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how horse sport is coping – and what the long run holds

  • The way eventing is coping with the hot dry weather – and what may lie ahead – have been brought into focus with this summer’s challenging weather.

    The topic came up at the Horseracing Industry Conference (news, 28 July) and many issues cross directly into the wider sport horse world.

    British Eventing (BE) chief executive Helen West praised the extra measures fixtures have gone to this summer, and acknowledged challenges on the horizon.

    She added that organisers are already good at contingency planning, for example shade, water and earlier start times where possible, to look after all involved at events. BE also liaises with teams on contingencies, such as shortening courses or reducing speeds, and has ground preparation machines available for organisers.

    She points out it is a combined responsibility – shared by competitors, as well as BE and organisers. This comes under individuals knowing their own horses’ fitness and preparation levels, looking at their travel logistics, and planning accordingly.

    But looking ahead, a changing climate could spell more challenges in future.

    “There’s no two ways about it, it is going to become more of an issue with the weather patterns. It isn’t something we are used to,” she told H&H.

    She added that eventing needs to be “ahead of the curve” as far as possible to understand what challenges are on the road ahead and how it can prepare. It’s on their radar, as is a desire for further understanding of going conditions at all events.

    And work has already started. British Equestrian announced on Monday (22 August) that it is tendering for a research partner to focus on environmental sustainability, with the contract running from October 2022 to January 2023.

    Recent examples of venues “going the extra mile” include Aston-le-Walls, where organiser Nigel Taylor installed permanent horse showers in the cross-country finish area and has received much praise for the ground conditions. That praise is mirrored in entry numbers.

    Nigel told H&H the team has dug boreholes and ponds to ensure it has its own groundwater supply at both ends of the site.

    “I have started to notice we are getting more [weather] extremes,” said Nigel, adding that this is the driest he has known in the 20 years he has been running horse trials at Washbrook Farm.

    The ground care is a year-round job, coming to a head with the nightly watering by three tractors ahead of, and during, events.

    Nigel said it is “hard work and costs a lot of money”, but it is the “right thing to do” for horses and riders – his customers. It also means they return, so over time, that investment pays off.

    “We invested quite heavily in the wash bays, which are on the mains, and I can’t believe how lucky we were to have them in time for the last two horse trials,” he said.

    Around 1,000 horses ran across country at the most recent fixture (11–13 August), with no stressed finishers, and Nigel gave credit to riders for running their horses with the individual animals’ condition and fitness in mind.

    H&H vet Karen Coumbe was one of the team on duty at the NAF Five-Star Hartpury International Horse Trials the same weekend, where the venue made significant adjustments in preparation for the hot weather.

    Karen told H&H she “cannot sing Hartpury’s praises enough” with how hard everyone worked.

    Conditions were monitored throughout, including regular readings of the wet-bulb globe temperature index, to ensure it was safe for horses and humans. The courses were shortened to minimum distances, taking out more than 400m and several jumping efforts, with the finish moved to a shaded wooded area with misting fans. Start times were shifted earlier and there was lots of ice – bolstered by five insulated ice storage units at the finish – and plentiful fresh water in places it was needed most.

    “It was very wet in the cross-country finish by the end of day, but we ran 200 horses in the two-, three- and four-star cross-country on Saturday without any significant incidents – they finished the best they have done in the years I have worked there,” she said.

    She added that Hartpury’s permanent infrastructure, plus the fact it hosted the CDI, youth eventing and dressage European Championships and the horse trials in quick succession in July and August, meant procedures were slick and the courses had been well maintained for weeks.

    Looking ahead, there are question marks about what the coming years have in store for Britain’s climate, water and fuel usage.

    Karen noted that “a lot of water is needed for horse welfare”, and preparation is key for events, even though it is “costly in time and money”.

    “Events need to ensure good going, a plentiful water supply and provision of shade,” she said, adding that technology is important, such as for properly monitoring conditions and competitors, as well as the public.

    “The challenge with these freak weather conditions means that next year we could be facing heavy rain, so planning ahead is a challenge.”

    But despite the unknowns, there are steps owners and riders can take to prepare with horse welfare in mind, starting with education. Getting the right, science-backed advice is crucial and Karen encouraged riders to seek this out from vets.

    “We need to work out how we manage with the weather,” she said, adding that this covers the welfare of all involved – from horses and riders to volunteers.

    “Another advantage with Hartpury is it came during a prolonged hot spell. Horses competing there were fit and used to the hot weather. A worry is when you get those unseasonable spikes – a hot day at an early-season event that takes everyone by surprise, and horses and people are not prepared.”

    She urged competitors to think through transport as a priority – to travel in cooler parts of the day, plan routes to avoid traffic, consider staying overnight, and give horses time to recover from journeys properly.

    All owners and riders must educate themselves on proper cooling techniques and take horses’ fitness, weight and condition seriously, she added.

    “Horses are such big animals, so everyone needs to be aware that a large, hairy dark-coloured, unfit horse working hard on a hot day can almost cook himself if inadequately managed,” she said.

    She also encouraged owners to be aware of dust and fly-related problems, such as eye and breathing issues, and not to underestimate these, and appreciate the hard-working volunteers who help make equine events function.

    You might also be interested in:

    High temperatures prompt experts to remind owners to keep their horses cool and hydrated

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