annual Conference, a number of other “modern” welfare issues were highlighted. Olympic Dressage Rider Richard Davison has been at the top of the sport for many years, having contested four Olympics. He was a founder of the Burghley Young Event Horse series and his yard is made up of dressage horses and his son’s international showjumpers. Therefore he is highly regarded both as a great horseman and spokesperson on Equestrian matters, who is not frightened of sticking his neck out.  At the Conference last week, Richard spoke candidly on the welfare issues seen even at the highest level of Equestrian Sport.

 

In our first blog, Richard raises his concerns over the modern fashion of “humanising” our horses, relaying one example he saw at a show recently.

 

“For those of you have visited international competitions, you will know that horses are confined in relatively small stables for four to five days. I was in Denmark last week and I watched a groom perform surgery on a teddy bear (used as a stable toy) who had lost a limb. The process of sewing up the teddy took half an hour or more. I wondered whether this half an hour would have been better spent, taking the horse out of the stable and giving it a walk in the sunlight or finding some grass for a graze and a stretch. For me, this “humanising” behaviour displayed by owners can skewer the priorities.

 

In my world (Dressage), they’ve all got the bling browbands, the matchy-matchy stuff, and the belly-deep shavings beds but actually what does a horse really want? What is really important, is to get out in the field, not to be kept in a stable, never mind how beautifully decorated it is with toys or anything else. They really want to be outside, stretching their back, being with their mates, sniffing each other’s bottoms and rolling in the mud. Thankfully is not generally something that us humans do, any longer. So I put this to riders and grooms- ditch the teddy bear and take the horse out of the stable and give them fresh air. That is what they really want- to be horses.

 

We are all stakeholders in this. We all feed off equestrian sport, either professionally or just gaining an awful lot of enjoyment from it. We all need to get behind education and spend more time, learning how horses really function. In these days in horse sport, where horses command huge sums of money we must never forget that their natural habits and herd instinct are really essential for both mental and physical welfare.”

 

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BEHIND THE SCENES: GRIT, GLAMOUR AND GREAT SPORT AT THE LONGINES FEI NATIONS CUP FINAL BARCELONA 2018

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I was lucky enough to be reporting at the Longines FEI Nations Cup Final In Barcelona last week. Not only was there great sporting action, a masterful display of horsemanship and a tantalising finish. Beyond this, there were some high profile individuals and interesting back-stories that really highlighted what a special sport this is.

 

Having breakfast in the hotel one morning I was sat next to Jessica Springsteen. The drop-dead gorgeous daughter of Bruce was looking very much in love with boyfriend, Italian heartthrob Lorenzo de Luca, as she ate her boiled egg.  Lorenzo was later caught buying his girl a present in the shopping village.

 

Across the room was World No 1, Harrie with the rest of the Dutch team and World No 2 Mclain Ward, fresh from winning team gold at WEG. Mclain was over to train 19-year-old showjumping sensation; Lucy Deslauriers who was making her first big team appearance for the USA. Extraordinarily Lucy’s father Mario was also competing but for his homeland of Canada. Now 53 years of age, Mario was the youngest ever winner of a World Cup Final at the age of 19 and he and his daughter could make headlines if they both achieve their dreams of being selected for the Tokyo Olympics, for their respective Nations.

 

Also competing at the show were the UAE team who are rising stars. After a fascinating interview, I discovered every one of them has a full-time job and compete just a handful of horses alongside this. Jobs included a policeman, an office administrator and a camel trainer.  “Football is the only professional sport but we are trying to change that” I was told.

 

“Never give up” was the take away message from this year’s prestigious competition. Held in the popular Real Club de Polo in Barcelona for the sixth year in a row, it was the Belgians who won the oldest jumping competition in the world and lifted the Nations Cup trophy. But it was by no means decisive and Peter Weinberg, Chef d’Equipe of the team summed up the result and in that, the very nature of equestrian sport. “We call ourselves the “Never Give Up Team” because in the middle we had two with 12 faults already but still we were fighting to the last rider, so this victory means a lot to us!”

 

With one of the most challenging tracks this final has seen, of the eight nations who went through to the final, just three riders jumped clear. It is hardly surprising that Course Designer Santiago Varela has been selected as course designer for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The track was imposing and technical and questioned control, balance, judgement and skill, all the way around. As Varela pointed out it wasn’t about the number of faults the riders collected. “A score of 8 or 12 didn’t mean they had a bad round, horses jumped unbelievably, but the course was difficult, tough and big…and everything was connected”, he explained.

 

As was the case with most of the teams, the Belgians had mixed fortunes, Niels Bruynseels gave the team confidence with a superb clear from Gancia de Muze but both Pieter Devos (Claire Z) and Jos Verlooy (Caracas) each leaving three fences on the floor. However, it was the dashing Nicola Philippaerts, who saved the day with a sublime clear round on H&M Harley v. Bisschop and that sealed the deal.

 

Nicola said his teammates told him “everything is still possible” when he was last to go. “I just tried to ride my own class and it worked out well – today it was me that could make the clear round that would make a difference, and another time it will be one of the others”. And he had even more reason to be pleased when sharing the €100,000 bonus for double-clear performances with team-mate Bruynseels, Sweden’s Peder Fredricson and Italy’s new star, Riccardo Pisani.

 

This was Belgium’s second win of the Longines FEI Nations Cup in Barcelona; their last came in 2015. As Chef d’Equipe Weinberg said: “it was an interesting day, first ups and then in between downs, but in the end, we won anyway so it was really great sport!”