The UK’s eventing community is reeling with news that calendar highlight Barbury Castle International has been stripped of its national and FEI status by British Eventing through a new “social licence” policy.
Barbury’s sin is to host a minor competition outside the auspices of the national governing body or the FEI. BE says it therefore “cannot vouch for compliance” with horse and rider welfare measures.
Barbury first ran in 2005 and was awarded a CIC three-star (now CCI4*-S) at its first attempt. As well as attracting large crowds to the Wiltshire estate each July, it soon became a popular pre-championship run for the many foreign nationals based in the UK. Mark Phillips was its long-time course designer.
Since 2019, Barbury has been organised by Alec Lochore’s Muskeeter Event Management. Lochore, a well-known course designer who is currently deputy chair of the FEI eventing committee, also organises internationals at Houghton Hall and Burnham Market.
BE stated, “BE is sad to confirm that Barbury will not be running a fixture in July 2023. The BE Board determined that, in light of the increased spotlight on equestrian sport’s social licence to operate, venues holding international fixtures in 2023 would be required not to hold unregulated competitions.
“BE is committed to delivering a consistently regulated, safe, clean sport. BE has no jurisdiction over unregulated competitions, and cannot vouch for their compliance with FEI and BE requirements for sport which have horse and rider welfare at their heart.”
BE has blocked comments about the decision on its Facebook page.
Musketeer responded, “MEM and BE sought to find a solution for alternative options, to ensure the viability of the international fixture at Barbury and, although BE offered the venue the opportunity to host a new GO BE fixture, no regular classes were permitted to run alongside.
“It was determined that taking the risk of forfeiting three days of the unaffiliated sport was too great. Consequently, in conjunction with Barbury Castle Estates, the decision was taken that the only financially viable option for the venue is to continue with the running of the [unaffiliated] Cotswold Cup fixture over the weekend of July 15-16.”
Running “unaffiliated” competitions as well as those aligned to the national governing bodies forms the business model of virtually all permanent equestrian venues in the UK, though usually each type of fixture runs separately. The Cotswold Cup unaffiliated series, with £10,000 prize money at the Barbury final, has been a thorn in BE’s side from inception in 2021.
For decades in the UK, participation levels in the “unaffiliated” sector have substantially dwarfed those of competitions running under the rules of BE and its sister organisations British Showjumping (BS) and British Dressage (BD). They are affordable for the leisure riding sector, while organisers’ profits subsidise the maintenance of arenas and cross-country courses used in affiliated events.
Over the decades, BE, BS and BD bodies have tried multiple incentives to attract unaffiliated riders, GO BE – a heavily discounted entry fee with courses from 80-100cm – being the latest.
Chris Woodhouse of Barbury Castle Estates called BE’s decision “lamentable,” adding, “MEM supported by the Estate have made a considerable investment over recent years to improve the event, support its financial viability during Covid and broaden the appeal to junior competitors. Insisting on affiliation of all events in order to boost the finances of British Eventing in a post -Covid environment when competitors and the general public are struggling with the cost of living appears to me to be elitist and non-inclusive.”
While another venue may fill the date, Barbury’s demotion leaves the world’s most active eventing country with no CCI4*-S competitions for a six-week span at the height of the season.