I’m sad to say that the World Equestrian Games (WEG) passed me by. They took place in France recently, and I’m choosing to blame being in a different time zone without access to TV (plus little access to the Internet) for my inability to keep up. When I found out four years ago that the 2014 championships would be taking place in France, I was keen to attend, but my plans changed over time, and I found myself in the US for the summer instead.
But the equestrian and event manager in me feel the need to catch up now. One of the few things I heard about as the event was taking place was the apparent Team GB debacle that was the show jumping competition, and with the focus of my news being on that and the sad death of Harry Meade’s horse during the eventing competition, I was surprised to learn that Team GB had again topped the medal table. This result is largely thanks to our athletes in the dressage and para-dressage competitions, all of whom achieved as fantastically as they did during London 2012. This is a great turnaround compared to my childhood, when it seemed that the Germans and Dutch were completely untouchable.
The truth, though, is that Team GB are being caught. It’s brilliant that, despite the loss of key horses – largely through sale or retirement – since London 2012, Team GB again topped the medal table… but it was with fewer medals than in 2010, and every other nation has upped their medal count, rather than lowered it. We’ve held on, but in order to win again in 2018, improvements will need to be made. Although we’ve begun to raise the bar in one sport, other nations are catching up and, arguably, we’ve lost ground in eventing.
That all sounds a bit doom and gloom, but the truth is that our elite legacy post-2012 and towards the future is looking strong: as ever, we have strength in depth – there were key withdrawals of horses in the run up to the Games, but we were able to replace them with competitors who were just as strong, to the point that the results weren’t negatively impacted. On top of this, there are new riders coming through who are showing great potential – the beauty of equestrianism is that some riders only get better as they get older, whereas other sportspeople have firm shelf lives and can only compete into their early 30s, the competitive career of equestrians can extend into their 50s or beyond.
For those of us at home, there is even better news. One of the reasons I will enjoy teaching riding is the opportunity it provides to be part of sharing my sport with others, and ensuring that even more people can treasure the experience of riding and being with horses. Although WEG doesn’t get half as much mainstream media coverage as the world championships of most other sports, I know of one person who has taken up the reins as a direct result of what they saw: Jonathan Agnew, one of the most recognisable voices in BBC cricket, has been sharing his journey into the saddle via Twitter.
— Jonathan Agnew (@Aggerscricket) September 8, 2014
It’s actually been a long time coming for Aggers (as he’s better known), whose wife, Emma, is a keen rider. In addition to living with a horsey spouse, Aggers is preparing to cover equestrianism in Rio for BBC radio, having turned his hand to archery in 2012 (cricket being absent from the Olympic sports roster). Rather than his wife’s encouragement, what boosted Aggers into the saddle was observing Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro at their best in Normandy. Proof that inspiration can come from all kinds of places, and those who are inspired may not be from the stereotypical demographic.
Both Aggers and Mrs Aggers have been using the #mysport hashtag on Twitter, which is the brainchild of Hoof – join in if you have a Twitter account, it’s a great way to share what we all love about riding via social media.