At last, there is guidance and permission from central government in England to re-start equestrian competition in England once again. The rather irritating thing is that both Scotland and Wales are not joining in with the arrangements, so nationals of those countries, despite being in the United Kingdom will have to wait until their own political masters say they can move forward with the rest of us.
For flat racing on the turf, it is actually permission to start the 2020 season, somewhat late. The same is really true for eventing as well. Until the lock down on March 23rd in the UK, dressage and show jumping had already staged some indoor meetings, the last being at Keysoe FEI dressage international in mid-March. Since all major equestrian countries were in the same boat as regards the cessation of competition when going into lock down, they are all acting on a relatively similar pattern to re-emergence. There has been a lot of speculation in the media during the recent days and weeks regarding equine competition, so this article hopefully will help clarify any misunderstanding?
Scotland and Wales
The authorities in both the principalities are not convinced that a safe return to anything like normality can happen at present and therefore no dates or plans have been made for any equestrian activity in either country unlike England and would therefore be illegal.
Owners and trainers and jockeys have probably been the loudest voices within the equestrian sports sphere and have been bleating about a return for some time. As Horse View UK have continually pointed out that racing was in particular danger in continually publishing plans that were never going to come to fruition, showing that they consider themselves to be more important than anyone else. They have been squealing for some time about the money they have lost – well sucks! They seem to have forgotten that they are probably more wealthy than most and therefore were probably suffering far less. Anyway, thankfully, as each deadline came and went, the BHA did the right thing and continued to suspend any racing. We didn’t get a Dominic Cummins moment!!!!Now, however, behind closed doors, they have had agreement to re-start, which they are doing with a race meeting at Newcastle on Monday. Desperate to keep the classics for 2020, the first two, which should have been held at Newmarket in very early May, will now take place on June 6th. The One and Two Thousand Guineas. Racing will only take place at a few venues, and all will behind closed doors. There will be more races per fixture than normal, usually at least eight races per day. This decision is to catch up on some of the Group Races already missed and some two year old races, none of which have been run yet in 2020. It will therefore be fast and furious with mainly only top races being run for the first couple of months.
In the middle of June, what was to be The Royal Meeting at Ascot will take place, again behind closed doors, and with the equivalent of an extra day’s racing for the meeting with an extra two or three races being run on each of the five days. Today, the BHA announced that they were hopeful of an uninterrupted schedule for the rest of the season, but all racing would remain closed to the public until at least early September. It is not known whether The Queen will attend the Royal Meeting, but it seems unlikely – certainly not officially anyway.
Dressage, Showjumping and Eventing
Like those in racing, the huge pent up desire to re-start is unsurprising. All three sport horse disciplines have come together under one umbrella in the guise of the British Equestrian Federation. As these equestrian events are not so well attended by the general public, social distancing is easier, particularly as each competitor competes on their own rather than in a group as with racing. Individual trainers have been allowed to train clients on a one to one basis now for a couple of weeks, and from Monday, group training will be allowed with the aim of starting actual competitions on June 15th.
There are quite strict rules of compliance however. No competition can be done in an indoor school. Riding Centres who have general areas for eating and drinking – cafes in other words, will not be allowed to open. This decision must very galling for the centre managements as some certainly make very good money from their social eating areas. In fact, no indoor facilities will be allowed to open except toilets! Social distancing has to be observed at all times and the wearing of face masks is preferable and some centres we have heard are to make their wearing compulsory. Planning committees for the three disciplines are currently planning a renewed schedule as we write. It thought though that one of the main eventing dates at the Barbary Horse Trials is still on, but as most know, both Burghley and Blair Castle have been cancelled. We understand that currently HOYS, (The Horse of the Year Show) held in early October each year is expecting to carry on. However, this is an interesting one as there have been no qualifiers for this iconic show, and many venues like Hickstead where a lot of HOYS qualifiers take place, have already been cancelled – so who is going to be eligible to turn up!
With most of the FEI calendar for 2020 already completely decimated, it would appear that the FEI have ‘taken to the hills’. They have made no statement since May 8th when they announced the cancellation of the 2021 European Championships in order to allow riders to concentrate on the now moved Olympic Games. Clearly, the FEI have no desire to lead in any decision making at present and maybe have no choice, but are quite happy for national governments and national equine authorities to carry the can at present.
In Ireland, and the North are rather following the same instructions as issued from the South, much the same arrangements are in place for the resumption of all racing and horse sports. They seem to be re-starting one week later than in England. Group training can start on June 8th along with racing behind closed doors and competition from June 22nd.
The Rest of Europe
Most of Europe are also restarting in a similar way to England. However, racing in both France and Germany have been going on a for a couple of weeks now, all again behind closed doors. Apart from the major races in both countries however, social distancing and closed door policy would be less difficult and less resented as nobody really turns up to the normal commonal garden racing meetings anyway! In France though there was a hiccup over the starting of racing. The Paris tracks were told they could operate, and so they did with ten races a day and on most days. This was not too bad though as most of the top trainers are Paris based anyway. However, after only a few days the French Government changed their mind and declared that no racing could continue on the Paris tracks. They could continue in Normandy and other less Covid-19 prevalent areas of the country. France-Galop sprang into action and moved all the Paris racing to Deauville in Normandy. Rather daft really as they could potentially take the virus to thus far mainly unaffected areas – thus spread the disease? The one problem facing any competitors wanting to compete in events in Europe from Great Britain, or vice versa as things stand, is that they will have to isolate for two weeks in the destination country for fourteen days. This doesn’t really make for an easy return to normal. Perhaps the FEI could have been more useful here in advising governments on the best way forward – but as already said ‘they’ve taken to the hills!’
All in all, it is quite clear that 2020 will end up being largely a year to forget. It is going to be some time before anything like normality will ensue, almost certainly in our view, this will not happen probably till early next year at best.