If We Build Equestrian Sport, The People Will Come

May 1, 2017 - 9:43 PM

I have this image of the inside of my head as being like a big dusty room, with rack upon rack of manila-colored files haphazardly thrown on the shelves, all with a sheen of dust.

Then when I try to think of something, there are people running around this dusky loft desperately calling back, “Hang on, the file’s in here somewhere!” For me the information we have to carry around on everyone these days fills a file, and at the pace that the season runs now, the filing system needs to be pretty slick.

I have been meaning to write a blog for weeks, but before I know it the next event has come crashing through the door, and I’ve picked up the mic again. The last few weeks have thrown at us the end of the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.), the Longines FEI World Cup Finals (Neb.), and Longines Global Champions Tour events in Mexico, Miami Beach and Shanghai.

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My view in Miami.

It’s been weeks of just a machine-gun delivery of talent and talking points. Let’s look at some highlights, though…

We’ve always said that Nick Skelton is a great man to have a horse ready for the day, to be at the very top of its form. You may even be able to hone that down a little more based on Rio—as down to ready for the moment. To have this ability lies but with just a few—McLain Ward is another based on his performance with HH Azur in Omaha at the Longines FEI World Cup Final. They delivered with the efficiency and planning of a military strike. Everything about them all week just shone of cold, calculated execution of a plan—that’s meant as a compliment!

Planning was what that World Cup Final week was all about, and hats off to all in Omaha (we were watching from Week 12 at WEF). The crowds came out in big numbers, and years of planning on behalf of Lisa Roskens and her team bore fruit. Commentating in the United States for various chunks of the year (and in Europe!) I see all types of event. When the stands are a little bereft of bodies at some events, we’re told that people aren’t interested, that there are too many other sports to compete with.

That is not to say that these statements aren’t true; they certainly have merit. However, what I have also seen—going back to the Omaha point—is being at events that have been placed “where the people are” creates quite a result. The GCT in Mexico City is in only its second year and was standing-room only. (There wasn’t much room the first year either!) And not only to watch the five-star classes and the grand prix, but also I think they set a record for the number of people in a stadium to watch a children’s class—and they cheered those kids home with gusto! Literally thousands of people were lining the ring or clanking their tequila from a table.

The GCT at Miami Beach! It was a good job the dress code was casual, as with that many people every inch counted, lined along the beach and filling the stands on Saturday and queueing expectantly to get an autograph, like we see at tennis or other sports. The enthusiasm was infectious—even I signed the odd autograph and devalued the odd selfie with fans. I just imagine their disappointment in a couple of years time when they look back and think, “Who the hell was he?”

Enough of my self-indulgence though, you’re screaming, “Get to the point!” Assuming you’re still reading, my point is this: Show jumping and equestrian sport, as a whole, is fun and interesting and fascinating and can hold its head up with any other sport, so celebrate it! Turn up, bring your friends, enjoy!

I’ve finished another season in Wellington and by very inaccurate means on my part (namely I was there most nights and have been for the last five years) the crowds looked consistently bigger than ever. Saturday Night Lights or Friday Night dressage, people lap it up, and the general public is coming and watching because the competition is good, and it’s being presented as a “night out.” It’s built up a following in the community. A large number of people without an interest in the horse world come to watch, and they rightly marvel at what many of us take for granted: a daring lunatic with a lot of talent trying to control half a ton of fast moving, independently minded animal and aim it essentially at something the size of your garden fence!

I watch in awe every week, whether it’s riding down the centerline with scientific precision and the grace of a ballerina or gasping at a jumping rider whose elbows fly, toes are crossed, executing a launch at the last fence that’s started somewhere near Cape Canaveral with the sheer hope and determination that they’ll clear that far stick of timber meters away, just to see a new name on the cup.

The point is that we should embrace every part of our great equestrian sports. If we present it well, the people do come, and they love it! It’s exciting! More importantly the people who ride in these sports are daring athletes and tacticians like no other—geniuses.

Last in China for the GCT event, many of the crowd had never seen a horse, let alone seen the damn thing lift off the floor and jump 6’ in the air, with purpose.

So again, we will introduce the sport to a new audience, and even if in the long term we only keep a percentage of those as regular followers then we have still increased the sphere. How long before a Chinese team comes to the fore? Trust me the Hong Kong squad is definitely going in the right direction. Equestrian sport is becoming more “global” by the minute, so let’s enjoy this slow revolution and embrace it.

What we have to do though is present the sport well. We are fast playing catch-up to other sports in investment of delivery, by whatever means—network channels or live streaming. Crikey, I even work out of a virtual studio now at GCT events. You may see swanky chairs and big screens, but I am however actually standing in front of a green screen, with the hue and texture of Kermit’s tummy. (I’m awaiting my first big call when Andy Serkis is next off sick. I’m now trained to step in—if you don’t understand that one, Google!)

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What we have to do though, is do it well. What can we all do? Well, it’s simple. When we have big horse shows on the schedule, go! Don’t just do your class and then ignore the grand prix. Watch the sport, drive up the numbers, online or in the flesh. That way we have a product to sell to the wider public and to sponsors, and the trickle-down effect is enormous.

We are too quick to get embroiled in politics and knock what we have. What we have is truly, gobsmackingly awesome, so embrace it and enjoy it!

See you ringside somewhere soon ;-)

Steven Wilde got his start in commentating in 2001 and has gone on to announce and commentate at some of the world’s biggest venues, in all the Olympic disciplines. His voice has been heard at Hickstead, Blenheim and Barbury Horse Trials, and the 2012 London Olympic Games. He grew up in the sport of show jumping, as his mother was an international rider, and he’s been successful at at organizing shows as well. 

Read more about Steven in his introductory blog and read all his blog entries

 

 

 

 

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