Equestrian Blog

News and thoughts from around the equestrian community

Cheltenham: Ready For The Off or Just A Big Turn-Off?

It's mid-March, which in the world of horses, seems to mean only one thing: the Cheltenham Festival. It's one of the biggest set-pieces in the equestrian calendar and you can't expect to go through the week without hearing about it somewhere – but does it matter to you in any way? Horse & Hound-reading advocates of equestrianism in all its forms would say that it should matter. It puts horses in the national media spotlight, it attracts almost a quarter of a million spectators over its four days and it gives our equine superstar athletes the platform to provide us with unrivalled drama. Why wouldn't the rest of the horse world wish to bask in the glow provided by the Gold Cup – and all the other prizes up for grabs this week? And yet, looking at the incoming feeds to the Robinsons Facebook, Twitter and Google+ logins, with all the horsey people we follow and have friended, it's not exactly the hottest topic of conversation, right now. This being Britain, the weather seems to be a far more pressing topic of discussion than anything going on in Gloucestershire. What does that tell us about the assumption that the whole horse world is watching Cheltenham? On the face of it, this seems to make no sense. Would you expect a football fan not to bother watching any of the World Cup? Would any self-respecting golfer simply decide to give the Ryder Cup a miss? Why, then, is the horse world so enigmatic about its interest (or otherwise) in all things equestrian? Of course, there are indeed many riders who can't wait for Cheltenham, who would gladly take the opportunity to 'get the look' before travelling to the famous racecourse to experience the festival in the flesh. Others claim to be left cold by the sport of racing in particular, and very many others proudly take no interest in any organised equestrian activity at all. Obviously, there's no right or wrong here – all views are valid, of course. It's just 'one of those things' that the horse world doesn't necessarily behave, as a whole, in the way that outsiders might expect it to – by automatically translating the interest in the animal into an interest in the sport. Perhaps a good way to show up the distinction is this: can you name all – or any – of Britain's seven Olympic gold-medallists from London 2012*? Many of those who can would find it staggering that anyone who spends time with horses would not know their names, such was the scale of their wonderful achievement – or that of any of our other medallists, for that matter. Others might argue that, while it's all very well celebrating our riders' achievements, it doesn't really have any bearing on their relationship with their horse. After all, why should it really matter who won what, when to them, the main point of having a horse is for purely personal reasons, rather than an expression of 'belonging' to a wider group. So many people would say they have horses to escape from the rest of the world, not to become a part of it. It might be more accurate, then, to liken equestrianism, not to a single sport, with all the behaviour and affiliation that it implies, but to a type of pastime, like music or travel, where expectations are less clear-cut. Would anyone be so quick to conclude that classical music-lovers 'must', by definition, appreciate other forms of music? Perhaps not because we expect people simply to like what they like. Shouldn't that also be true of horses? What's your view? Is Cheltenham an unmissable date in the diary – or does it do nothing for you? Have your say on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/Robinsons.Horsebook or tweet us at @RobinsonsTweets.* If you're in the first category, I'm sure you're now keen to know if you're right, so here they are: the seven British 2012 Olympic gold medallists were Scott Brash, Peter Charles, Ben Maher and Nick Skelton (who won Team Showjumping gold) and Laura Bechtolsheimer, Charlotte Dujardin and Carl Hester (who won Team Dressage Gold). You probably won't need reminding that Charlotte Dujardin also went on to win the Individual Dressage gold medal.